12
Jun
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We don't often throw around the accolade "best" when it comes to product reviews here at Android Police. The dreaded "B" word can land a reviewer in hot water. But if there's one product niche I've been scouring for a long time, it's Bluetooth speakers. There are a vast array of choices out there, many of them quite well known (eg, Jambox), and others, a bit more obscure (like this guy).

I've been fortunate enough to try some of the best of them. But there always seems to be a significant compromise involved, no matter where I go. Whether in portability, sound, or price - something's always got to give, it seems. But finally, I think we have have reached sweet nirvana, dear readers. I really do think the JBL Flip may have brought the best of most worlds into a single device.

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The Basics: JBL Flip
  • The JBL Flip is a portable Bluetooth speaker that wirelessly streams audio from your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, tablet, or computer (or potato?). It also does audio via a 3.5mm aux-in stereo jack. The flip is manufactured by JBL, who are part of Harman Corp. There are two 5W speaker drivers behind the Flip's painted aluminum grille, and hardware controls for volume, power, and speakerphone operation.
  • Cost: $99, available in white (here) or black (here).
  • Why you should care: Incredible price, incredible sound. It really is as simple as that.
  • Random but cool: The Flip can be used lain flat, or stood up vertically.
The Hardware

The JBL Flip is pretty unassuming, though not boring, from a design standpoint. It's actually quite clever, in a way - while it is technically designed to play lying flat, a la the two rubber nipples that keep it stationary, it can also be stood upright. The controls are on what then becomes the top of the speaker, making them rather easy to access. The cylindrical shape of the Flip also makes it a lot nicer to pick up and manipulate than a Jambox.

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Overall, the Flip feels well put together, and while not having the super-modern minimalist chic of the Jambox, it is far from ugly. It also looks good in white.

One oddly cheap choice of material is the rubber "heel" behind the two nipples along the backside of the cylinder. It's about 3/4" long, and at first I thought it was some sort of latch or port cover, and a quick tug with my fingernail sent it flying. It's just kind of loosely glued on there. The two nipples, though, seem to be of sturdier stuff.

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The controls have great, clicky feedback, and can easily be operated without looking, as each button has a very different feel. Speaker phone is a raised circular button. Power / pair is a depressed circular button. Volume up / down is a long, semi-circular button. It's pretty hard to confuse one for the other.

The one drawback that I will really hammer on JBL for on the Flip is the choice of charging interface. It's an (admittedly, pretty common) AC adapter setup with a cumbersomely large power brick attached to the end. This really is the Flip's one, true downfall. However, outside of travel scenarios, this is less of a major flaw, and more a bearable nuisance. But seriously, microUSB is the future, JBL - get with it!

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The only other port is the rather standard aux-in, should you prefer to rock out in a wired fashion. The Bluetooth connectivity was functional and provided me no issues. JBL promises ">5 hours" of battery life, which is on the low side, but that figure seems pretty comparable to what I experienced.

Oh, and there's a little form-fitted zip-up sock for your Flip so it doesn't get all dinged up when you travel with it.

The Sound

This is where the Flip goes from "pretty good" to "great." First off, the Flip decimates the Jambox. And the Braven. And really pretty much any speaker in its size class that I have heard. JBL apparently has some pretty clever acoustics going on in the Flip, along with an ample 10W of peak output from its dual speakers.

The fidelity, loudness, and bass presence of the Flip so far outstrip anything else in its portability class that I often struggle to understand just how JBL is selling this thing for $99. It's incredible. You get [small-]room-filling sound that you simply wouldn't expect to come out of something the size of a Bud tall boy.

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While I don't find fidelity as nuanced as I do on the similarly-priced Soundfreaq Sound Kick (which is much larger), the presence and volume of the Flip is what really seals the deal here. When speakers like the Braven and Jambox sound tinny, empty, or start to rattle their enclosures with bass vibration, the Flip isn't sweating it a bit. You have a lot of room work with, and I don't run it anywhere close to max volume for casual listening.

And compared to a Jambox, this thing sounds just godly. Not even a contest.

