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The perfect Bluetooth speaker would have great sound and a ton of features at a cheap price. The Ultimate Ears Roll comes as close as any to meeting all three criteria. It delivers full sound in a very portable, waterproof form, all for $100. The Roll isn't perfect, but for most people, it's an excellent choice.
The UE Roll stands out from the Bluetooth speaker crowd by flattening its profile. While many Bluetooth speakers in this price range are boxy — including the UE Mini Boom, UE's former $100 model — the Roll is a 5.3 x 1.6-inch disc, resembling a flying saucer or Frisbee golf disc more than a traditional speaker.
To make the speaker even more distinctive, UE offers it in six colors: Sugarplum (purple), Sriracha (orange and red), Volcano (charcoal), Atmosphere (blue), Piñata (red and blue), and Reef (blue and green). This speaker is definitely not trying to blend in.
Like UE's other speakers, the Roll features minimal controls on the device. Large volume buttons take up most of the front; on the back, you'll find buttons for power and Bluetooth pairing. There's no way to skip songs directly on the speaker, which is a drawback for a waterproof device — it would be nice to be able to change the song without being near your phone.
The Roll also lacks a speakerphone, which has become standard on most Bluetooth speakers.
The Roll has a waterproof rating of IPX7, meaning you can submerge it in water for 30 minutes without harm — impressive for a $100 speaker. The $139 Braven BRV-1 also touts a water-resistance rating of IPX7, but it lacks the Roll's sound quality.
I dunked the Roll in a bowl of water for 5 minutes without any resulting issues. A micro USB port for charging the battery and a 3.5mm auxiliary input reside under a flap on the back for protection from water.
While the Roll can't float well on its own, UE is selling it with its own inflatable floatie for hanging out in the pool. Or you can hang it from a tree, pole or belt loop by the attached bungee cord.
The Roll pairs easily with iOS and Android devices. In your device's Bluetooth settings menu, simply look for "UE ROLL." It doesn’t support NFC for fast pairing with Android devices, though.
The Roll has a stated wireless range of 65 feet, but I experienced interference after about 50. That's still impressive and about 20 feet more than standard Bluetooth speakers, however.
You can download a free app for iOS and Android that expands the functions of the speaker. The app can turn the speaker on or off, and includes an alarm function that will play any preselected song from your mobile device’s library. You can use the equalizer to adjust the sound to your preferences. It comes with three settings: standard, bass jump or custom. I preferred the standard setting over the bass jump, which increased bass but also lowered the brightness of the treble tones.
The app also can pair two UE Rolls and mirror the sound on each, extending the fullness of the soundscape. And as new features become available, you can update the speaker's firmware, too.
The Roll produces better treble, midrange and bass tones than most speakers that cost $100. And it can really crank.
On Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk,"” the horns sounded more crisp and bright than on the UE Mini Boom, while the vocals popped better than they did on Jawbone's Mini Jambox. John and Paul's harmonies on the Beatles' "A Hard Day’s Night" rose clearly above the song's jangly guitar strumming. However, the thumping bass drum on Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" lacked the oomph of the more expensive JBL Charge 2+.
The Roll handled acoustic music well, too. Lindsey Buckingham's finger-picking on Fleetwood Mac's "Never Going Back Again" was sharper than on the Mini Jambox, while the saxophones on Charles Mingus's jazz classic "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" sounded fuller than on the Jawbone.
Where the UE Roll really stands out from the Mini Jambox is in power. While the Mini Jambox maxes out at 80 decibels, the UE Roll can crank to 90 decibels, although it got very distorted at that level. The Roll is more comfortable in the 85-decibel range, which is still loud enough to be heard in a crowd.
The Roll has a stated battery life of 9 hours, and I easily surpassed that. After about 10 hours of use at moderate volume, the app showed I still had a quarter of the battery life left.
The UE Roll sets a new standard for sound quality and features in a $100 Bluetooth speaker. It sounds as good as our previous Editor's Choice, the Mini Jambox, and adds ruggedness and volume. If UE added more controls on the speaker so you wouldn't need to be near your mobile device to change a song or answer the phone, this would truly be the ultimate Bluetooth speaker.
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Michael Gowan is a freelance technology journalist covering soundbars, TVs, and wireless speakers of all kinds of shapes and sizes for Tom’s Guide. He has written hundreds of product reviews, focusing on sound quality and value to help shoppers make informed buying decisions. Micheal has written about music and consumer technology for more than 25 years. His work has appeared in publications including CNN, Wired, Men’s Journal, PC World and Macworld. When Michael’s not reviewing speakers, he’s probably listening to one anyway.