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UE Roll review: A uniquely designed waterproof Bluetooth speaker

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These days it's hard to break new ground with wireless Bluetooth speakers, but UE is doing its best with the Roll, a waterproof Bluetooth speaker that looks like a saucer-shaped UFO, is fully waterproof, and comes in six different color options at launch. It costs $100 in the US, £80 in the UK and AU$150 in Australia.

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8.1

UE Roll

The Good

The UE Roll is a compact, waterproof Bluetooth speaker with a unique design, very good sound for its size, and decent battery life. It has an integrated bungee cord and an inflatable life preserver (included if the speaker is purchased through UE's website) that allows it to float in water.

The Bad

It has no speakerphone capabilities.

The Bottom Line

You can get cheaper Bluetooth speakers that do the job, but the small yet versatile UE Roll has more to distinguish itself for the price -- both in terms of design and performance.

The Roll is the third wireless Bluetooth speaker in UE's line, following in the footsteps of the well-regarded UE Boom and its big brother, the UE Megaboom , both of which feature cylindrical designs (UE is Ultimate Ears, Logitech's high-end audio line). This model replaces the UE Mini Boom , which also retails for $100 but is being discounted as it heads into retirement.

Design

What's nice about the Roll is that you can lay it down flat or pull out its integrated bungee cord and hang it from whatever you want, including a shower head. Overall, the speaker has a nice sturdy feel to it and it's got some heft to it as well, weighing in at 11.8 ounces or 336 grams. A built-in rechargeable battery is rated for 9 hours of music playback and the speaker has a 65-foot wireless range, which is double what your typical Bluetooth speaker offers.

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The UE Roll taking a swim with my dog, Disco.

David Carnoy/CNET

There are volume controls on the top of the speaker, but no pause/play button or speakerphone capabilities. As I said, this model is completely waterproof -- IPX7 certified -- with a set of ports that are sealed off, and it can be fully submerged. It doesn't float, however, but if you buy the Roll from UE's website, you get a little inflatable life preserver with your purchase and you can attach it to the speaker using the bungee cord.

I got a pink life preserver from UE and tested the speaker in a pool with good results. There are other speakers that float, but the life-preserver makes sure to keep the Roll well above water. A few times it did tip over completely, going face down into the pool, causing the sound to be muffled. But once I righted the ship, so to speak, the Roll returned to form.

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The UE Roll comes in all the colors you see here.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

The sound is very good for a speaker this size and price and manages to hold together pretty well at higher volumes (to be clear, this is designed to generate background music, not drive a beach party). It impresses the most with acoustical material and like a lot of these speakers, is strongest in the midrange, with vocals coming across warmly and clearly.

While you're not going to get as much bass or volume as what you get from the the UE Boom or Megaboom, there is some bass. The speaker has a harder time resolving more complicated tracks with lots of instruments playing and just can't handle some bass all that well. For instance, it sounded a little rough around the edges with Alabama Shakes' "Don't Wanna Fight." But throw Amy Winehouse's "Valerie -- Live" at it and the speaker acquits itself well.

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The integrated bungee cord.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you do want to augment the sound, you can wirelessly pair multiple Rolls together using UE's free iOS or Android apps. You can't make left and right speakers like you can with the UE's Boom speakers, but joining speakers together allows you to project sound over a wider space.

I didn't join two speakers in the pool and listen to them float about, but having one speaker in the pool produced an ample amount of sound (the acoustics of a pool are interesting). I also had it out on a table by the barbecue and hung it from a tree. It's well designed for outdoor use.

Both its sound and the versatility of its design had my friends asking me who made the speaker and how much it cost.

When I said $100, no one balked. "Seems about right," said one friend. I agree.

Conclusion

You can get cheaper Bluetooth speakers that do the job, but the UE Roll has more to distinguish itself for the price -- both in terms of design and performance. It's a fun little speaker and a decent value at about half the price of the UE Boom. Yes, that step-up model sounds fuller, but the Roll has its own pluses to recommend it.

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UE Roll

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Sound 7Value 8