The End

The JBL Flip is, almost unquestionably, the king of the hill for small portable Bluetooth speakers right now. While its battery life and proprietary charger do make it a bit less portable than some of its rivals, it easily makes up for such shortcomings with its performance and design. And, more than anything, its price. A hundred bucks for a speaker like this is A.) an incredible value, and B.) yet another great way to tell a lot of products in this segment are sold for far more than they're actually worth.

The sequel to the Flip, the JBL Charge, promises to sound even better (I listened to it, it does sound incredible), and will charge your gadgets. I can't wait to try it out. You can buy the original Flip here (black), and here (white).

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David Ruddock
David's phone is an HTC One. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, imparting a legal perspective on tech news, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Lookatthemonkeys

    Thanks! There really is a need for lower cost bluetooth speakers. I have been in the market for one and there seems to be absolutely crappy ones for $40, or your stuck with $200 ones. I have been looking for one in the $100 range. Although my temporary solution has just been to buy $15 30-pin bluetooth adapters and add them to old iPhone docks that I can find used or have lying around.

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

    This is absolutely the best portable speaker I own, and it was only $99.99 compared to the shitty Jambox for $199.99 (I have 2 of these). I also have the Braven 600. Nothing comes even close to the Flip (I actually have 2 Flips too, I'm kind of obsessed with audio gear).

    It gets so ridiculously loud without distortion, you can seriously go deaf. The perfect speaker for a beach or anywhere really.

    The only thing that kills it for me, which David mentioned, is the lack of MicroUSB charging, which instantly turns it way less portable. I have to lug the charger with me on trips rather than just using regular MicroUSB cables. The Charge should fix this, as it charges via MicroUSB, so I can't wait to try that.

    • jm9843

      You guys should do a review of the Samsung DA-F60. It is, by far, the sexiest bluetooth speaker. And it supports aptX codec for higher fidelity sound.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

        That's like $250 and bigger, a whole other category. But we'll try to get our hands on it.

        • jm9843

          Acknowledged. I'd still like to see it reviewed though.

          • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

            We're looking into it.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

        apt-X is basically a marketing gimmick at this point unless you're listening in weird formats like FLAC or OGG. BT A2DP natively supports MP3 / AAC on most devices these days, eliminating much of the advantage apt-X provided in the days of SBC transcoding.

        • jm9843

          Yes. I've been considering the feasibility of replacing my Squeezebox devices at home with bluetooth capable players (thanks Google for not opening up Google Music: All Access /s). Since I do have a large lossless music library (flac), aptX could make a difference. It's also, allegedly, better for low-power operation: a potential boon for wireless speakers.

        • andy_o

          How can you tell which devices support something other than sbc or apt-x? It's never in the specs. For instance, which of the popular phones?

    • http://www.whatupgoingon.com Greg Macek

      You called out the Sound Kick briefly in the review which I happen to own. Is there a significant difference in sound quality between the two? It seems they have similar qualities and issues (non microUSB charger). I've been a big fan of the Sound Kick since I got it and it's portable enough for around the house and taking outdoors.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

        I don't think I've ever called out a Sound Kick as I don't own one.

    • Jerecho

      Will you be reviewing the JBL Charge anytime, then? Cos it's received better reviews than the Flip in some places (cos of microUSB charging), is within the same price range ($100-$150), and it's not that much heavier or larger that I can see.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

        I don't have the timeline right now, but having seen it in person, it is actually larger and heavier from what I remember. But that's not a bad thing. I think it's the sweet spot.

    • http://jordanhotmann.com/ Jordan Hotmann

      As a Jambox owner I find that I have to place it strategically to get decent sound, otherwise it just sounds empty and lifeless. Which isn't a huge deal, but shouldn't be something I have to do for a $200 speaker.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

        My biggest problems with the Jambox are actually different.

