Hands-on: Ultimate Ears UE Boom review

Ultimate Ears has launched what could well be the ultimate portable Bluetooth speaker - the tough, water-resistant UE Boom.

We've seen plenty of portables over time, including the likes of the Beats Pill and Libratone Zipp, among others which have produced mixed results. Can UE's first bash in this market sector better its competitors? Pocket-lint headed down to a central London recording studio to get eyes and ears on the latest portable.

READ: Beats Pill review

Before we got to wrap our ears around the UE Boom's sound quality there were stacks of features that caught our attention. Boom is a simple-looking cylinder - the box it comes in looks more champagne case than speaker parcel - that's covered in a hard-wearing material. But this is no ordinary material: it's super-tough and a plasma coating makes it water resistant. Even throwing a cup of water over the device won't harm it - we know, because that's exactly what we did.

The shape may be straightforward, but UE has dressed it up with attractive details. The material is textured and looks striking in various colour finishes, there's a UE logo tag and large plus and minus volume controls that become a design feature in themselves. Six colour options include basic black and combinations such as red and white or blue and yellow.

A first for this market sector is that the UE Boom can pair via Bluetooth with not just one but two devices at the same time. One device needn't disconnect to open the door for a second device either: simply press pause and device two's playback will take over.

Bluetooth pairing can happen without the need of additional software, as can one-touch NFC pairing, and pairing, disconnect and power-up are each conveyed by different bongo-tapping sounds. We'd like options to change these sounds to different presets if possible, as inoffensive as they are.

If you're more old skool then a 3.5mm jack is also available to plug in devices. This opening isn't so water-resistant though, so ensure the Boom is sitting the right way up in case of rain!

There's also a UE Boom app. It might sound like an extra hoop to jump through, but the app's concept is great: it not only offers battery life remaining display but there are also EQs and it's even possible to connect two Boom speakers simultaneously. Control whether one acts as left channel while the other takes over right duties, or if both devices play both channels together.

We do think there are one or two tricks missed within the app: there's no desktop version and for the mobile platform we think it would be cool if the owner of the app-bearing device - pretty much master DJ - could allow several devices to pair up to it for access to multiple music banks on the fly. It's not possible, but that would be a truly crowdsourced party. Maybe one day.

And so to the audio. UE Boom is comprised of two 2-inch drivers mounted at differing angles to spread audio around the curved surface. With the exception of the volume-control side, sound is thrown in multiple directions - which means it sounds the same almost wherever you stand in relation to it. Now that's ideal for a park gathering, festival campsite or whatever other social event you can think of. It works too, and it's loud enough to kick out some serious audio. No distortion, but an inevitable lack of true low-end might disappoint some, but otherwise, in this particular market sector, it delivers to expectations. Loud doesn't mean massive sound, but for its size UE Boom is apt to its name: it booms out the out.

There's more too. The cylindrical design can be laid flat, stood upright or there's a screw-in clip if you want to hang it up. Take this screw out and the reverse is a standard tripod thread - now possibilities really open up: combine with a Gorillapod or similar mount and the Boom could be hung pretty much anywhere.

Battery life is a claimed 15 hours of playback from a two-hour charge - sounds impressive, so we'll be sure to put the Boom through its paces before delivering a full review and verdict.

However the price isn't small - at £169 UE Boom is just as pricey as the Beats Pill. Pound for pound we reckon the UE walks all over the well-known bass brand though and it's definitely kitted out with plenty more features. We like.



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