UE Boom review: A Bluetooth speaker for the great outdoors

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The Good The UE Boom is a compact, durable wireless Bluetooth speaker that plays very loud for its size and is water- and stain-resistant. It offers up to 15 hours of battery life, has speakerphone capabilities, and is well-suited to outdoor use. Also, if you buy a second speaker, you can create a completely wireless pair of true stereo speakers using the UE Boom app for iOS and Android devices.

The Bad Somewhat pricey; while the sound quality is very good for a speaker this size, the bass could be fuller.

The Bottom Line The $200 UE Boom is a versatile and durable wireless Bluetooth speaker that plays loud and is great for on-the-go use.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Sound 8
  • Value 7

Shaped like an energy drink and named like one, the Ultimate Ears Boom has some kick to it -- and that kick lasts all day long.

This rugged wireless Bluetooth speaker is being touted as a more powerful and durable version of the Jawbone Jambox and has a special "acoustic skin with plasma coating" that makes it water- and stain-resistant. That means you can wash it should it get dirty, and UE is marketing it as a speaker you take with you everywhere you go -- indoors and outdoors. At 1.2 pounds, it's not heavy, but it's also not light and has a little bit of heft to it.

What's interesting about the speaker is that using it indoors I was initially a tad underwhelmed. Yeah, it delivers good sound for a speaker its size, but at $200, it's pricier than competitors such as the JBL's cylindrical Flip and Charge, so I was expecting a little more, particularly in the bass department.

However, my appreciation for it grew when I took it outside. Over the course of the day, I stuck it on a table out on the patio, left it sitting on a bench near the edge of a basketball court, and perched it in a small tree, wedged between two branches while doing a little pond fishing (the fish didn't seem to mind and I took some perverse satisfaction in equipping a tree to have speakerphone capabilities).

I was impressed by how loud the Boom played and how long the battery lasted. I still wished it cost a little less, but in taking it for a weekend spin outside the office, I found myself becoming attached to it -- enough to think I wouldn't regret paying $200 for it.

The Boom comes in six different colors -- red, black, white, blue, pink, and moss green -- and is designed to sit horizontally or vertically, though it seems better suited to being propped up vertically.

Part of the speaker has a soft-to-the-touch rubberized finish, and the darker-colored models have tendency to show the the oil from your skin, while the lighter-colored models will show dirt and grime over time. The good news is that you can simply wash the speaker off or wipe it down with a damp cloth and it cleans up well.

The Boom has a coating that makes it water- and stain-resistant. Sarah Tew/CNET

Since the speaker is water-resistant, you could use it as a shower speaker, though you probably wouldn't want to keep it directly in the shower stream for too long. While UE failed to include rubberized caps for the USB and audio input ports on the first units it shipped, all units now come with those caps, and Logitech says it will send the caps to any customers who didn't them get for free.

On the end of the speaker where the audio input and USB connection are, there's a hook, so you can clip the speaker to a backpack with a carabiner. If you unscrew that hook, you'll find a threaded tripod mount.

Most people will use the UE Boom in a vertical orientation, but it can also sit horizontally. Sarah Tew/CNET

The speaker charges via USB and is rated at 15 hours of battery life, which is very good for a portable Bluetooth speaker (I ran it for a full day from about 9 in the morning to 10 at night and then for a couple of hours the next day before the juice ran out -- that brought me to about 14.5 hours playing at mostly moderate volume levels).

There are volume controls on the speaker, but most people will simply use their smartphone or tablet as a remote. And as noted, this speaker, like the Jambox, has speakerphone capabilities.

UE reps gave us a sneak peek at the drivers inside the speaker (the speaker cover is not removable). David Carnoy/CNET

Behind the fancy fabric covering the speaker are two 1.5-inch full-range drivers and two 2-inch passive radiators. UE, which is owned by Logitech, has designed the Boom to produce 360-degree sound, so it sounds the same whether you're standing in front of it or behind it.

Like a few other premium wireless speakers, the Boom has its own app -- it's called UE Boom -- which is available for Android and iOS devices. The app allows you to tweak the speaker's bass and treble, and if you have a second Boom, you can use the app to daisy-chain two speakers together to help fill a larger space with sound. Or you can have one speaker act as a left channel and one act as a right channel to provide real stereo separation.

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