Speaker doubles as a tablet stand, but offers weak bass, one control button (August 29th, 2014)
Product Manufacturer: Life n Soul
- Sturdy tablet stand
- Surround sound
- USB pass-through
- Audio drift/lag
- Lack of controls
- Low battery warning
Bluetooth speakers aren't only for listening to some music at the park or on a long bus ride, but can also be built with tablets in mind. While some manufacturers craft speakers with a shape that is specifically molded to hold a tablet and offer little use otherwise, others have caught on to a better design. Life n Soul have attempted such a configuration with the BM211 Virtual Surround Sound Bluetooth speaker. Would it give consumers flexibility to have a speaker suited for tablets and everyday use, or would they be left with another single-use sound device?
The BM211 looks like an ordinary Bluetooth speaker, taking on an oval shape with a gray grill wrapping the sides. The top and bottom pieces are finished with a shiny black plastic that quickly collects fingerprints and other smudges. It also has cloth feet on the bottom that allow it to slide around a little on a desktop.
However, there are two things that break up the design of the BM211. When looking at the top, one of the ends has a cutout that is lined in rubber, while a seam runs laterally through the oval to split it in half. These features allow the speaker to serve a dual purpose, which is to act as a stand for a tablet or large smartphone. While it can hold an iPhone without a case as it is, the sides can be pulled apart to allow wider devices, like an iPad 2, to fit vertically in the notches.
The rubber in the grooves is thick enough to give a device a decent amount of cushion, but also has a texture to allow some grip. However, there are some limitations as to what it can hold. As previously stated, an iPhone 4S can only fit in the cutouts if there is a thin case or no case on the phone. This also goes for an iPad. The notches only allow for a little less than 0.5 inches of space for devices, meaning heavy duty cases like those from Otterbox won't be compatible with the BM211.
Controls for the BM211 are extremely limited for a Bluetooth speaker, as it only has one button on the top of the unit. There are no track or volume controls, leaving consumers with only a multifunction button for five actions. The problem is the actions are pause/play button, accepting or rejecting a phone call, and switching audio modes. This puts the speaker at a disadvantage, since most models at least have pause/play and volume control options. Consumers will be left to control everything at the source, something that could be a deal-breaker.
Another weak point could be the older version of Bluetooth that it uses. Instead of using Bluetooth 4.0 like many modern speakers, the BM211 uses Bluetooth 2.1 with Enhanced Data Rate (EDR). Playing music this way may not be a concern, but sound during video playback will definitely fall out of sync. One or two seconds of lag were also observed when a speaker started playing from idle. In addition to the delay when starting a track, there were random occurrences of the first second being shaved off the song when skipping tracks.
Battery life for the BM211 proved to be better than expected, as listening time for the speaker was about 14 hours total. The speaker was run for two days until it shut off, even staying on overnight. From full discharge, the speaker takes about four hours to recharge. The Life n Soul speaker does turn itself off to conserve battery life, but users can turn the speaker off manually with an on/off switch on the back if they choose. The switch is easy to toggle, and sits next to the micro-USB charging port and 3.5mm auxiliary port. The BM211 has a USB pass-through to let other devices charge if the speaker is taking up the only available port.
There is one major drawback of the speaker when it comes to notifying users that the battery was low. Every couple of seconds, the speaker emits a loud beeping tone that interrupts anything that is being played. The tone isn't played at critical levels, but instead started interrupting things with more than 20 minutes of operating time left. It makes the speaker virtually unusable during that time.
Sound from the Life n Soul speaker isn't terrible, but it falls short in bass and overall sound quality. Anything played through the BM211 has a tinny quality to it, showing how much bass it lacks in most applications. During song testing for the speaker, the modern rock song "Welcome Home" by Coheed and Cambria hit higher decibel reads than the bass-heavy "Hunter" by Björk did. This performance is generally only seen in speakers that don't have a significant bass punch. Even at three feet, "Hunter" only gave a higher reading on one of the source volume levels.
The quality of the sound ends up suffering because of the bass loss, as high treble notes end up taking over the speaker. The mid range ends up weak as well, leaving the low-end feeling flat. Distortion also becomes a problem, especially combined with the lack of volume controls. The speaker ends up operating best when the source volume is below 50 percent.
The BM211 does have a high point though, as it has a well-balanced surround sound. The BM211 has speakers on both halves of the speaker, giving it even sound from each side. Bass may be lacking, but at least any sound that comes from the speaker is even and consistent.
Between the lack of bass, terrible low-battery tone, missing controls and audio lag, there aren't many redeeming values for the Life n Soul BM211 Virtual Surround Sound Bluetooth speaker. Not everything is bad, as the balanced surround sound and the ability to turn the speaker into a tablet stand are nice. However, those positives aren't nearly enough to counteract some fundamental problems. Pricing for the BM211 is fair at $80, but consumers can pick up a much better speaker like the Logitech X300 for about $10 or $15 less. The BM211 is ideally suited for tablets on paper, but a general-purpose Bluetooth speaker will better serve consumers.