Review: Fugoo Bluetooth speaker

Core unit utilizes 360-degree sound with three different jackets for style (July 6th, 2014)

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Product Manufacturer: Fugoo

Price: $200

The Good

  • 360-degree sound
    - Battery life
    - Versatility

The Bad

  • Battery indicator
    - Function voices
    - Track changing

It's rare to find a Bluetooth speaker that can cover a large array of needs. Generally, speakers are wrapped in a desktop-convenient device for a small increase in sound, or made compact enough to be carried around in lieu of headphones. But what about consumers that are looking for a rugged and waterproof speaker that can handle just about anything while pumping out 360-degree sound? Unfortunately, options were severely limited. A new speaker, the Fugoo, hit the market this year that makes good on all of those promises and then some.

The Fugoo speaker offers an attractive casing with three different jackets to fit the styling and durability needs of consumers. The standard jacket, the Style, features a fairly straightforward design. The outside is wrapped with a soft jersey-like mesh that feels comfortable in the hand. As with all of the jackets for the Fugoo, the ends are exposed to allow for the use of the micro-USB port, 3.5mm audio jack, power and Bluetooth buttons without hassle.

The Fugoo offers a design that isn't much of a departure from other Bluetooth speakers. The 2.3 x 7.4 x 2.9-inch bar speaker can be tucked into a small bag or purse without taking up much room. At one pound, the device is light as well. Weight and dimensions can change slightly, based on the model that is purchased or the jacket that is used, but not by that much overall. Fugoo sells the jackets separately, giving greater protection to the elements with the Sport and Tough jackets.

Controls for the Fugoo sit centered on the top of the speaker. All of the buttons serve multiple functions, depending on the duration held or if they are pressed in combination with others. For a single press, the outer buttons control volume, with the center button functioning as pause/play. Pressing either one of the volume buttons at the same time as the center one triggers a track change. The center button also functions as the speakerphone control.

At first, the combination presses for track changes were considered a downside of the scheme. This was mostly due to the requirement for a simultaneous press to trigger. The more the Fugoo is used though, the less of an issue this becomes. Given there is little to no lag time in presses, it's something that can be put up with for the sake of simple design and functionality.

For the review, we were given a Sport jacket for additional testing. While the Style jacket has some durability, it isn't a catch-all solution. It protected from most drops and otherwise daily handling. The Sport jacket, however, allowed some rough play. It uses rubber and a stiff frame to stave off damage. Tossing the Fugoo in the yard did little to interrupt the sound or otherwise faze the speaker unless it went out of range. Fugoo states it has a 33 foot range, which is consistent with straight line tests.

What makes the Fugoo even better is the fact that it's waterproof up to three feet of water for 30 minutes thanks to its IP67 rating. Submersed in a sink full of water for 15 minutes, the Fugoo showed no signs of stopping. In the water, the connection cut out from shielding provided by the water if the orientation of the speaker was changed, even with the device less than a foot away. The device isn't really intended for underwater audio, so that's fine.

Sound from the Fugoo surpasses the expectations of a simple Bluetooth streamer. The unit utilizes 360-degree sound without the use of plastic or other gimmicks to channel sound. Instead, it takes a mirrored design, placing a 1.1-inch neodymium tweeter and a 1.7 x 2.1-inch passive radiator on each of the long sides of the unit. The end caps each contain a 1.5 neodymium aluminum mid speaker/woofer. This means there is an even approach to sound, when other Bluetooth speakers split up the sounds on either the front or the back.

The result of the acoustic-friendly design is a pleasing sound from any angle. Fugoo states that each driver has an eight degree upward tilt for better sound dispersion. The speaker also uses the aptX codec to ensure high-quality sound. A small drawback is that the speaker taps out at 95 dB at a distance of about 1.5 feet. This leaves the overall volume lower, but it's something that isn't uncommon in Bluetooth speakers. Even with the limitation, the Fugoo offers great sound quality that doesn't compromise because of the direction it faces.

