Just last year, you had to spend at least $200 if you wanted a portable Bluetooth speaker worth your ears' time, but the latest generation of $100 speakers has brought good sound quality to those on a budget. JBL's Flip 3 is a perfect example of this, offering vastly improved audio over its predecessor while introducing water resistance. The result is one of the best speakers you can buy for $100.
Like previous models, the Flip 3 is a 6.7 x 2.5-inch cylinder with angled ends, wrapped in a mesh fabric. Inside, two 1.5-inch drivers produce the sound, and bass radiators cap both ends, an idea borrowed from JBL's larger Charge 2+. That's a lot of sound inside a relatively small package.
The Flip 3 comes in a rainbow of colors: yellow, teal, red, pink, orange, gray, blue and black. The speakers are all one color, except for the dark end-caps.
The Flip 3 features controls for volume, speakerphone and Bluetooth-pairing on the speaker, but because they're in the back of the unit, they're a bit of a hassle to access. The controls are also the same color as the fabric, causing them to blend in.
Just below the controls, you'll find the power button and battery indicator. The speaker sports a latch to keep water out, which protects its microUSB connector and 3.5-mm auxiliary input for wired connections. You can also push a button to engage "JBL Connect," the company's technology to pair the Flip 3 with another Flip 3, a JBL Pulse 2 or a JBL Xtreme.
One of the biggest additions to the Flip 3 is water resistance, which should keep the speaker safe when you bring it to the pool or if you get caught in the rain while camping.
I ran the speaker under the faucet for a few seconds, and it continued to work well. But the Flip is designed to survive only a few splashes, whereas the $100, IPX7-rated UE Roll can be dunked in water for 30 minutes.
The Flip 3 greatly improves on the sound quality of previous generations, and rivals the best $100 Bluetooth speakers. The original Flip suffered from weak bass, but the new radiators on the ends help remedy that.
The Flip 3 boomed on The Weeknd's "The Hills," producing much more bass than UE's Roll — though not as much as the larger and more expensive Charge 2+. The speaker also handles midranges well. Justin Bieber's vocals were bright and clear on "Where Are U Now," as was Florence Welch’s singing on Florence + The Machine's "What Kind of Man."
On Miles Davis' version of "'Round Midnight," the muted trumpet had similar resonance as on the Roll, but the bass, piano and drums sounded much fuller on the Flip 3. Similarly, Lindsey Buckingham's guitar and vocals on Fleetwood Mac's "Never Going Back Again" sounded equally crisp on the Roll and the Flip 3. But the JBL produced better bass, which made the song sound richer.
With 8 watts for each driver, the Flip 3 has good power for a small speaker. I measured 90 decibels at max volume, but it distorted badly at that level. The speaker sounded much better at 85 decibels, still enough sound to fill a medium-sized room.
The Flip 3 produced better overall sound through the speakerphone than do most portable Bluetooth speakers. The voices of people I spoke with sounded full, while they said that I sounded slightly better than the iPhone's built-in speakerphone.
JBL says you can get 10 hours of playback on a full charge, which is mediocre among Bluetooth speakers, but similar to the UE Roll's 9 hours. However, after 10 hours of listening at low to moderate volume, I still had more than half the battery life left, according to the indicator lights on the speaker.
Setup and Software
The speaker paired easily with iOS and Android devices. I found it had good wireless range, too, maintaining a strong signal at 50 feet from my phone.
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JBL's Connect software offers limited functionality for a single speaker. You can use it to update the firmware, but it doesn't offer EQ or other tools like you'd find on the app that powers the UE's Roll. If you have another Flip 3, Pulse 2 or Xtreme speaker, you can connect two speakers together to create a wider soundscape, though I was unable to test this feature.
If you're looking for an inexpensive, portable Bluetooth speaker, the Flip 3 should be at the top of your list. With rich bass and good volume, the speaker delivers on sound quality; add in water resistance, a good speakerphone and decent battery life, and it's an all-around top performer.
By comparison, the UE Roll doesn't have as much bass and lacks a speakerphone, but it's much more rugged and features a unique design. The Roll also features a better app that adds extra functionality, such as an alarm and EQ.
If you need a speaker that can endure the outdoors, the Roll is the better choice, but the Flip 3 sounds better.