        #1 It farts when cranked up and any sort of bass hits. The bass is too strong for the box, and if it sounds good in one song, it'll sound like crap in the next one.
        #2 It's not nearly as loud as I need it to be, especially via BT (which at max setting is a lot quieter than 3.5mm). The Flip is probably 3-4 times louder, and I'm not even kidding.
        #3 It constantly vibrates itself off whatever it's sitting on, due to the bass and a box that does nothing to prevent this. I dropped my Jambox so many times because of this (well, it dropped itself) that at one point it actually exploded the USB port because it was plugged in. Had to RMA it (they sent me two back for some reason, which is why I have two now).

        • http://jordanhotmann.com/ Jordan Hotmann

          Yeah, the music I listen to is pretty weaksauce when it comes to bass so that's normally not much of an issue. But I have noticed when watching tv shows or movies in bed on the tablet it can get rattle pretty intensely.

        • Christopher Lee

          "They sent me two back for some reason"

          I'll take one! Coworker of mine had that happen with a Droid 2 Global too. :P

    • Cyoung

      how is "lugging" a charger burdensome? Geez. Lazy bastard.

      • Maria

        I think he just means I. Comparison with a USB chord 😰

  • khaled mourad

    i got it, heavy and battery so-so, the best now is Ultimate Ears UE Boom 360 music, materials for water and stains resistance, 15 hours and iOS or Android Apps for doubling speakers for left and right stereo separation

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      That does look really good, but it's twice the price. And that's a whole lot more. But we have a unit, and we'll be reviewing it shortly.

      • Jayson

        Can't wait for that review! I saw them both at the Apple store and almost pulled the trigger on the boom as soon as I heard it. Though I'm looking to sell my old Logitech boombox first.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      A lot more expensive. But yes, it's a very good-looking product - and I'll believe 15 hours when I see it.

  • Matthew Fry

    On my wish list. I still don't have a huge need for a portable speaker but when I do, I'll pick this up (the charge).

  • basteagow

    "The Flip can be used lain flat..."

    Huge kudos for using "to lie" properly!

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Honestly, I'm never sure how to use it. That was 50% a guess.

  • Rob

    Thank heavens for sturdy nipples. HE HE. (Couldn't resist).

  • Constantine Smith

    Sweet about to go to the field for 8 days and needed some speaker to help pass the time. For the low price, I may just have to pick it up.

  • Joshua Hill

    When one of your other contributors recently reviewed the Cambridge Audio Minx and found out it had a better battery life better than the manufacturers claim of 18 hours I find it odd you could call a device with only 5 hours battery life the BEST.

    • ins0mn1a

      we are talking 12oz vs 2.4lb here. that's more than 3x difference in weight, plus there is a considerable difference in size, and let's not forget the 50% price bump. so i would say that these two speakers belong to different categories and shouldn't really be compared. though i wouldn't mind someone directly comparing the sound quality, just for curiosity.

      • Joshua Hill

        $100 to $150 price is still in the same price category. But within that price category I agree they serve completely different markets. The Cambridge Audio unit got just as good a review but the author of that article didn't feel the need to throw the word BEST around. AP need some consensus/uniformity here because it looks a bit ridiculous IMO.

        • flosserelli

          Agreed. I haven't heard the Cambridge Audio Minx, but almost every review I have read gave it very high marks. The Minx is considerably larger than the Flip, and has a passive bass radiator and should help with the low end, which the Flip definitely lacks (but you can't expect much bass from the Flip considering the driver size).

          The Flip is perfect if you listen to a lot of acoustic or classical music with no bass. I would love to see a head-to-head comparison between the two. But If the Cambridge Audio Minx provides equally clear mids & highs, I would gladly pay an extra $50 for more low end.

    • Kaushal

      I had the same question. It would be great if AP gives their analysis of Cambridge Audio Minx vs JBL Flip.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

        Unfortunately, two different reviewers have these units.

  • Allen

    How does this compare to the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox? I bought a friend one a couple months back and I occasionally use it and it sounds great, but I'd like to get my own. Given that these two are the same price I'm curious if this sounds better than the Logitech one.

    • Joe Pas

      I was just about to say this. I've got the Logitech, and it's utterly fantastic; miles better than any bluetooth speaker I've heard.

