Speakers are … well … speakers. Generally these days speakers come in about three broad varieties – super-smart speakers, like Sonos, which connect to cloud services, pair up in the home and do all manner of whizbang, Bluetooth speakers which generally aren’t super smart, but have good sound and connect to your devices to play music / access assistants, and plain old speakers which need to be plugged into an amplifier or something to work.
Bose’ Portable Home Speaker is in mostly that middle category; it’s a Bluetooth speaker with 12 hours playtime that delivers deep bass, great sound, access to your chosen Assistant, voice controls, and decent connectivity with Bluetooth and WiFi built in. It’s with that latter WiFi connectivity that it can do some of the tricks of fancier speakers. You can stream to it straight from the cloud with no Bluetooth pairing required.
It’s super convenient, charging off the same USB-C connector as your phone uses (or should use in 2020!), and for an extra $39.95, you can grab a charging base for it too which keeps it topped off ready to drag around the house or on your next adventure. Neat.
For most of its life on my desk as a review speaker, I’ve used Bluetooth mode because I didn’t read the material that came with the Portable Home Speaker all that carefully. Woops.
Reality is, though, to use it as a Bluetooth speaker isn’t using all its feature set – however, it does offer you something pretty great – amazing audio quality. In fact, I’d recommend this speaker without even knowing it had WiFi features built in.
However, when you enable those WiFi features, you get a whole lot more.
Setting up the WiFi is pretty simple – just reset the speaker (you’ll lose your Bluetooth pairings, sorry) and hook it up to your home WiFi. It takes all of 30 seconds or so. I guess if I’d read the instructions carefully to begin with, I wouldn’t be doing this step now but that’s life. Upon naming my speaker Thudbucket, I was prompted to link it to Spotify and click through a few setup steps.
Once that’s done, I can now access these new features:
- It shows up in Spotify Connect as a device so you can open something in your Spotify app and “throw” it to the speaker.
- Apple users can use it as an Airplay 2 target… though unfortunately it does not show up as a Google Cast target, so that option is out.
- Instead of casting via Bluetooth – and tying up media controls on my phone – it can work over WiFi, whether my phone stays connected or not.
Beyond this, the features stay the same – beautiful, rich audio quality that streams directly, just now it comes from the cloud instead of my mobile, so I can set some music going and then go out, and the tunes will continue for whoever’s at home (not that anyone likes my music…)
However, much of this is “same same” – at the end of the day, a smart speaker is still a smart speaker. If it didn’t have good audio quality, you’d not use it.
The extra features are cool though. Stand-alone access to Google Assistant means I’ve effectively got a portable Google Home device that can answer queries, take actions, do things just with voice commands (there’s no need to touch the voice command button).
This I like.
While I may have been a little hesitant to recommend a $499 smart speaker that really only uses Bluetooth, the WiFi dimension makes it really, really cool. The sizable battery means you’ve got all day tunes and if – like me – you mostly keep it sitting on your desk plugged into a USB-C charger anyway, it’s going to work whenever you want it.
Heading to the back yard for a relax on the lawn? Take it with you and enjoy music out there too. Heading to the park to relax there? Well, you’ll get a fine and probably arrested … but you’ll have great music until the rozzers show up.
Should you buy one? From those that I’ve used, this is probably one of the better smart speakers. It’s not large, it uses a commodity charging port, integrates nicely with Google Assistant (and thus, streaming music services that Assistant can access), and has great audio.
So yep, go buy one.
You can buy them online from $499, and in many places of retail too – but buying online is probably your safer option today.