The Jawbone Jambox was one of the first really successful portable Bluetooth speakers. Jawbone made it larger with the Big Jambox, and now there’s the smaller Mini Jambox ($179.99 direct). This sleeker version of the Jambox is thinner, lighter, and just as stylish, but smaller means less power. For $20 more, our Editors’ Choice, the Bose SoundLink Mini delivers much better sound quality in a not-as-small, but still easily totable, package. If it were $100, the Mini Jambox would be a top pick, but at $180, it’s too expensive for what you get.
Head on, the Mini Jambox looks almost identical to the original Jambox. When you turn it sideways, though, you see how much smaller it is. The speaker has an approximate 6.1-by-2.3-inch face similar to the Jambox, but it measures less than an inch thick, and weighs just 9 ounces, making it less than two-thirds as thick and three-quarters as heavy as the Jambox. It’s smaller than most handheld game systems and can easily be slipped into a pocket. The Bose SoundLink Mini, on the other hand, weighs nearly three times as much (1.5 pounds) and is an inch longer and over twice as thick as the Mini Jambox, making it much less jacket-friendly but just as easy to toss into a small bag.
Besides the slimmer profile, the Mini Jambox is very similar to the Jambox in design. It has a textured, metal grille on the front that wraps around to a similarly textured but solid metal body. The Jambox Mini comes in nine fun colors with four different grille patterns. There’s no denying this speaker’s good looks. The top panel holds a multifunction Play/Pause/Call Answer button and Volume Up/Down buttons, while the Power button, Bluetooth button, and a microUSB port for charging and connecting to your computer are located on the right side of the speaker. Unlike the Jambox, the Mini doesn’t have a rubber top or bottom panel; it’s all metal, except for two tiny rubber feet on the bottom edge.
The Mini Jambox has a mini sound signature to go with it. It’s louder than your smartphone or tablet’s on-board speakers, but sounds quite anemic when held up against many similarly priced Bluetooth speakers, including the full-sized Jambox. Most speakers we’ve tested in this size range have put out a satisfying level of sound in the quiet lab test room, but in my tests, the Mini Jambox was less than room-filling. Clearing my throat threatened to overcome the speaker at maximum volume. It puts out more sound than my Samsung Galaxy S III and the Google Nexus 7, but only slightly, and not enough to justify carrying the speaker in addition to a phone and a tablet. The Bose SoundLink Mini is chunkier, but it’s also much louder than the Mini Jambox.
Predictably, like most speakers of its size, the Mini Jambox fares poorly with bass. On our low-end test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the bass synth notes were barely present and the kick drum popped and distorted easily. It does better with less bass-heavy music, like more conventional rock. The Offspring’s “Slim Pickens Does the Right Thing (and Rides the Bomb to Hell)” sounded clear and full in the energetic strings and vocals. It wasn’t particularly loud, but the mids to highs sounded pleasantly consistent, and the instruments didn’t drown out the lyrics. Similarly, Ninja Sex Party’s “Unicorn Wizard” sounded good both in the piano-filled opening and the power ballad electric guitars. It just didn’t have much force behind it.
Like other Jawbone speakers, the Mini Jambox features Live Audio, a sound processing feature you can turn on or off by holding the Volume Up/Down buttons. Jawbone claims Live Audio creates a three-dimensional sound image. Whether that’s possible with a single speaker, especially one the size of the Mini Jambox, is dubious, but the feature does make audio sound a little bit richer and more textured.
The Mini Jambox includes a speakerphone function that sounds good, but the people I called said I sounded tinnier and more hollow than when using my smartphone’s own speakerphone. On the caller’s end, the speaker does, however, get appreciably louder than most cell phone speakerphones. But in order to be heard clearly on the other end, you need to be close to the Mini Jambox.
Jawbone’s Mini Jambox is an impressively small, stylish speaker, but it isn’t very loud for its size, offers little to no bass, and pales in comparison to the now-$150 full-size Jambox. If you want the best portable Bluetooth speaker we’ve tested, spend the extra $20 and deal with the extra heft for the Bose SoundLink Mini or the Logitech UE Boom, both of which can fill rooms with their sound and deliver much richer bass. If your budget is limited, the rugged, outdoor-friendly Panasonic SC-NT10 and the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox are each $100 and perform comparably, if not better, than the Mini Jambox.
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