Jabra is literally kicking down the door to the portable speaker market. The Jabra Solemate Portable Bluetooth Speaker delivers big sound in a compact, fashionable sneakerlike design. Product name puns aside, can this $199 speaker stomp the competition?
Click to EnlargeThe Solemate really plays up the shoe angle. The 6.8 x 2.8 x 2.5-inch portable speaker (about an 11 in children's shoes) has a removable white rubber sole along the bottom. The sole has treads that enhance the sneaker look, but also keep the speaker in place when it's kicking out the jams.
A tan braided 3.5mm audio cable nestled in the bottom of the sole mimics a shoestring. The cable can be removed from the tread and plugged into the audio jack on the rubber white band on the speaker's right side. The band also contains a microUSB port, power switch and status indicators for battery and Bluetooth.
Click to EnlargeThe band extends to the top of the speaker and tapers into another strip down the left side of the device. The top of the Solemate has buttons for volume and Answer Call/Battery Status. A fabric carrying strap on the left side of the speaker resembles the loop on back of most sneakers. The Solemate's front and back are covered by white metal speaker grilles. Jabra also sells a version of the Solemate in black with yellow accents.
Despite its compact dimensions, the Solemate weighs a hefty 1.4 pounds. The Monster ClarityHD Micro Bluetooth and the Jawbone Jambox speakers weigh a slight 12 ounces by comparison.
Click to EnlargeThe Solemate can definitely take a beating, thanks to the impact-resistant rubber lining the top and bottom of the speaker. We dropped the device numerous times with no ill effects. The speaker is also splash- and dust-resistant, which means it can hold its own on a beach or in a dorm room.
Folks paranoid about ruining their investment can place their Solemate in the included travel bag. The black textured bag is splash-proof. Best of all, the lightweight material doesn't muffle the speaker.
Setup and Ease of Use
After making our Samsung Galaxy Note II discoverable, we held the Solemate's On/Off switch in the top position for three seconds. The speaker informed us in a smoldering baritone that it was ready to pair.
The voice was accompanied by a track that sounded like it had been culled from an X-rated flick. It was slightly disconcerting, especially when the speaker announced that it was "now connected" in a rather knowing voice. From start to finish, the process took approximately six seconds.
The volume buttons adjusted volume as expected. Pressing both buttons for one second muted/unmuted the audio during phone calls. The Answer/End button wears a lot of hats. In addition to answering and ending calls (hold the button for two seconds), pressing the button announces the battery status while double tapping the button redials the last number called.
Click to EnlargeDon't let the gimmicky design fool you. The Solemate's pair of tweeters and integrated subwoofer easily filled our test room at maximum volume. But loud doesn't always mean good.
At mid-volume, we were impressed with the depth of the bass on George Clinton's "Atomic Dog" and A Tribe Called Quest's "Bonita Applebaum." However, Gwen Stefani's "Luxurious" and OutKast's "Prototype" sounded very muddy.
The problem only increased as we went to maximum volume. We quickly discovered that the subwoofer couldn't handle deep bass and distorted the rest of the track in its attempts to compensate. Once the bassline entered the equation in "Prototype," Andre 3000's whimsical falsetto was no longer clear and vibrant, and the entire track became distorted. Stefani's soft, mewling vocal became harsh and grating and the synthesized parts of the track took on a dog-whistle quality.
Tracks that don't have a deep bass line, such as Earth, Wind & Fire's "September," sounded great no matter the volume level.
Click to EnlargeLike many portable speakers on the market, the Jabra Solemate also functions as a speakerphone. When we received a call while playing music, the speaker paused the track, replacing it with a bleating ringtone.
We wished Jabra had given the Solemate the ability to announce callers just in case the phone wasn't at arm's length or worse, M.I.A. We also would have appreciated having voice command, similar to what we used on the Monster ClarityHD Micro speaker. This seems like a glaring omission considering the voice guidance system used for the initial speaker setup.
Test calls to mobile phones, landlines and Skype were loud and clear as a bell on both ends. One of our callers noted that he could tell that he was on speakerphone.
Battery Life and Bluetooth
Jabra claims the Solemate can get up to eight hours of battery life at maximum volume. During our testing, we used the speaker consistently for three hours and had 75 percent remaining battery life. That's roughly equal to the Jambox, and about two hours longer than the Monster ClarityHD Micro.
As with most Bluetooth devices, the Solemate has a range of 33 feet. We got 19 feet away in our offices when the audio began to sputter. Another two feet and the sound completely cut out. The speaker took a few seconds to reconnect when we walked back into range.
Click to EnlargeJabra's Solemate Bluetooth speaker has a fun, kitschy design and it can pump out a fair amount of volume. However, while this $199 speaker delivers passable sound for music that has light bass, tracks with deeper bass sounded distorted. For the same price, the Monster ClarityHD Micro Bluetooth speaker delivers loud, rich audio, voice command and call announcements. Overall, this boot ain't made for bass.