Review: JBL PowerUp

The JBL PowerUp Speaker is a multi-purpose device. First of all it’s a Bluetooth speaker that works with any Bluetooth enabled device. Let’s face it, Bluetooth pairing of devices...

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The JBL PowerUp Speaker is a multi-purpose device. First of all it’s a Bluetooth speaker that works with any Bluetooth enabled device. Let’s face it, Bluetooth pairing of devices is not the most enjoyable experience in the world.

Wireless charging (Qi)
One of the best assets of the Lumia 920 and many other new smart phones is their support for the Qi wireless charging standard. This device is one of the first to support the standard and certainly the first I’ve used. The process is pretty straight forward, drop your phone on top of the speaker and charging begins. This completely removes the need for fumbling with cables that have fallen behind your bedside table.

There’s a rubber ring that the device rests on to avoid any scratching on the back of the phone or top of the speaker, smart. You will need to align the phone correctly though or you’ll get a vibration from the PowerUp to let you know you placed it wrong. This sounds more annoying than it is, you’ll quickly learn the behaviour of placing it down as required but know it’s not a thrown down experience as you may expect.

NFC
If you’re device supports NFC, then you can simply tap the device to have the audio streaming to through the speaker. This works incredibly well and really is a great implementation of NFC. Other devices require a confirmation on your smart phone before allowing the audio to be diverted, but this works as you’d expect, tap and play.

One of my favourite things to do is use the volume control buttons on my phone (from my pocket) to adjust the volume on the PowerUp. This is really convenient is someone walks into the room and you need to engage them in conversation.

Capacitive touch controls
With a Qi-compatible device dropped on top of the PowerUp, the virtually hidden capacitive touch controls come to life. The volume up and down along with next, play/pause and prevous buttons appear. The 4 corner surrounds of the wireless charging platform are also backlit and actually pulse to indicate the charge is being pushed into phone.

There is however no way to turn these lights off, this is seriously puzzling, almost as if JBL engineers never tested the device in what is surely it’s intended environment, your bedside table. Nobody enjoys having your room pulsing or even brightened by lights that you have no control over.

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Audio
The volume and clarity produced by the JBL PowerUp is impressively loud, enough to wake the neighbours if you want. The audio level emitted from this relatively small device is pretty astounding and goes to the quality of internal speakers used. This suggests some of the rationale behind the price which we’ll get to in a moment.

Portability
The PowerUp requires a hard-wired power cable to work. Unlike it’s smaller cousin the PlayUp that does audio streaming on batteries, the portability of the PowerUp is questionable. It’s certainly possible, but will mean that a room-to-room move will require the power plug to be carted with it.

With so many phones still yet to get wireless charging support, it would have been a smart decision for JBL to include a USB port on the back for charging of ‘old’ phones. As the rear features a 3.5mm aux in port, it allows for non-Bluetooth / NFC enabled devices to use the speaker.

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Price and Availability
The PowerUp is available in black, white and cyan to match your personal preference. While a limited selection right now, expect the colour range to grow like the Lumia’s have.

The JBL PowerUp costs A$349.95. That’s a hefty price in anyone’s book, while I love the device, it’s hard to justify that price. While the convenience of drop and charge is great and tap and play is amazing, the price is high, there’s no way around that. If this was sub-$200 it’d be a lot easier pill to swallow. You could compare the price of a good quality Blue-tooth speaker as well as a charger and add the convenience tax and even a little for licencing of Qi and you’d land somewhere around $200 being good value.

Please JBL, reconsider this price so more can enjoy.

Overall
The mark of any good review unit is the feeling you get when it’s time to return it. After living with the PowerUp on my bedside table, I seriously don’t want to hand it back, it’s a solid device that really with some minor tweaks and a price adjustment, could be the all-in-one speaker and charger that every NFC and Qi enabled device owner should have.

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This post is authored by techAU staffers. Used rarely and sparingly when the source decided to keep their identity secret, or a guest author who isn't seeking credit.