Ever since its release, Jawbone’s Jambox has set the standard for grab ‘n’ go mobile-device speakers. Now it has a new competitor: the Pill from Beats Electronics, purveyors of the ubiquitous Dr. Dre-endorsed stereo headphones.
It’s an interesting time for Beats, which is controlled by Dre and celebrated music producer and executive Jimmy Iovine. Earlier this year, Beats began to unwind its successful partnership with Monster Cable, which had manufactured and distributed its products. Meanwhile, Taiwanese cell-phone maker HTC briefly took a majority interest in the company, only to sell back much of it.
Now Beats is charting its own course, with the Pill as one of its early post-Monster product-line extensions. (The company is also releasing a new set of noise-canceling headphones called Beats Executive to take on Bose.)
The Pill has a lot in common with the Jambox. They both cost $199, are colorful and are compact and light enough to toss into a computer bag or suitcase.
They also both use Bluetooth to wirelessly stream music, video soundtracks and game sound-effects for those times when you just want to listen out loud. And each can double as a two-way squawk-box for calls on your smartphone.
While pairing a Bluetooth speaker to your mobile phone or tablet isn’t especially hard, the Pill boasts a feature that’s supposed to make it even easier: a Near-Field Communication chip. Just tap an NFC-equipped phone to the speaker, and you’re ready to go.
That’s the theory, anyway. When I went to pair it with a Samsung Galaxy S III, I got one of those gloriously geeky “unknown tag type” Android error messages. Turns out the feature only works with a tiny fraction of devices that both have an NFC chip and are running the latest “Jelly Bean” version of Android.
But I had no problem pairing it with the Galaxy — as well as an iPad and iPhone — using plain old-fashioned Bluetooth.
The Pill also differs with the Jambox in a couple of key areas. The biggest one is sound.
The Pill — so named for its tubular shape — has four drivers, as opposed to the two on the Jambox. And played at high volume, it has much less distortion than the Jambox. If you really want to crank things up, this is the Bluetooth speaker for you.
On the other hand — and somewhat oddly, given its parentage and Beats’s reputation for thumping, insistent bass in its headphones — the Pill is a little light on the lower end of the sonic spectrum. In fairness, bass is really hard to do in a package this small. But it’s one of the Jambox’s strong suits.
Those issues aside, the sound quality of the Pill was very good for casual listening, and I could easily see making use of it, say, in a hotel room where I want to watch a movie without wearing headphones, or listen to my own music while getting ready in the morning.
Not to mention blasting it loud enough to wake the people in the next room.