Pure Jongo S3 review
When the Pure Jongo S3 arrived in the office we didn't quite get the point at first. A battery powered Bluetooth speaker is always handy, but we'd seen enough to know that if we're going to get on with them, they need to have a unique selling point.
Where Pure is coming from with the Jongo system is in its flexibility. The S3 is a speaker that has Bluetooth for simple use, but which can also connect to your wireless network and give you online radio, multi-room audio and access to Pure's music store. It's not one or the other, but a speaker to cover all bases. This is more of a rival for Sonos than most Bluetooth speakers, which might go some way to explaining why it has a reasonably high price tag.
Small and stylish
One area in which the Jongo S3 wins over many other similar devices is the aesthetic. These speakers are nice and small and come in a variety of colour options. If you can't find one that suits your needs, then you might have very strange preferences.
The two main things to worry about are in what colour you want the main speaker - it comes in either white or black - and what colour do you want the interchangeable grille covers to be.
The battery that powers the Pure S3 is housed in a screw-sealed flap underneath the speaker. This means you can replace the battery when it starts to hold less charge, rather than having to throw the whole thing away. And it's worth remembering that most Bluetooth speakers don't offer this.
On the front there are volume and mute controls, and at the back a small LCD screen which offers some limited information. We found it a bit frustrating to use, as was the power button which gives out some mixed colour-based signals via LED.
Wi-Fi mode, and Bluetooth audio
The thing that the S3 adds compared to other Bluetooth speakers is that it also has Wi-Fi support. This has been included mainly as a way to allow you to create a multi-room home sound system. Clearly, this is a variation on the Sonos market (although Sonos uses a mesh network rather Wi-Fi, but the result is similar), and it's proven to be one of the systems of listening to music that people want to buy into.
The big problem for Pure is that Sonos has its simplicity nailed down, at least for the most part. On a Sonos it's a matter of pressing two buttons on the hardware, then searching in the app. On the Jongo, it's more involved. First, you need to turn on the S3, then put it into Wi-Fi mode. Once this is done, you can connect to it, and set it to access your wireless home network. Once this is done, you'll be kicked off the Jongo's network, and you can use the app and it should see the S3 on your home network.
For the most part this goes well enough, but the screen on the back isn't clear, and the button presses are as ambiguous as we've come to expect from such methods. You end up pressing the pair button wrongly, and not getting the right colour lights in response. Eventually we got our pair of S3s on our network, and all was well. You may well need to update the software, and that takes a bit of time and patience with a light flashing on the front, and no indication of how long is left. Sonos has some problems with its update procedure too, but it's a bit more clear than this.
Once you're on Wi-Fi, you can then pair up Jongo S3, and used as a pair you can assign them as either left or right speakers for full stereo. It's a simple, but effective idea, and one that is well thought-out.
That said, we still had some occasional problems. For example, pressing the Wi-Fi button on the back caused the speakers to re-seek a Wi-Fi network, which broke the existing pairing. It was then necessary to faff about getting them to work again.
Bluetooth audio is, of course, a lot simpler. You put the device into pairing mode, which is done by holding the power button, and the speaker will work with any Bluetooth device that supports audio (A2DP). This is a great way of quickly using the speaker, and the only real disadvantage is that you can't link multiple speakers together in this way. Obviously, Bluetooth has a shorter range than a Wi-Fi network, so that's another thing to consider.
The main advantage of Bluetooth is that you can use any music app you want. So rather than Pure's service, you use Spotify instead. For most people, this is likely to be important. And it would be nice if there was a way to use other services over the wireless network.
There's also a wired Aux input, should you want to use a device that doesn't have Bluetooth.
We're not totally appy
If you want to use the multi-room audio, you have to use Pure's Connect app too. This is because there's no other standard way to stream to the speakers without it. The app is, actually, pretty good. It will suggest you use Pure's subscription service, and if you don't have Spotify, Google Music or Napster, then Pure's library is pretty much as good and worth considering - especially if you're investing in Pure's hardware.
On our Nexus 5 smartphone the Pure app did have some odd stuff going on. For example, sometimes it will just refuse to play music. MP3s, which it is usually happy with, report an error and refused to play on some occasions. You have to quit the app to fix this, and we should highlight that it was not a common problem.
It's with the quality of the audio that we start to reach some of our less positive feelings. There's nothing massively wrong with the audio, and the Jongo sounds good for most uses, but it's not as impressive as some other Bluetooth speakers we've heard, like the Jawbone Jambox, for example.
Bass, for example, is particularly weak. There's just not enough of the low-frequency stuff. But then, these are tiny speakers really, so we shouldn't be too harsh about the low end.
Mid and high frequencies are both crystal clear, which makes them good for speech-based content, like podcasts and Radio 4. Most music sounds decent enough, but if you're looking for an audiophile solution, this isn't it.
That said, the convenience is what's worth owning here, as these speakers are small and can be used in pairs to great stereo effect. You can stream all around your house and keep everything in perfect sync. If you're using a stereo pair in the study, you can grab one and go to the kitchen with it, and carry on listening. It's a nice solution and it's one we've been keen to use.
We also really dig the stereo separation when using two Jongo S3s. It's quite easy to forget about stereo sound with most Bluetooth speakers, because while they may well support it, they also have such small cases that you'll rarely to never hear much separation. Here, you can put the Jongos further away for one another, and it creates a really nice stereo soundfield - one that's more like a hi-fi than most other similar solutions.
Pure claims about 10 hours battery life. In practice, this might be the case with Bluetooth, but Wi-Fi seems to be more power hungry. We thought the battery life was good though, and we used an S3 in our kitchen every night for a couple of weeks without charging, so it's certainly got the juice to keep on going. Recharging is also quick, so keeping them topped up is not a big deal.
Our biggest beef with the Jongo S3 is that they're expensive, and don't really sound as good as some other Bluetooth speakers. There's nothing awful about the sound, it's just a little less rounded than most speakers and the low-end lacks.
That said, the convenience is great. For a small wireless music system, one that perhaps includes a different kind of Jongo speaker among it, the S3 speakers are flexible. If you want bigger bass and a better sound, there are other speakers in the range that are better suited. These are about that battery powered use, and the luxury of being able to use two in a stereo pair. For that, we would say this Pure set-up is worth considering.
Certainly there's a lot of great Jongo hardware out there now, so building a home system is going to produce good results - we'd just like to see Pure look at Sonos's use of third-party services, or even Jawbone's integration of Spotify through the API to see what might further appeal to users.