Sony Ericsson's MBS-100 portable Bluetooth speaker has no problem being noticed. If you didn't know better, you'd swear the little $69 speaker orb might be an eyeball plucked from some giant alien crustacean, or a Venusian satellite that fell to earth. The softball-sized speaker stands 3.5 inches tall by 4 inches wide, with an all-black exterior and a speaker grille that looks like it's been stretched back after hurtling across the galaxy.
For better or worse, the reality of the MBS-100 is much less exciting than the design implies. Essentially, you have a single speaker coupled with a low-powered amplifier portable amplifier (actual amp specs are unknown). The speaker connects to Bluetooth-compatible devices or can be used with non-Bluetooth audio devices (MP3 player or CD player) through a 3.5-millimeter aux input jack found at the bottom of the speaker.
In addition to auxiliary audio input, the speaker's flat bottom also conceals its power button and a button for switching the device into Bluetooth pairing mode. Given the speaker's small size and light weight (about 7.9 ounces), we didn't find it especially inconvenient to flip the MBS-100 over to turn it on or off. A small socket for the speaker's power adapter is also found on the bottom of the speaker, positioned in such a way that the cable appropriately shoots out from the back. However, the included power adapter is a proprietary design, so take care not to lose it.
As Bluetooth speakers go, the features of the MBS-100 are basic. There are no built-in microphones to use for hands-free calling, and no AVRCP buttons for remote music playback control. Sony won't even give you a simple control for volume adjustment and assumes you'll be able to adjust volume on the device you're streaming from--which is not the case with our iPod Touch.
The MBS-100's killer feature, though, is an internal rechargeable battery capable of up to 5 hours of continuous music playback and 50 hours of standby time. It's not quite as outstanding as Logitech's PureFi Mobile ($149) that is rated at 12 hours of playback, but its bests the Yamaha NX-B02's four hours of tunes.
That said, we hardly recommend listening to the MBS-100 for five hours straight, since the audio quality is only about as good as a clock radio. To Sony's credit, evoking a rich, deep sound from a 4-inch plastic ball would require a loophole in the laws of physics--and though the sound is thin, it is also surprisingly crisp and detailed.
What the MBS-100 lacks in sound quality, it makes up for in style and portability. The speaker's wireless Bluetooth range affords a range of 30 feet to 40 feet between the speaker and the transmitter, and its size and weight make it easy to pick up and take on the go.
At the time of this review, we're seeing the MBS-100 selling online for about $40 to $50, which is a great price provided you're a fan of adventurous design. Still, for us to really love this speaker, it needs to have a built-in volume adjustment and maybe just a little extra sonic oomph.