A mobile lifestyle requires long-lasting batteries — in your portable Bluetooth speaker as well as your phone. Few wireless speakers under $100 offer more than 10 hours of playback on a full charge. Enter Anker, a company known more for its power products than audio. As you'd expect, the Anker A7908 takes a battery-first approach, with 15-20 hours of playback per charge — and it costs only $40. Unfortunately, the sound quality doesn't quite match the endurance.
The A7908 comes in three colors: black, white and blue. I tested the white model.
The cube-shaped 3.1 × 3.1 × 2.7-inch A7908 isn't as easy to tote around as ultraportable models like the 4.2 x 3.5 x 1.7-inch JBL Clip ($50) or the 6 x 2.3 x 1-inch Jawbone Mini Jambox ($100). However, Anker uses that extra depth to house a large, 2-inch driver, while many other portable Bluetooth speakers, like the Clip, use 1.5-inch drivers instead.
In a questionable choice, Anker designed the unit so that the driver faces up, which pushes the sound up instead of toward you, like most portable speakers. This works OK if the speaker is below you, but not so great if you're sitting down at a table or desk.
Basic controls (Volume and Play) run down the front side. The Play button can start or stop the music as well as answer and end speakerphone calls. On the right side, you'll find a power switch, auxiliary input and microUSB port for charging.
To improve the direction of the sound, I ended up rotating the speaker so it faced me, which put the controls on top.
Setup and Use
The A7908 paired easily with both iOS and Android devices, but putting it into pairing mode can require some work. The speaker only goes into pairing mode if you turn it on and it can't find the device with which it was previously paired; in other words, if you pair it with your phone, then want to pair it with your tablet, you have to turn off your phone's Bluetooth to put the Anker back into pairing mode. Most other Bluetooth speakers offer an easier way to put the speaker back into pairing mode.
Anker says the unit has a wireless range of 33, feet and that seemed accurate during testing. It produced an uninterrupted stream from 30 feet, even with walls in between the speaker and me.
The big driver inside the A7908 accentuates vocals, and for most pop songs that worked well. Rihanna's vocals on "FourFiveSeconds" rose above the strummed guitar; Robert Plant's singing on Led Zeppelin's "Trampled Under Foot" came across clearly.
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However, the speaker lacks definition in the bass and treble tones. As a result, the guitar on "FourFiveSeconds" fell flat, and the distorted guitar and bombastic drums on "Trampled Under Foot" got mashed together. Some of that can be attributed to having a single driver instead of stereo sound, but the Clip is better able to navigate the same complex sounds.
Acoustic music also suffers in the mix. The horns on Charles Mingus' jazz classic "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" lacked warmth, while Miles Davis' trumpet on "Autumn Leaves" doesn't have the punch it packs on a speaker like the Clip or Mini Jambox.
The A7908 pumped out a good amount of volume for a small speaker. It maxed out around 90 decibels, though the sound started to distort above 80 decibels, similar to the UE Mini Boom.
Like many current portable Bluetooth speakers, the A7908 includes a speakerphone. It helped make the voices of people I spoke with fuller and louder compared to the built-in speaker on my iPhone.
But people I spoke with had a hard time understanding me, saying I sounded muffled and soft — worse than on the iPhone. This may be a result of the microphone placement: It's near the bottom of the speaker.
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The Anker's greatest asset is its battery. Anker says you can get 15-20 hours of playback from a full charge. The Clip, on the other hand, lasts only 5 hours. The Mini Jambox is rated for 10 hours, though I was able to get more than that.
After listening to the A7908 for more than 15 hours, the speaker showed no signs of wearing down. The status light glows red when the battery gets low, but during my testing the light never went red and never needed to recharge.
Anker's foray into a portable Bluetooth speakers accomplishes an important goal: It lasts far longer than other models in this price range. For pop music, the speaker handles vocals well, but overall the sound isn't better than the competition's. If battery life is your sole criteria for a Bluetooth speaker, pick the Anker A7908. But most people will get a better experience with the $50 JBL Clip. If you're willing to spend more, look at the UE Mini Boom or Mini Jambox.
Follow Michael Gowan @zebgowan. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.