Many of the best outdoor speakers bulk up in an effort to improve hardiness and battery life, which makes it harder to tote the devices with you into the wilds. But Fugoo managed to make a speaker that withstands the elements and doesn't take up much space in your gear bag.
The Fugoo Style is our favorite overall Bluetooth speaker, thanks to its combination of sound quality, battery life and price. The Tough jacket ($230) increases the durability of the Fugoo speaker, and adds to the price, but still sounds as sweet as the Style. Improvements to the speaker's firmware help address some minor quibbles we had with it when it first arrived in early 2014. If you're looking for an outdoor speaker that's easy to take with you and doesn't skimp on sound, the Tough could be it.
At 7.75 x 2.9 x 2.3 inches, the Fugoo Tough is considerably smaller than many other outdoor speakers, like the 8.9 x 3.3-inch UE Megaboom or the 10 x 4.3 x 3-inch Braven HD; those models also weigh quite a bit more than the 22-ounce Tough. The Megaboom is 30 ounces, and the Braven HD is a whopping 64 ounces (4 pounds). That makes the Tough a great choice when you want to move around outdoors with your speaker. Optional accessories such as a bike mount and strap mount make the Tough even more appealing for mobile use.
Fugoo's speaker comes in three varieties: Tough, Style and Sport. If the Style sleeve is for the fashion conscious, the Tough sleeve looks more at home with the biker crowd. Hard-resin, black-colored ends surround the silver aluminum on top and bottom, giving the speaker a tanklike appearance. The extra protection adds 6 ounces to the overall weight compared to the Style.
Inside the jacket, you'll find the exact same speaker as the Style and Sport: two 1.1-inch tweeters, two 1.5-inch mid/woofer drivers and two 1.7 x 2.1-inch passive radiators.
The Tough has minimal controls: On the top, volume up and down surround a smaller button that you can use to engage Siri or Google Now voice control on your mobile device. On one end, you'll find the power and Bluetooth pairing buttons, along with a status light, which can indicate battery status. Here's one area where the Tough jacket impedes use compared to the Style jacket: The Tough's extended end cap makes the power button more difficult to access.
On the other end, Fugoo placed the microUSB port for charging along with a 3.5-mm jack for a wired auxiliary input.
The Tough is one of the most durable portable speakers you'll find. An IPX67 rating indicates that the speaker is dustproof, and you can submerge it for up to 30 minutes in 3 feet of water; I put it in a full sink for five minutes without harm. It's also designed to withstand being dropped and other shocks; it handled a fall of more than 5 feet onto gravel without missing a note, though I did scratch one of the metal bars.
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By comparison, the $300 UE Megaboom can withstand the same conditions as the Fugoo, while the $150 EcoXGear Ecostone offers more shock resistance, with an IPX 68 rating, and the $300 Braven HD is only rated for water resistance.
If you already own a Style or Sport model and you want to increase the durability, you can buy the Tough jacket for $80. This jacket ups the speaker's resistance to dust and shock.
Setup and Use
The Tough paired easily with iOS and Android devices. To put the speaker into pairing mode, you press the Bluetooth button until the indicator light blinks blue and red. Find Fugoo Speaker on your device's Bluetooth settings screen.
Firmware upgrades have added welcome functionality since I initially reviewed the Fugoo Style. For example, you can change the level of the voice alerts by pressing the + and - buttons as you power the device on.
You can also engage Loud Mode, which boosts the possible volume, at the expense of battery life. To switch Loud Mode on, you hold the center button as you turn the speaker on. It will remain in Loud Mode until you switch the speaker back to Normal Mode. I performed all the testing in Loud Mode.
Fugoo doesn't offer an app to make it easier to control the extra features, something UE has mastered in its Boom line of portables. Instead, you have to remember the various buttons to push to engage the extras. That may be the speaker's biggest shortcoming.
As an alternative to an app, Fugoo sells a $50 waterproof remote to change the volume, play a song or skip to another tune from a distance. The remote also doubles as a bottle opener, which tends to come in handy when you're outdoors.
For a small speaker, the Fugoo Tough generates big sound. The design really spreads the music out, making it a good match for gathering around the campfire or pool.
Overall, the speaker sounds bright rather than bassy. Thanks in large part to its separate woofers and tweeters, something few portable Bluetooth speakers include, the Tough produced crisp horns and sharp snare-drum pops on Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk." While the Tough delivers a good amount of bass for a speaker its size, it lacks the tactile bass thump that the UE Megaboom created.
The Fugoo Tough handles vocals and acoustic music well, too. Rihanna's vocals rose above Paul McCartney's crisp acoustic guitar on "FourFiveSeconds," and Miles Davis' muted trumpet jumped above the mix on "Autumn Leaves." The sharp treble tones really stood out in comparison to the bass-heavy Braven HD, and also sounded more impressive than on the Megaboom, although that speaker provides a better balance of bass and treble.
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In loud mode, the speaker can produce 95 decibels, Fugoo says, but my measurements peaked at 90 decibels. At that volume, the speaker distorted a bit; the Tough sounds better at 85 decibels — still plenty to fill a large room. The Megaboom, while much bigger, also pushes about 90 decibels.
The Fugoo's speakerphone performed well, making the people I spoke with sound louder and more full than on the iPhone's built-in speakerphone. People on the other end of the call said I sounded clear and better as well.
The Tough includes Siri and Google Now integration for hands-free calling. Just hold down the small center button for a few seconds to activate it.
Fugoo says you can get 40 hours of playback at 50 percent volume; those numbers are for Normal Mode. In Loud Mode, I still found battery life to be impressive: After more than 15 hours of listening at moderate volume, the battery indicator said the battery was about half. The UE Megaboom claims 20 hours, while the Braven HD advertises 28 hours. Even in Loud Mode, the Fugoo should beat both.
If portability and sound quality matter to you most in an outdoor speaker, the Fugoo Tough is the best choice under $250. It can withstand the elements and is loud enough for a party, and with a 40-hour battery life, it will probably outlast you before needing a charge. While the UE Megaboom has better bass and overall sound, it's more expensive and not as easy to take with you. The choice may come down to which Fugoo jacket you really need — and if the extra durability is worth $50 to you.
Speakers: Two 1.1-inch tweeters, two 1.5-inch mid/woofer drivers and two 1.7 x 2.1-inch passive radiators
Size: 7.75 x 2.9 x 2.3 inches
Weight: 22 ounces
Inputs: Bluetooth, 3.5mm auxiliary input