Adorable but durable, UE Wonderboom plays the cute card

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The UE Wonderboom is totally ready to party.
The UE Wonderboom is totally ready to party.
Photo: Ultimate Ears

The world’s most lovable little Bluetooth speaker just got some cute competition. It’s a case of sibling rivalry, too: The new Wonderboom from Ultimate Ears splashes onto the scene next month just in time to challenge its “big” brother, the UE Roll 2, for the title of ultimate summer speaker.

While the UE Roll looks like a flying saucer, the Wonderboom more closely resembles a hedge apple. About the size of a softball, it will make you want to pick it up and toss it around. In fact, it’s hard to keep your hands off the cute little bugger.

“They definitely are cute,” said Audrey Tang, Ultimate Ears’ global communications manager, during a demo at Cult of Mac headquarters. “That’s the first reaction we get from everybody.”

UE Wonderboom: Smaller, simpler

Priced at $99 list when it launches in April, the Wonderboom will occupy the low end of Ultimate Ears’ speaker lineup, which also includes the Boom 2 ($199) and the Megaboom ($299). Like those speakers (and the $99 Roll 2, which is not being discontinued), the Wonderboom is waterproof and “lifeproof” — i.e., you can drop it from up to 5 feet and it won’t break.

The Wonderboom pumps out plenty of clear, 360-degree sound. You control the volume using the same oversize “+” and “-” buttons that became a hallmark of UE’s colorfully designed speakers. A new “UE” button on top lets you play, pause and skip tracks (or even link two Wonderbooms for twice the sound).

The Wonderboom gets “a solid 10 hours” of battery life, said Daphne Li, a senior product manager at UE, during the same demo. Pressing the + and – buttons simultaneously causes the speaker to emit an audible indicator of the current battery level.

Wonderboom will come in six standard colors: Stone (gray), Phantom (black), Fireball (red), SubZero (blue), Cashmere (pink) and Lilac. A seventh color, Deep Blue, will be an Apple store exclusive, UE said.

While there is no way such a small speaker could kick out the massive jams produced by the wine-bottle-size Megaboom, the Wonderboom sounds great for its size.

“We asked ourselves, ‘What do people really care about?'” said Li. “It’s the sound. You just want something that sounds really good and is really simple.”

It’s also pretty loud, hitting 86 dB max sound pressure level, according to UE. And cranking it up doesn’t yield the type of distortion you get with lesser speakers.

What UE Wonderboom can’t do

One byproduct of this push toward simplicity? The Wonderboom doesn’t come with an app like other UE speakers do. That’s kind of a shame, because using an app to remotely control a speaker comes in surprisingly handy.

You also don’t get the PartyUp mode that links dozens of UE speakers. Or the voice capability that lets you tap Siri or Google Now straight from UE’s bigger speakers.

UE says it sunk its engineering time into making Wonderboom sound as good as possible. They ultimately produced an acoustically efficient speaker that’s half the size of the Boom 2 but boasts similar audio specs.

“Every inch is used for generating sound,” Li said.

Wonderboom versus UE Roll 2

UE Wonderboom Fireball
This Fireball floats.
Photo: Ultimate Ears

So which sub-$100 Bluetooth speaker will win the summer of 2017, when everyone with an iPhone takes their tunes to the beach, the pool or the lake?

Like the Roll 2, the Wonderboom sports a loop jutting off of it, although they work quite differently. The Wonderboom’s is a simple, small loop, perfect for hanging it off a peg or carabiner. The Roll’s is much larger and stretches across the back of the disc-shaped speaker, making it more versatile.

Both of UE’s pint-size speakers deliver solid sound and pack an IPX7 waterproof rating (capable of being immersed in water up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes — even the micro-USB charging port is waterproof). But while the Roll 2 requires a separate “life preserver” to stay at the top of the pool, the squat Wonderboom floats all by itself.

Isn’t that cute?

Ultimate Ears, which provided Cult of Mac with a review unit for this article, says Wonderboom goes on sale in North America, Australia and some European countries next month, and in Asia starting in May 2017.