  • jibbajabba

    Have you tested the braven 650, how does it compare to that? Considering the price difference.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      I have the 600, and as far as I know it's not that much different from the 650. I use it only for podcasts in the bathroom at this point, as I quite dislike it for music. The Flip kicks its butt in every way but charging.

  • Brett Livingston

    How does this compare to the Jlab Crusher?

    And preemptively...Thanks!

  • Christopher Robert

    JBL is known for good clear loud sounding speakers. I have an older bigger version of this that has amazing sound.

  • Bart De Rycke

    You guys should definately compare this to the Philips Shoqbox SB7300/12.

    I got this little gem for over a month now and i'm just blown away by it's quallity of build and sound! Aluminium body with 4 1inch neodium speakers. Just try it! You will not be dissapointed ;)

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      We'll see if we can hunt one down.

  • flosserelli

    I have listened to the JBL Flip, and it is very impressive. However, I would qualify that it is the best portable speaker on the market for under $100.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Agreed. I had a long discussion with David about this actually, but he stuck to his guns for an overall value. His analogy was the best cars lists, for instance, where there's always something better for more money, but for the price, an averagely priced car is selected as the best one.

      • Paul

        In the UK the Flip is only costs £5 less than the Cambridge Audio Minx. Bearing this in mind, does David still consider the JBL to be the 'best'? For me, weight is not an issue, I'm more interested in sound quality.

  • David Becker

    So sad that this speaker does not charge via micro USB. The one thing I really love about my jambox is that no matter where it is in the house. I can usually find a USB charger nearby to charge it up after a while.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Yeah, that's definitely its biggest downside.

  • Maurice Lewis

    Would a USB to 3.5mm barrel jack cord suffice to replace the brick charger? I keep an external battery and wonder would that work.

    • Cpny

      Have you tried this? I would buy the flip but I do not want to have to pack a separate charger for my trips.

    • donny brasco

      it would work if you used a usb 5v to 12v step-up then ran that usb to 3.5mm barrel jack cable into the flip. this is really simple voltage step up....even with 500ma it will still charge just the 5v from usb wont trip the battery cells alone with out the step up, as it is a 12v cell

  • DDeacy

    this JBL rocks picked it up at Sprint for $80 Best Buy ever sounds amazing it's worth the price of admission anybody who puts it down I want something bigger and better to lug around I'd rather leave the band on stage where blondes Thank You JBL its awesome

  • suresh

    how i can charge JBL Flip

  • sujeet

    Best speaker till date

  • Torin

    I got one of these last October and have been using it almost every day since then. Amazing sound quality, it's starting to rattle a bit but usually it's not too noticeable. Charging has never been that big of an issue either. My biggest problem is that my computer never detects it under Bluetooth devices. I thought maybe it was just my laptop (PC), but I tried with my desktop (Mac) and it didn't work either, and I even tried on my friend's laptop (PC), and again it didn't work. This is a turn off for me, as there appears to be absolutely no troubleshooting for this sort of issue. At least, none that I've found.

    I should mention, my desktop computer did detect the speaker but couldn't connect. My laptop didn't even detect it.

    • Kristin W

      I also had this problem. I tried to connect the flip with my iMac and it took me not giving up for like an hour to finally get it to finally pair. When it did finally pair the sound was crap because the iMac could not recognize the flip as an external speaker, it thinks it's a headset so it sounds like earbuds that you are trying to use as a speaker. Not good. Looked everywhere online for some help but none to be found. I tried everything. Turn on sharing helped to pair it but my question is why the crap sound with the iMac? The ipad and phone work great and I don't even care about the charger not an issue for me. All and all a great speaker for the price, blows jambox away.

  • Karakttykat

    I have a question...so I got the JBL several months back tested it out when I got it for about 5 min and it worked great! Then I lost the charging cord, I had a 5V cord at home so I used that and it worked for a couple min but then no sound. It said it was connected to blue tooth and the station was playing, volume up but no music? Does the 5v cord not work since it comes with a 12v?