Great sound; rugged and portable
Audio a bit more directional than the Jambox
Jabra calls its $199.95 Solemate “the ultimate portable speaker.” It’s a compact Bluetooth speaker aimed squarely at the similarly-priced Jawbone Jambox, and while the market is packed with a growing number of Jambox wanna-bes, the Solemate is one of the few that competes well: It’s small, stylish, and offers big sound. In fact, it just might be a better buy than the Jambox.
The Solemate, available in black or white, is a rugged, rounded, rectangular block weighing 610g and measuring 17.2cm long, 6.4cm deep, and 7cm tall. Jabra says that the Solemate’s rugged build protects it against dust, shock, and water; the speaker also ships with what the company calls a “durable sound bag”; that bag is rain and dust resistant, and the Solemate can play right through it.
Atop the Solemate sit three round buttons: volume up, a multipurpose button, and volume down. That center button answers and ends phone calls, and it can also provide information about the built-in rechargeable battery’s status: Press the button when no phone call is ringing or in progress, and the speaker will speak the battery’s status — for example, “Battery half full.”
Like the speaker’s size and buttons, that spoken battery status is very reminiscent of the Jambox. So too are the bassy sound effects that accompany turning the speaker on and off. Even the on/off switch on the side, which puts the Solemate into pairing mode when you hold it for a moment, closely mirrors the Jambox’s similar switch.
Pairing the Solemate with a variety of iOS devices and my Mac was seamless. The Solemate can remember up to eight separate devices. When you enter pairing mode, the Solemate declares, “Go ahead and connect me,” and then plays a jaunty jingle to celebrate the excitement of, you know, Bluetooth pairing.
Near the power switch sit two ports: a 3.5mm audio-input jack and a Micro-USB port for charging the speaker. The Solemate includes a 3.5mm audio cable for connecting directly to the headphone jack on an audio source; that cable fits conveniently into a groove on the underside of the speaker (in the “sole”). The Solemate also ships with a standard Micro-USB cable for connecting to a USB port on a computer or charger, and a wall-plug charger with an integrated Micro-USB cable. The speaker takes about 2.5 hours to charge completely, and Jabra says that should afford you eight hours of music and talk time, or 40 days of standby time. We easily squeezed eight hours of listening out of the speaker.
Under the hood, the Solemate packs a 4in midrange drive flanked by a pair of 3/4in soft-dome tweeters. Given the size of these drivers and the Solemate as a whole, audio quality is great: It’s quite comparable to — surprise! — that of the Jambox. Comparing the two products side by side, we’d say that the Solemate gets a smidgen louder and sounds a bit punchier, while the Jawbone sounds a bit brighter. On their own, each system sounds great for its size: You won’t get audiophile quality from either, but you get impressive sound in a lightweight, portable package.
With the Solemate, Jabra took Jawbone’s Jambox head-on, aiming to both emulate it and improve upon it. Both speakers are good, but if you’re choosing between them, we’d give a slight edge to the Solemate: It’s more durable, less prone to vibration shimmies, and able to offer up a little extra volume.