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JBL Flip 4 review: Next-gen Flip mini Bluetooth speaker is a little bigger and a little better

The JBL Flip speakers were already really good. Changes to the newest fourth-generation version make them even better.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

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Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks and Nook e-books, as well as audiobooks.

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At first glance, JBL's Flip 4 Bluetooth portable speaker looks very similar to 2016's Flip 3. But looks can be deceiving: it's actually a slightly bigger speaker, weighing 1.14 lbs (517 g) -- 0.14 pound more than its predecessor -- and it's covered in more durable fabric with a tighter weave. As part of that external design change, the Flip 4 gets some changes on the inside, including new drivers and a presumably bigger battery that delivers 12 hours of battery life instead of the Flip 3's 10 hours. The speaker is also now fully waterproof instead of just splashproof.

The Good

The JBL Flip 4 offers significant improvements over the Flip 3, including better sound and battery life, as well as full waterproofing. It has speakerphone capabilities and a more durable fabric covering.

The Bad

Its bass is improved but it still lacks some real bass punch.

The Bottom Line

A nice upgrade over its predecessor, the Flip 4 is one of the best speakers in its size and price class.

Like the Flip 3, the Flip 4 can be stood up vertically or laid down horizontally -- thus its Flip moniker -- and comes with a removable lanyard that allows you to hang the speaker from a shower head, a branch outside or a loop on your backpack. Available in six colors, it costs $100 or £120. Official Australia availability isn't yet known, but that US price converts to about AU$140.

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The JBL 4 is fully waterproof and its fabric cover has a tighter weave.

Sarah Tew/CNET

So, how much better is the Flip 4 and how does it stack up against the wireless mini Bluetooth speaker competition at this price point?

The short answer to the first question is that it's actually a significant upgrade over the Flip 3. Not only does it play a little louder, but it sounds better, with improved bass response and slightly better clarity.

I compared this speaker to Ultimate Ears' similarly priced Wonderboom and the more expensive UE Boom 2. The Wonderboom is shorter and squatter and delivers more bass; it comes off as a bigger speaker than the Flip 4. However, with some tracks the Flip 4 sounded more natural, particularly in the midrange, and I preferred its sound when listening to certain songs.

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The JBL Flip 4 is available in 6 color options.

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One of the problems of reviewing the performance of these small Bluetooth speakers is that their sound quality isn't consistent. With some tracks they sound quite good, and with others they sound like a small speaker that's getting pushed a little too hard and straining itself.

Overall the Wonderboom does come out on top for sound quality, but it's a close race, and for its size and price, the Flip 4 is a very good performer and has such extras as a built-in microphone, so it works as a speakerphone (the Wonderboom has no speakerphone or auxiliary input).

While it doesn't play quite as loud or have as good battery life as the UE Boom 2 (which is almost the exact same size and shape), it's a good alternative to that speaker if you're looking to save a little money. And hopefully, in time, this speaker will come down in price, making it an even better value. It's easily the best Flip yet.

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Close-up of the speaker's physical buttons.

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JBL Flip 4 features

  • Wireless Bluetooth streaming: Wirelessly connect up to two phones or tablets to the speaker and take turns playing music
  • Built-in 3,000mAh rechargeable lithium ion battery supports up to 12 hours of playtime at moderate volume levels
  • IPX7 waterproof (can be fully submerged in water to 3 meters for 30 minutes)
  • Connect more than 100 JBL Connect+ enabled speakers together to amplify the listening experience
  • Speakerphone with noise- and echo-canceling
  • Voice assistant integration: Access Siri or Google Now from your JBL speaker with a button press
  • New fabric covering and rugged rubber housing make the Flip 4 more durable than previous model
  • JBL Bass Radiator: Dual external passive radiators help deliver more bass
  • Price: $100, £120
  • Six color options: black, white, teal, gray, red and blue
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8.2

JBL Flip 4

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Sound 8Value 8