Future Bike - Product Review: UE Boom

The UE Boom in all 6 colors.

In 2010 Jawbone, a company known for it’s high tech noise cancelling Bluetooth headset, released the first battery-power bluetooth speaker, the Jambox. It was a huge success and an entire industry of portable Bluetooth speakers sprung up within a few years.

Whether your trusty steed has a bottle cage or not, you can still enjoy your Boom on a bike.

At $199 on Amazon, the UE Boom is the first portable Bluetooth speaker to catch my eye. It’s a rugged, water-resistant design that comes in a wide variety of colors. It’s cylindrical shape means you can carry it in the bottle cage on your bike. Essentially, the UE Boom is the first Bluetooth speaker that is designed with the needs of bikers in mind.

I’ve always been timid about entering the portable speaker market because the sacrifices in audio quality just didn’t seem worth the price tag. The UE Boom is the first Bluetooth speaker I've listened to where I felt like the sound quality is actually worth the money. It’s still a portable speaker so there are audio compromises, but they're nothing like the acoustic shortcomings of a standard Jambox. But The Boom doesn’t stop at best-in-class audio quality. It also fixes several of the headaches Bluetooth speakers usually have.

 After the initial pairing, any time you turn the Boom on, it will automatically pair with the last device that it was connected to (granted it's a Bluetooth 4.0 device). When you’re hopping on your bike and running late for an appointment the last thing you want to do is settings-spelunking on your mobile phone. With the Boom just push the power button and wait about 3 seconds. You’ll hear the Boom’s characteristic bongo sound effect indicating the device is connected and you’re ready to go. And this level polish makes it’s way into every feature implemented in the Boom’s hardware.

This is especially true with the “double up” feature. If you and your friend each has a Boom you can connect both of them together to double your volume or listen in stereo. Normally I would consider a feature like this a gimmick, along the lines of Android face unlock, but the Boom makes good on its promise. The pairing process is simple. In just a few seconds you’ll have crisp, clear stereo audio blasting from both of your Booms simultaneously. The best part? Music playback still works from your favorite app. There's no need to make the user experience more complicated just because you’ve got two speakers wirelessly synchronized by magic invisible rainbows.

The UE Boom app. What are those two hidden buttons for?

The first of the Boom’s two weak points is the app. While it looks great, usability was definitely not a primary concern for the Boom’s software team. The rotating carousel effect on the main menu looks great, but it’s difficult to control and I often find myself scrolling past the button I wanted. Think of it as functioning similarly to a rotary phone (or an early iPod if you have no idea what a rotary phone is). Slow and clunky.

The second weak point is the battery. And it's a major one. Logitech claims a 15 hour battery life for the Boom in their specs. In practice you will only achieve this with indoor listening at a low volume. In reality I get 6-8 hours at approximately 50% volume, which is my normal bike ride level. However, when I’m in bike party mode, running the Boom near 100% volume, battery life drops off to a mere 1.5 hours! This is a serious problem that has reared it’s ugly head on many social bike rides.

Summary: The UE Boom is the first Bluetooth speaker on the market designed for transportation bikers. It has great audio, a high level of polish, and a slew of features that make the Boom a great fit for your commuter kit. Despite issues with battery life, I still find the UE Boom to be an essential part of my day-to-day bike setup.