Smart functions like Google Home and Alexa work well, and it's certainly a stylish little speaker, but sound quality is a mixed bag. Fans of hip hop, dance, pop etc will love the Portable Home Speaker's big bass, but the boom can drown out the nuance in more guitar-oriented genres like rock, country and acoustic.
The line between smart speakers supporting wireless networks and personal Bluetooth models are blurring, as more and more manufacturers add Google Home, Siri and Alexa to their units. The Portable Home Speaker is Bose's attempt at putting a premium product in the pack, but although the smart functions are nice, the bass-oriented delivery is decidedly 'Bose' and aimed at listeners that love a lot of low-end.
The speaker is available in two colours.
The Portable Home Speaker does a lot of things well, but nothing in particular stands out. Overall audio quality is fine, the app is serviceable and the digital assistants work as expected. But Bose's big bet on bass doesn't do the speaker any favours for fans of rock, punk, acoustic tunes and so on.
Loud low end and lots of volume may grab your attention in a store, but these settings can't sustain a speaker in the long run. A lower asking price would make this sort of stuff much easier to digest, but right now there are better quality speakers from brands like Ultimate Ears, that cost far less.
The Portable Home Speaker has:
- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity
- AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect support
- 12 hours of battery life (claimed)
- USB-C or baseplate charging (baseplate sold separately)
- inbuilt support for Google Home and Alexa
- 360-degree mono-signal audio around the base (which basically means that the speaker can shoot audio in all directions evenly)
- a top-firing speaker
- IPX4 water resistance which means it can handle a splash of water but not a dunking
- button controls on top of the speaker
- an accompanying smartphone app (Bose Music) for using audio apps and adjusting settings.
It also comes with a number of pre-installed apps which you can activate with voice commands, or via the Bose Music app. These include:
- Spotify (also supports Spotify connect)
- TuneIn (provides direct access to more than 100,000 internet radio "broadcasts" from around the world such as Triple J, the BBC or the NBA. Streams will vary depending on your location).
The Portable Home Speaker is bassy and loud. But while this emphasis on the low-end helps genres like hip hop, dance and pop music really punch through and fill a room, other styles such as rock, metal and acoustic can feel a bit muffled and dull.
We assessed the Portable Home Speaker using Spotify Connect with the highest available quality options. We also adjusted the basic equaliser to reduce bass and raise treble, in an attempt to combat the dominant low end and balance out the sound.
- Overall, tracks with a strong brass presence sound great. Plus, the top firing speaker lets mids and highs, particularly vocals, shoot through with good clarity. However, very bassy songs can cause case buzz.
- Songs that lean more towards the mid-range, particularly guitar-oriented tracks, are inconsistent.
- Some acoustic tracks deliver that warm, lilting feel as different chords playfully dance around different frequencies. Others just sound muffled, crunchy, dry and totally lacking in energy, despite having similar production qualities.
- Rock, metal, punk etc. suffer, as the amplified, boomy bass muffles guitars and vocals, especially during grand "explosive" moments (e.g. an AC/DC chorus).
- It often adds or amplifies vocal reverb which can colour the sound.
- Despite all this, it handles jazz remarkably well.
Though the speaker is dynamic, the heavy low end can drown out the mids and highs, creating a flat, unexciting sound. You'll feel your feet kicking when Eurythmics, Whitney Houston or the Chemical Brothers start pumping, but this speaker will barely begin a bop if you try to crank Nirvana, Guns N' Roses or Crowded House.
The speaker also comes with built-in smarts, specifically Google Home and Alexa. Once connected, you can control apps installed on the speaker, as well as other compatible smart devices on your home network (e.g. lights, home entertainment or security cameras). Or, you can ignore these features and turn them off in the app or on the speaker.
The microphone can pick up commands from across the room, and takes about as long as a smartphone to process the request. You shouldn't have any trouble selecting songs, dimming the lights or asking Google if you need to take an umbrella to work. Just bear in mind that smart functions only work while the speaker is connected to Wi-Fi.
The Bose Music app which includes a very basic equaliser.
The free Bose Music app is the central control hub used to set up the speaker, adjust settings and select your playback preferences, like the music streaming service and digital assistant (Google Home or Alexa). You can control apps like Spotify directly from Bose Music, but it's not exactly fully featured.
The stripped down equaliser is pretty disappointing. It doesn't include any presets for different genres, styles or listening locations either, so you're basically stuck with the default sound.
The app lets you search Spotify, Deezer and TuneIn, which can be convenient as you don't need to worry about opening and closing multiple programs. Bose Music even lets you create a quick-access favourite list that supports radio, albums, playlists and so on.
However, the Bose version of Spotify's interface (which we tested) has a different layout that's comparatively basic. You'll find it quite limiting if you're used to the Spotify interface, which begs the question: why did Bose decide to build a lite version of Spotify in its own app?
Building a Bose network
Most modern Bose products require the app, which lets you manage multiple devices from a central location. You can also play music out of multiple Bose Home Speakers via the app (or voice commands), if they're connected to the same network.
If you have two speakers, the app sets up stereo surround. Alternatively, you can put a number of them in multiple rooms to fill your house with music.
The carry handle is comfortable to use.
The Portable Home Speaker looks good and feels solid, particularly the material around the carry handle. Plus, the addition of simple volume, play, pause, fast-forward, rewind and skip song controls on top of the speaker means you can use it without having to connect your phone at all.
Bose has also added a "mute mic" button that stops the speaker from listening with a single click. It's a clear, simple solution for people that prefer a bit more privacy.
The IPX4 rating protects it from splashes and sprays, but any kind of pressurised blast (e.g. a hose) or total submersion will likely damage the speaker. It also stops most dirt, grit and sand.
While the Portable Home Speaker works well most of the time, we did encounter a few frustrating faults:
- Spotify connect: Occasionally, Spotify audio would completely cut out when using Spotify Connect. It wouldn't start again even when choosing another track. It started working again using Spotify through the Bose Music app.
- Power problems: We completely turned off the speaker as per the instructions, rather than leaving it in standby, and yet it would turn itself on when we activated Bluetooth on our phone.
- Switching Wi-Fi: The instructions say that you can easily move the speaker to a new Wi-Fi network via the app. In reality, you need to run the setup process every time you want to change networks.
What's missing from the Portable Home Speaker?
Though the Portable Home Speaker has a solid set of specs and features, Bose is marketing it as a premium device. However, these features are strangely absent:
- Inbuilt support for Tidal, Google Play Music and Apple Music.
- AUX input, for people with older devices.
- A protective flap for the USB-C charge port.
- Chromecast/casting support.
- AptX support for high-quality Bluetooth streaming.
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