Sound curves portrayed a fairly consistent curve between the three tested songs. "Notorious" had a shallower curve than the other two songs, but that's expected based on the lower overall levels of the song. Highs, mids and lows were all clearly discernible during the course of listening to songs, even in "Hunter" which notoriously causes mids and lows to blend together or distort enough to bleed into one another. The Fugoo offers minimal bass distortion at higher levels, though it only reached a peak of 90.1 dB when measured from a foot away. Volumes at all distances measured saw a range of overall levels drop from three to 13 percent at 100 percent to 25 percent maximum volume controlled by the source device.

Fugoo also offers hands-free and speakerphone capabilities. While it operates as expected, hearing a voice coming from both sides of the speaker rather than one is a little awkward. Voices are crisp and clear, but the 360-degree sound adds a new experience. Additionally, Fugoo works with Siri and Google Now. Holding down the round button on the top, or pressing a dedicated button on the remote, triggers voice control. While using Siri, it didn't appear to perform any better or worse than an attempt without the speaker.

Not all sound is perfect with the Fugoo, though. Rather than rely on Bluetooth chimes, quick tones or LEDs, the speaker has a unique voice that dictates some of the actions. Bluetooth and remote pairing, powering on and off and even the battery state is in a smooth male voice. It's awkward to hear. While the confusing LED blinks can be used to show Bluetooth and battery charging states, the voice covers what is needed rather than focusing on the device. However, the percentages it gives for battery life aren't very accurate. It reports "about half" most of the duration.

There are a number of accessories for the Fugoo beyond the additional jackets. Of those, we were able to test the strap mount and the remote control. For the strap mount, either the Sport or Tough jackets are required to be able to attach the mount. The mount clicks into place against the metal bracket, needing only to be squeezed to pull off. Soft Velcro lines the entire length of the three-foot strap, allowing users to strap the device firmly to a number of large items. It helps that the strap contains some elastic to ensure a snug fit. When strapping the Fugoo to a car bumper, it held without issue.

The remote control is a nice addition to the Fugoo, as it adds nearly lag-free communication to the speaker. Unlike other remotes that have a small delay in them because of the nature of the connection, the Fugoo's is reduced since it utilizes Bluetooth Low Energy. Controls for volume, track, pause/play and the aforementioned voice command are included. The controller is waterproof, but also features a bottle opener on the back. To pair a remote, one must first connect the speaker to a sound source. After that, the play button on the remote is held down within a two-inch range of the speaker until it is paired.

During the course of testing, an interesting error occurred when pairing the Fugoo to the remote. On the first attempt, the Fugoo threw some sort of error that blasted a tone that was a mix of a blaring beep and buzzing. Pressing the power button resulted in no change. Since the battery is housed in a sealed unit, there's no easy way to disconnect. Thankfully, the tone only lasted around three minutes before the speaker powered off.

Battery capacity for the Fugoo is a total 2,400mAh. Fugoo says that the battery takes 3.5 hours to charge, but charge times off on a MacBook Pro were closer to five hours for a full charge. The battery really stretches its legs to give the Fugoo up to 40 hours of battery life at 50-percent volume, according to the company. While this might seem like an outlandish claim, it's not far from the mark. In the course of a week, the battery clocked over 30 hours at 75-percent volume or more. Each use was in spurts of eight hours or more.

The battery does bring another small issue with it, but it isn't something tied to performance. Instead, it's the missing link of being able to use the Fugoo as a power bank. Many Bluetooth speakers come with the feature, with some even limiting the volume or the amount of power shared. While the lack of an ability to charge tablets and phones is missed, it doesn't hurt the overall unit. However, it's a need consumers should consider when looking into portable speakers.

The Fugoo is a fantastic speaker, hands down. With the ability to eject the core for use in different jackets, the 360-degree sound and the versatility it offers, the speaker covers all of the bases for consumers. The Style model is a little on the high end for Bluetooth speakers, but the Fugoo's great features and minimal flaws make it worth every penny of the $200 cost. Add on the 40-hour battery life, its durability and the resistance to the elements, and it becomes hard to deny the value in the Fugoo.

by Jordan Anderson


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