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Philips BT3500B Wireless Portable Speaker review: A slim $79 Bluetooth speaker that hits a lot of right notes

The Philips BT3500 may not excel in any one area, but its slim design is appealing and it delivers decent performance for an affordable price.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

Executive Editor / Reviews

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 reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.

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I review a lot of wireless Bluetooth speakers, and the first question I tend to ask is, "Why would I buy this speaker over all the other Bluetooth speakers out there?" Or, to put it another way, "What makes it stand out from the rest of the pack?"

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7.5

Philips BT3500B Wireless Portable Speaker

The Good

The Philips BT3500 is a slim, relatively compact Bluetooth speaker that offers decent sound for an affordable price. It also has built-in speakerphone capabilities and NFC tap-to-pair for devices that support that feature.

The Bad

Battery life could be a bit better; not the most durable speaker and no protective case is included.

The Bottom Line

The Philips BT3500 may not excel in any one area, but its slim design is appealing and it delivers decent performance for an affordable price.

In the case of the Philips BT3500, the answer is pretty simple: it's got a decent design, feature set, and sound quality for a relatively affordable price (around $75 online). No, it won't blow you away in any one of those departments -- and it doesn't have great battery life -- but it's a likable portable speaker for the money.

Design and features

A lot of mini Bluetooth speakers have more of a canister design to them, but what helps set the BT3500 apart is its relatively flat design, which makes it easy to slip into a bag.

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The BT3500 is designed to wirelessly stream audio from any Bluetooth-enabled device. After your pair it once, it should automatically reconnect when turned on again. Sarah Tew/CNET

Though you can stand the speaker up vertically, it's meant to be laid down flat and propped up at a slight angle using the integrated flip-out kickstand. In that sense, it looks like a portable speakerphone and happens to offer that feature as well. I can't say the build quality or all-plastic design are all that swanky, but the speaker looks fairly attractive and has enough heft to it -- it weighs 17.6 ounces -- to steer it away from feeling cheap. However, there are more durable speakers available (I would avoiding dropping this one).

Philips BT3500 product photos

See all photos

Like a lot of these little speakers, the 7.9-by-4.0-by-1.4-inch (201-by-101-by-35mm) BT3500 plays louder than its size would indicate, and I liked the analog volume knob, which gives the speaker a slightly retro look and, more importantly, makes it easy to raise and lower the speaker's volume.

That same volume knob can be found on the smaller BT2500, which costs around $30 less and is essentially the BT3500 cut in half. The BT3500 adds NFC tap-to-pair technology for devices that support it, but otherwise the two speakers have identical feature sets and include the standard audio input for non-Bluetooth devices. They both are equipped with Bluetooth 3.0.

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The speaker has a built-in kickstand. Sarah Tew/CNET

It's hard to say which speaker I like better. I thought they both sounded pretty good for their size, though as you'd expect, the larger BT3500, which adds a second driver, does sound a bit fuller and plays louder; it's clearly the better performer. However, I like the design of the smaller BT2500. It's literally pocket-size.

Performance

These tiny Bluetooth speakers do have their sound limitations, so you shouldn't expect the world from them, particularly in the bass department. I said the BT2500 sounded restrained with techno and hip-hop and the same is true of the BT3500, though it does have more punch and sounds a little smoother overall.

Like its little brother, I thought the BT3500 managed to avoid sounding harsh and was relatively distortion-free, though it performs better at more modest volume levels and with less complicated music where you don't have a bunch of instruments playing all at once. It's designed for casual, not critical listening, and would also work well as an audio source for movies on a tablet or laptop.

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A switch on top powers on the speaker and puts it in Bluetooth or auxiliary input modes. Sarah Tew/CNET

It also performed fairly well as a speakerphone as long as I didn't wander too far away from the speaker's microphone while talking.

There are a lot of speakers in this price range and the BT3500 -- in terms of sound -- compares favorably to a lot of them. In my tests, I also ran it up against the the Deck by Sol Republic and Motorola because the two speakers have similar flat designs. The Deck has some added design flair and features and has come down from its $199 list price (you can get the gunmetal version for around $130 online), but the BT3500 is kind of a poor man's Deck and sounds as good (the BT3500 is actually a slightly larger speaker).

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The BT3500 is roughly twice the size of the BT2500 ($49.99). Sarah Tew/CNET

The BT3500 charges via Micro-USB and its battery life is rated at 5 hours. You'd ideally like to have a speaker rated for at least 8 hours of listening, but if you don't crank the volume too much, you may be able to improve on that 5-hour number.

Conclusion

Like the smaller BT2500, the BT3500 isn't as swanky or sturdily built as some premium Bluetooth speakers, but it sounds pretty good and costs a lot less, making it a good value choice in the mini Bluetooth speaker category.

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7.5

Philips BT3500B Wireless Portable Speaker

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Sound 7Value 8
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