If you're looking for a portable Bluetooth speaker, the sheer number of choices can overwhelm you. Even among models at the same price, picking the perfect device can be hard. To help you choose, we pitted two excellent models—Logitech's Ultimate Ears (UE) Boom and Bose's SoundLink Mini—in a head-to-head battle. Both cost about $200, but they show how different portable speakers can be. We put these devices through five rounds of competition to decide a winner.
The two speakers represent different approaches to the look of portable sound. Think of Bose as the refined old guard, while the UE Boom plays the part of the young lion. Fitting that profile, the cylindrical UE Boom has the bigger personality of the two: it comes in black mesh with black plastic, blue mesh/white plastic, tan/blue, pink/red, red/white and white/white. The rectangular SoundLink Mini is more staid in an aluminum case, though you can get soft plastic wraps that offer green, pink, mint, orange, gray, blue and red accents.
Despite the difference in shape, the two don't differ much in size, though the Bose is heavier. The 7.1 x 2.6-inch UE Boom weighs 19 ounces, while the 7.1 x 2.3 x 2.0-inch SoundLink Mini tilts the scales at 24 ounces. It's not a huge difference, but if you're toting a portable speaker on a hike, you want to keep your load as light as possible.
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If you're looking for a model that can withstand the rigors of outdoor living—around the pool, at a picnic—choose the UE Boom. Wrapped in mesh and rubber, the case doesn’t scuff easily and is stain-resistant. Even better, it's IPX4 rated, meaning it can withstand a splash of water without getting fried (though it shouldn't be dunked). The SoundLink Mini's plastic case should help it withstand dings, but it's not meant to protect it from the elements.
Winner: UE Boom. A bolder personality, lighter weight and water resistance make the Boom the better choice here.
Setup and Use
Both speakers paired quickly with iOS and Android devices. The UE Boom also includes a near field communication chip; that means if you have an NFC-equipped Android device, you can just touch the speaker with your device for the fastest pairing.
The UE Boom claims up to a 50-foot range for the Bluetooth connection, which is farther than most. We found it maintained a strong connection at 30 feet (and then we ran out of space). The Bose states a Bluetooth range of 30 feet, though we heard it break up at about 20 feet.
Both also offer 3.5mm auxiliary inputs for a wired connection, which can provide a stronger signal and also doesn't tax the battery as much.
Winner: UE Boom. NFC pairing and a longer range give Logitech's speaker the edge in this round.
The Bose SoundLink Mini produces more bass than any other portable Bluetooth speaker we've tested. On songs that feature booming bass lines, such as Lorde's "Team," the Bose will rumble your tabletop with ease. The emphasis on bass also adds resonance to acoustic and symphonic music, such as Mendelssohn's overture to "A Midsummer's Night Dream." But sometimes there's so much low end that it can eclipse the mid and treble tones.
On the other end of the spectrum, the UE Boom suffers from a lack of bass tones. The Beastie Boys' rap classic "Shake Your Rump" doesn't live up to its name, and symphonic music sounds tinny and thin. But the Boom delivers sharp treble tones, such as the horns on Miles Davis' version of "Summertime," as well as full midranges, making Lorde's vocals come across clearly. Most pop and rock music dwell in those tones, so if you're a fan of those genres you'll be pleased with what you hear.
Both units spread the sound widely, making the sound seem like it is coming from bigger speakers. And both speakers can also get quite loud and remain clear without distortion even at 85 dB (the max recommended listening volume) from 3 feet away.
Winner: Bose Soundlink Mini. If sound quality matters most, get the Bose—especially if you like the low end.
If you're looking for more out of your speaker than just music playback, the versatile UE Boom is the clear winner. In addition to the ruggedness previously mentioned, the UE Boom integrates a speakerphone that delivers clear quality on both ends of the call. As a bonus, Logitech offers a free app for iOS and Android that expands the speaker's functionality. You can pair two UE Booms to get stereo sound. The app also lets you tweak the sound with equalizer settings like Bass Boost, which helps a bit with the weak low-end output.
The SoundLink Mini is pretty much a speaker only—what you see is what you get.
Winner: UE Boom. In addition to its rugged features, the Boom has speakerphone capability as well as an equalizer.
Logitech claims that the UE Boom says 15 hours on a single charge, and our real-world testing showed that to be accurate. It is powered through a microUSB port.
Bose's website claims 7 hours of battery life for the SoundLink Mini, while the manual says it can play up to 12 hours. We found the latter to be more accurate. After about 10 hours of listening over the course of several days, the battery indicator showed yellow, which represents "20 to 70 percent of full charge."
The SoundLink Mini uses a proprietary charging cradle or wall plug to recharge the device. The cradle is handy, especially if you keep it where you listen most often. But because it doesn't use a microUSB charger like most other portable Bluetooth speakers, you need to bring its cable with you when you travel—you can't just share a charger from another device that uses microUSB.
Winner: UE Boom. Not only does the Boom last longer on a charge, but it doesn't require a proprietary cable.
If you judged this content just by the scorecard, you would think that the UE Boom won in a rout. In this head-to-head matchup, the Boom did indeed best the Bose 4 to 1, by virtue of its durable and water-resistant design, ease of use, features and battery life. But, the Bose won the one category that matters the most: sound quality. Ultimately, both the Bose SoundLink Mini and UE Boom are excellent portable Bluetooth speakers.
If you cherish rich audio, and don't plan to use the speaker outside much, the SoundLink Mini is the best choice for you. But if you plan to listen at a cookout or around the campfire—and are looking for extras like a speakerphone—the UE Boom offers much greater flexibility.