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UE Mini Boom Bluetooth speaker review: UE's compact speaker gets a small boost

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If you're like me and having been keeping tabs on the wireless Bluetooth speaker market, you know that the UE Mini Boom looks a lot like last year's UE Mobile Boombox. Cosmetically, at least, the two products are nearly identical (the speaker grilles do have different patterns). However, the $99.99 Mini Boom does offer a couple of enhancements that slightly improve upon an already good product.

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7.3

UE Mini Boom Bluetooth speaker

The Good

The <b>UE Mini Boom</b> is a very compact Bluetooth speaker that has a built-in rechargeable battery, speakerphone capabilities, a line input, and ruggedized design. It sounds good for its small size and can be combined with a second Mini Boom to create a stereo pair. It sounds slightly better than its predecessor, the UE Mobile Boombox.

The Bad

Yes, the Mini Boom's bass is slightly improved, but it still can't produce a ton of bass.

The Bottom Line

While it doesn't do that much to stand out from the crowded field of Bluetooth speakers in the $60-$100 range, the well-built and decent sounding (for its size) UE Mini Boom is a pretty safe choice for those looking for a very compact wireless speaker.

What exactly are those enhancements? Well, the Mini Boom offers a bit better sound. And you can also pair up two Mini Booms to create a stereo right and left speakers. I can't say that adds up to a big leap forward, but you are getting a little bit more for your money, which isn't a bad thing.

Same design
The Mini Boom is smaller than the Jawbone Jambox and weighs 10.6 ounces (301g). It's easy enough to stow in a bag or backpack and it's obviously small enough to easily tote out to the patio, pool, or beach (it really is quite small). It makes for an excellent travel companion.

The Mini Boom is available in multiple color options, including solid black. Sarah Tew/CNET

Like the Mobile Boombox, this model has a rubberized, rugged casing, with a limited set of control buttons on the top of the device. There's volume-up/-down buttons, plus a Bluetooth button to set up pairing, but no transport controls for skipping tracks forward and back or pausing playback (with Bluetooth devices, you tend to control playback and volume from your mobile device, but some people being able to control playback from the speaker itself).

The Mini Boom comes in a few different colors -- I ended up with black and red versions -- and has an auxiliary input for plugging in audio devices that aren't Bluetooth-enabled (you'll have to supply the cable, however).

The volume controls and Bluetooth button. Sarah Tew/CNET

One of the reasons behind the rubberized design is that it helps keep the speaker from moving around when you feed it bass-heavy material and pumped up its volume. The truth is that these little speakers aren't really designed to be cranked up and belt out big, booming sound. They can play loud for their size and fill a small room with sound, but they tend to sound best at 6-8 on the volume scale rather than at 10. They also offer virtually no stereo separation since their internal drivers are crammed so closely together.

Since there are no raised "feet" on the bottom of the unit (it's just one flat piece of rubberized plastic), the finish on the bottom may get scuffed up over time, particularly if you use this outside. In other words, be careful about what surface you place the speaker on.

Pairing the speaker was simple enough: you just press the Bluetooth icon on top of the unit and search for Bluetooth devices on your phone or tablet from within the Bluetooth menu. Once it connects, you're ready to start streaming music or a movie soundtrack to the speaker.

Around back you'll find the power button, micro USB charging port, and auxiliary input for non Bluetooth devices. Sarah Tew/CNET

Logitech says you can stream from up to 50 feet away from the speaker (I was able to hit that distance in my tests) and there's a microphone built into the top of the unit, so you get speakerphone capabilities. Additionally, the specs for the product state that there's NFC tap-to-pair for devices that support it, but nothing is mentioned in the instructions about NFC and personally I find the feature useless (once you pair the speaker once, it should pair again automatically.

The unit charges via a USB connection on back. A charger and cable are included. Sarah Tew/CNET

Good sound for its size
I'm not going to lie to you and say this sounds great. But like I said with the previous model, when you get into the tiny-speaker category, just sounding OK is a feat, and most people should be impressed that such a small speaker can produce fairly decent sound. It can play pretty loudly and puts out a lot more sound than the internal speakers of your typical smartphone or tablet.

The Mini Boom offers slightly better bass performance than its predecessor. As I said in the intro, it's not a huge difference, but the speaker does sound a little better overall, with slightly cleaner, richer sound (to be clear, this is a relative statement). Still, even with the improved bass response, you're not going to mistake this for a big speaker. It does sound a little thin and not terribly open or expansive. But for a small speaker it manages to output a good amount of sound with bass that has a little warmth to it. (I'm sorry I don't sound more enthusiastic, but I've listened to a lot of these tiny Bluetooth speakers and they all have their limitations).

You can pair two Mini Booms up to get real stereo separation. Sarah Tew/CNET

Combining two speakers didn't produce sound that was twice as good, even though you get better stereo separation in "stereo" mode. The fact is adding a second speaker doesn't improve the bass (you're still left with the same sound, it's just magnified). In other words, I wouldn't bother doubling up, and would instead buy the better- -- and bigger- -- sounding UE Boom, which retails for $199.99.

As far as battery life goes, you can run this for about 10 hours before having to recharging it, which is pretty decent. I found that it worked well enough as a speakerphone, though you'll want to keep it within a few feet of you when talking into the integrated microphone.

The side of the speaker sports the UE logo. Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion
Some readers had asked me to review the updated version of UE Mobile Boombox after it got its name change to the UE Mini Boom and was updated. One reader had heard, "It was much better."

It isn't. It's just a little better.

And in the meantime, the competition has increased. You have speakers like the OontZ retailing for $50. It may not play quite as loud, but it also delivers decent sound for its size and costs less. The UE Mini Boom is a better built speaker. However, I can't say it truly stands out from the pack at this price point (you also have the JBL Flip at $99).

That said, it remains a solid mini Bluetooth speaker and is a pretty safe choice, especially if you can get it for closer to $80 instead of $100.

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7.3

UE Mini Boom Bluetooth speaker

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Sound 7Value 7