At the end of 2020, BlueAnt released the X3 Portable speaker and our review was that despite the relatively high, cost it’s a great option for on the go tunes. Now, with an evolution of the base design, I’ve been given the chance to listen to the X3i and have some thoughts to share.

The BlueAnt X3i hardware

Like its predecessor, The X3i is some full-on hardware for a portable speaker offering — on paper — plenty of power, battery to burn and a rugged design that will stand the test of time.

Cleverly, BlueAnt has tweaked the presentation of the X3i vs. the X3 to give a clear visual indicator of which is which. In the real world, there’s only so much you can do with a portable speaker to make it stand out in the ever-growing market. In this case, it sticks with the tried and proven cylindrical presentation, feet on the bottom, controls on the top and both the charging and auxiliary input at the rear.

The feet on the X3i are visually quite different to that of the X3, and I like it. They’re a little more rounded, and it gives the device a slightly more modern, “slick” feeling. Not only do the feet look better, but they keep the speaker noticeably more stable with it needing a very deliberate push to move the X3i.

The controls are interesting, with the buttons being a physically larger footprint but less tactile. By this, I mean that they’re far less prominent and you’ll have to pay attention to them to ensure you’re hitting the button you intend to. I know it’s not an issue for many users, but having a child who is blind, I’m far more aware of these types of accessibility issues.

The controls are pretty simple: Volume up/forward track, Volume Down/previous track, Play/Pause and these also provide call controls.

Thankfully, having been caught out more than once, the feature of using your speaker as a portable battery bank is still present in the new model. This partly accounts for some of the device’s weight with extra battery capacity (9,600mAh), but this also means it’s capable of being stored in your car for a while, or in an outdoor entertaining area without need to charge.

Setup and daily use

Like previous reviews of Bluetooth speakers, I’m going to echo what’s been said: It’s easy! Turn it on, pair it and use it… If you’re having any issues with connecting to a Bluetooth device in the current era, you’ve either got a dud device or the manufacturer has some odd barriers to connection in place. It really shouldn’t be difficult to connect.

After making and taking a few calls on the X3i, I switched back to the X3 to see if there was a difference. From a call handling and sound quality perspective, I couldn’t give you any real difference in practicality. The issue I think some users will have with both speakers is that the microphone will pick up a lot of the noise around you, so using it in a noisy environment won’t be great for whoever you’re talking to.

Smart assistant “integration”

The labelling of this as integration is bordering on a bit questionable in my eyes. It is using the microphone onboard the speaker to communicate with the phone’s assistant; there’s no independence to the speaker being used for smart features.

That’s fine with me on two fronts: 1. You’re really not going to use a speaker like this without connecting it to a phone. 2. I don’t have any need or desire to use a smart assistant on a portable Bluetooth speaker. The only thing I ask is that the labelling is a bit more upfront, I would call this compatible with Alexa or Assistant, not integrated but that’s probably splitting hairs.

How does it sound?

As with any speaker, this is make or break and the BlueAnt X3i does a great job of delivering a solid sound experience. No portable speaker is going to deliver an audiophile experience, but the X3i delivers a well-rounded sound that doesn’t become too bass-heavy or shrill at high volume.

I enjoy that with the power that BlueAnt have given this little beast of a speaker, you don’t have to run it at high volume to get a clean sound. At low volume, you’ll enjoy clear mids, crisp highs and some (not a lot…) bass. When you do crank it up though, you’ll get sound that really drives through a space — even relatively significant space — and helps create atmosphere without being overbearing.

I had to go back and check my previous notes regarding the bass boost and most of my comment stands true with the new model:

What it seems to do, rather than actually boost the bass is to drop the gain on the vocal and higher range sounds to make it sound like there is more bass. Either way, it sounds pretty good at low volume, and OK at mid-volume.

In a side by side comparison to the previous model, to my ear, BlueAnt have done a great job of tuning the bass boost to give a far better audio output at higher volumes.

Is the BlueAnt X3i worth buying?

The short answer is: If you’re looking for a Bluetooth speaker — first-time buyer or upgrading — then yes, it’s a great value option.

It’s neither the cheapest, nor the most compact speaker on the market but it delivers everything you could want from a portable speaker and more. The sound quality is great, the battery life is awesome and the battery can be used as a portable battery bank; all of that is pretty good value packed into a unit that costs $249.00

Given the abuse use that this has had during testing at my place, I’m confident in saying that it can deal with the challenges of day to day life.