I've grown jaded to the Bluetooth speaker market lately, but I always hop on the chance to review a new one in the admittedly futile hope that it will exceed my general expectations of the product segment. I get really excited when I'm pitched something that has a truly unique aspect to it — and no, I don't consider durability or weatherproof-ness to be unique anymore. But do you know what I really dislike? When something has a lot of promise, both in premise and presentation, but falls flat on its face, so to speak, in most areas.
This is the Divoom Timebox Mini, a little speaker/smart alarm clock that seriously excited me when I heard about it. There's plenty to do with its 11x11 LED screen, but that fun and excitement is quickly overshadowed by its underwhelming sound quality and an annoyingly bad companion app experience. The Timebox Mini, in the end, disappointed me greatly.
|Features||There's a lot that this little guy can do. I spent almost an hour digging through everything in the app when I first received the speaker. It can actually be a bit overwhelming at first. I like to describe the Timebox Mini as a badass Lite Brite.|
|Design||The Timebox Mini, when shut off, is a very spartan square. But the black plastic on my review unit has a nice soft touch to it. Even though my fingers glide across the surface, the speaker itself holds onto any flat surface in my house.|
|Sound quality||In a speaker this size, this issue is to be expected. Sound quality is very meh at best and somewhat painful at worst. It does okay when at about 20% volume, but climb any higher and it grates on my ears.|
|App experience||While the Timebox app is full of stuff to do, the UX is abysmal. Navigation is a pain and it acts funny at times. It also hangs a lot. I realize that this is not a part of the speaker itself, but it's completely necessary to get the most out of the product.|
Design & build quality
The Timebox Mini is a diminutive square, measuring in at 3.5 x 3.6 x 1.5 in. It's small enough to fit almost anywhere; it found its home on my desk and nightstand. It's a truly spartan design, which is fine by me. The soft-touch plastic feels nice, and it grips most flat surfaces well (thanks partially to the tiny, tiny knobs that serve for feet). The back of the device is home to the speaker, which is underneath a grille of the same soft-touch plastic, as well as the microUSB and audio in/out ports. On the front is the near bezel-less screen, which gets very vibrant and colorful, but I'll get to that in a bit. Up along the top are the playback and volume buttons and on the right side are the power and brightness level keys. Like I said, it's a pretty minimalist design.
The Timebox Mini is light, portable, and durable. I threw it in my bag on more than one occasion with no signs of scratches or scuffs afterwards. I do not recommend dropping this little speaker, though — I am rather dubious of the glass' structural integrity.
Since it's one of the major, defining features of the product, let's talk about the screen. 11x11 doesn't seem all that impressive at first glance and it's not intended to be; the point is to recreate the fun of 8-bit pixel art. The colors themselves are very vibrant and nice to look at, though very basic in terms of the spectrum. Via the companion app, you can customize what will appear on the screen, whether that's a clock, weather, preset or custom art pieces, and several other things. The default is a clock, which cannot be changed from its right-aligned digital self.
And yes, one of the first things I drew was a Triforce.
Any of the features beyond a clock and Bluetooth/wired speaker require the companion Timebox app, available for both Android and iOS. Whereas the Mini is kind of fun in its own right, the app is clunky, full of poor translations, and other inconveniences. Users in the US will find it particularly frustrating because you cannot change the temperature scale from Celsius. While some of us understand that method of measurement, a lot do not.
Navigation in the app is one of the worst things, I think. Sure, the entire thing is slow (and downright laggy), but it feels like an iOS port in terms of getting around. Pressing your phone's back button doesn't always take you to the previous screen; most of the time, it brings up the app's closing prompt. You navigate via the icons along the bottom (think the Google+ app), most of which have nothing to do with the speaker management itself. There's a "Discover" section where you view Divoom's other products (cool, I guess) and there's a built-in chat app for God only knows what reason — I believe I recall seeing something about getting chat notifications on the speaker's screen, but why does anyone need another IM platform?
Customizing the Mini itself is done in a single menu chock full of more icons that help you decide what you want displayed. This is another element of extreme clunkiness, especially when you decide that you don't want music information (or whatever) and want to go back to the main selection screen. Hitting your phone's back button instead prompts you to close the app. Annoying.
I rail on this app for one main reason: it's essential to get the most out of the Timebox Mini. The least that Divoom could have done was design either a better app or a slimmer one. Even a small improvement to navigation or something would be greatly appreciated. Until then, I will call the app what it is: garbage.
Sound quality & battery life
So the pixel art is fun and the app experience sucks, but what about sound quality? Unfortunately, that is also pretty unimpressive. I tried to keep in mind while writing this section that the Timebox Mini is also marketed as an alarm clock, which does not always necessitate stellar audio — though, anyone who had an iHome iPod Classic dock back in the day may disagree. Like I said in the intro, I'm pretty jaded to Bluetooth audio and have a hard time getting excited about most products.
To say that the sound profile on this speaker/alarm clock/whatever is flat would be an understatement. Bass is noticeably lacking, highs are screechy and grating, and mids just fail to impress at all. I was only able to actually listen to music through the Timebox Mini for a few tracks at a time before I couldn't stand it anymore. Even using an audio cable via the 3.5mm jack wasn't too much better. I came to these conclusions when the speaker was at about 20% volume; any higher it becomes utterly unbearable and somewhat painful.
So the Timebox Mini is better suited to sitting on your shelf, desk, or nightstand and looking pretty. I do not recommend buying this product in the hopes that you'll like the sound, lest you be awfully disappointed.
Battery life clocks in at about 7-8 hours, which is pretty good. I can't really complain given the size of this speaker. And like I said, I couldn't stomach playing more than a few songs through it at a time, so a workday's battery life doesn't really bother me all that much in this case.
I started my time with the Timebox Mini with optimism and excitement, but as I listened to music piping through it or used the annoyingly and hilariously bad app, that optimism and excitement very quickly died. For $50 or so, the LED screen is not at all the reason you should have to buy this product. I am rather sorry to say this, as I would really like to be able to heartily recommend the Timebox Mini — unfortunately, I cannot in good conscience do that.
The buy link will be below in case you don't feel like listening to me, which is your right. There are plenty of colors to choose from, even though I received the plain black unit (I happen to really like the slate blue model). But if you want a cheap Bluetooth speaker, there are definitely better ones to look at, like the Fugoo Go (feel free to offer more suggestions in the comments).
I hate getting excited only to be so sorely disappointed.