Portable Bluetooth speakers are available in abundance right now. Whether ones made by companies you've heard of, or ones that you haven't, the price and ability of such speakers hugely varies. With Beats now owned by Apple adding a sense of extra kudos to the brand, can the latest Pill+ achieve above and beyond its competition?
We've been using the Beats Pill+ for over a month, where it's been carted around with us to hotel rooms, used in a run-down car with a broken stereo, and to generally act as our desk-side radio during the day. Is it an exemplary audio experience?
Beats Pill+ review: Design
When the original Pill launched in 2012 it was, unsurprisingly given its name, a pill-shaped design. That iconic shape hasn't been lost in the Pill+, but the new model for 2016 is altogether more sophisticated looking.
Dressed in black for this particular review model (there's a white one too, but no bright colours this time around), the tighter mesh front doesn't so easily reveal the speakers beneath, while a single glowing b-symbol is up top (rather than front-facing like it was in the older design). Ports are kept out of sight around the back, while on/off and volume up/down buttons sit slightly raised from the hard plastic top. It's a neat and tidy design overall.
As Apple is now the company behind Beats, the Pill+ makes use of a Lightning port for charging, which is tucked away behind a rubberised flap to the rear. This flap unfolds in a two-part form, the second section revealing a 3.5mm microphone jack for wired input, and full-size USB for charging external devices using the Pill+'s built-in battery. Once it's pulled out it's a fiddle to get it back into place, though, as there's a rubber "stop" that fixes into the 3.5mm jack.
Beats Pill+ review: Functionality
There's no NFC in this latest model, which is perhaps no surprise given that Apple doesn't use such near field communication in its devices, but that might come as a blow for Android users wanting a quick sync-up. Beats' excuse? Customers weren't using it before, so they don't want it now.
There is, of course, Bluetooth connectivity across the board to deliver those tunes wirelessly. However, we've found Bluetooth to be fussy in its connection, with our MacBook Air not always delivering audio despite an established connection.
The main way most will connect is via the Pill+ app, available for iOS and Android. We've been using the latter with both Moto Force and Huawei Mate 8 phones, which have exhibited some clicks, pops and drop-outs in playback from time to time (both via Wi-Fi and 4G connections).
The Pill+ app is a little slow to load, but only really needs to be used if you want to amplify/stereofy with a second Pill product, or use the two-Bluetooth-devices-connected DJ mode to chop and change between two devices. Otherwise you can choose whichever service you like - from Spotify and Google Music, to BBC Media Player and beyond.
What we particularly like is the percentage display which gives an accurate relay of the Pill+'s remaining battery. Speaking of which the battery life is fairly reasonable, at over 10-hours per charge. It takes a few hours to recharge the battery from flat though.
Beats Pill+ review: Sound
As with any Bluetooth speaker it's the sound that perhaps matters the most. And while the Pill+ isn't bad, it's not that great either. Or, more specifically, not great for a £190 speaker unit.
The closed box design features two woofers and two tweeters, both of which are separated. At around the 2,000Hz mark a proprietary Beats digital signal processor (DSP) dynamically adjusts the crossover in real-time depending on what you're listening to. That's important if you've got a bass-laden track where more space is left for that low-end, allowing the higher-end to cut through over the top.
Which sounds rather fancy, but the actual results can be a little lacking. The Pill+ is a little larger than its predecessors, but there's still not heaps of bass - and when companies such as Ultimate Ears offer the UE Megaboom, for example, the Beats product just can't be seen (or heard) in the same stead.
Anything of this size is going to have its limitations, of course, so matching expectation is a given. If all you have to listen to is a laptop then connecting the Pill+ will make a huge difference - and it's really loud too, which helps. We just expected to be blown away at this price point, which isn't the case.
The Beats Pill+ is the best looking pill-shaped portable from the now-Apple-owned company. But that's not enough to make it stand head and shoulders above its competition, particularly given the overall sound quality and a scatty Bluetooth connection. Not that it's a bad portable, but Ultimate Ears and some other makers do a better job.
What's really questionable is the price. At £190 for one unit - and with a push for stereo/amplified output as a pair you'll be looking at a £380 price tag - the Pill+ is expensive for what it is. There are dedicated Bluetooth systems close to that price point which are considerably better, which makes this a hard Pill to swallow.