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JBL OnBeat Micro review: A compact iPhone 5 speaker dock with some kick

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The Good The JBL OnBeat Micro is a compact speaker dock for Lightning-based iPhones and iPods. It delivers very good sound for its small size, and has a USB port for charging other mobile devices (and playing audio from them) and an auxiliary input for connecting to a PC. It also has a battery-powered option for mobile use.

The Bad You'll have to remove everything but the slimmest cases in order to dock your device; you only get about 5 hours of power from four AAA batteries; you can't play music from the docked device while a second one is charging via USB.

The Bottom Line Offering surprisingly decent sound for its small size, the JBL OnBeat Micro makes for a good little desktop or bedside speaker and charging station for iPhone 5 owners.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Sound 8
  • Value 7

One of the big beefs people have with all of Apple's latest 2012 releases -- including the iPhone 5, iPad Mini, fourth-gen iPad, and most new iPods -- is that the company switched from the tried and true 30-pin dock connector to the new Lightning connector. That meant any and all iPod and iPhone accessories you'd accumulated over the years were incompatible with the new models. Finally, though, various accessories that are Lightning-enabled are trickling onto the market; the compact JBL OnBeat Micro ($100) is one of the first speaker docks we've seen that works with the iPhone 5 and the new iPod Touch without the need for a pricey adapter.

The step-up $149.95 OnBeat Mini can also accommodate the iPad Mini, while the $199.95 Bluetooth-enabled OnBeat Venue LT has support for the iPad Mini as well as the fourth-generation iPad with Retina Display (and presumably future full-size iPads). Unfortunately, of course, the docks aren't compatible with older iPhones, but the OnBeat Micro includes a handy USB port for backward compatibility (more on that later).

Truth be told, I liked the Micro more than I thought I would. It's designed to sit on a desk or nightstand and it delivers pretty big sound for its compact size. It also charges your iPhone or iPod Touch and has a few other extras -- an extra USB charger and the option to go portable with battery power. Both of these add some value and make the $100 price tag seem more palatable.

The OnBeat Micro accommodates Lighting-equipped iPhones and iPod Touches. Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and features
JBL has been making this type of compact speaker dock for iPods and iPhones for a while, starting with its doughnut-shaped On Stage products. This speaker is actually a little bigger and has some heft to it: pick it up and it's not as lightweight as you'd think, weighing in at 1.26 pounds. Still, it'll fit easily on a nightstand or next to your computer on a desk.

Since it has an audio input, you can use the Micro as a PC speaker (or to play audio from any other device, such as an Android phone or older, 30-pin Apple device). Yeah, there are two drivers inside the unit, which technically makes it stereo, but they're so close together the speaker offers barely any stereo separation so it's essentially a mono speaker. JBL's digital processing helps widen the soundstage a bit, but digital processing can only do so much.

The power and volume controls. Sarah Tew/CNET

Around back next to the audio input you'll also find a USB port for plugging in and charging other mobile devices. Using that USB connection, you can stream audio from another device. For instance, I plugged in an iPhone 4S using a 30-pin cable and was able to charge the phone or play music from it through the speaker. I also connected an iPad Mini and it, too, was able to output audio through the speaker or get charged.

That's a caveat: once you plug a cable into the USB port, you cannot play music from your docked iPhone or iPod Touch, though the device in the dock will charge. The same is true if you have a cable plugged into the auxiliary input.

I should also highlight of couple of design elements that some folks might find a little troublesome. First, unless you have an ultraslim case on your iPhone, you'll most likely have to remove it in order to dock your device on the Lightning "post."

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