JBL continues to be a dominant force in the audio world and only at IFA this year saw the announcement of a number of new Bluetooth speakers. One of which was the JBL Xtreme which we recently took a look at. This was a Bluetooth speaker which was designed with portability and power in mind, but one which also came with a $300 price tag. At the opposite end of the spectrum, JBL also announced the launch of the JBL Flip 3. Like the JBL Xtreme, the Flip 3 is designed to be portable, however, it is also designed to be a lot more friendly on the pocket and comes with a much more affordable $99 price tag.
In terms of the specs, the Flip 3 comes equipped with two 40 mm drivers and powered over the two 8-watt channels. The Signal-to-Noise ratio comes in at â‰¥80 dB while the frequency response ranges from 85 Hz - 20 kHz. The Flip 3 measures 64 mm in height, 169 mm in width and 64mm in depth, while weighing in at 450 grams. Connectivity is offered by way of Bluetooth 4.1, while the battery on offer is a 3,000 mAh Lithium-ion Polymer battery. Which is said to offer up to 10 hours of usage per charge.
Design & Hardware
For those that tuned in to the closer look at the JBL Xtreme, there is no escaping that the Flip 3 is designed in a very similar nature and makes use of many of the same design cues. Although, as the name suggests, this is a third generation product in the Flip range and while many of the design characteristic between the Flip 3 and the Xtreme are similar, a number of those design cues have been built-on from the second generation, JBL Flip 2 Bluetooth speaker.
In terms of size, this is probably the most significant design characteristic as the Flip 3 is purpose-built to be uber portable and as a result, comes in at an extremely small size. In fact, this is very much a hand-held speaker and thanks to the tubular design, this is one speaker which is extremely easy to carry with one hand.
Like the Flip 2 (and the Xtreme), the Flip 3 makes use of a woven design throughout the bulk of the speaker. The immediate benefit of this design is that it add a textural feel to the Flip 3 which does make it even easier to hold on to and grip. Although, due to the size of this speaker, gripping and carrying are not particularly an issue. This speaker very neatly fits in the palm of your hand. The secondary (and probably more useful) feature of the woven textured covering is that it helps to add to the Flip 3's splash-proof nature.
Note, splash and not waterproof. Although the Flip 3 does seem to be able to take in a decent amount of water spillage without facing any major issues, this is not a speaker that's meant to be submerged in any way. Light rain, not a problem, splashes from the pool or beach, that's fine too. Just no deep sea diving or diving of any kind for that matter.
Moving to the sides of the device and like the Xtreme (but unlike the Flip 2), JBL have opted for less pronounced side aspects. The sides of the Flip 3 are where the actual passive radiators are located. While, last year's model saw the speaker come with quite visible full caps which covered the entirety of the sides. This is not the case with the Flip 3 and instead, this one adopts a much more centralized radiator dust cap, which comes embossed with the JBL logo. As such, the outline rim of the sides do reveal the radiator cone.
Moving to the controls and this is where you first begin to encounter some of the compromises with the Flip 3. This is a much more affordable Bluetooth speaker (compared to the rest of the JBL range) and also a very small speaker. Those two points combined result in less controls on the top. As such, some of the buttons make use of multiple features. On display is the volume up and down buttons, power button and the answer call button (yes, hands free calling is offered as part of the package too). Although, the answer call button also doubles as the play/pause button and in fact, also triples as the skip forward button which means that you have to double tap the call button to skip forward a track. Other than this, the last button visible on the top is the Bluetooth pairing feature. Hold down long enough and the speaker enters pairing mode and away you go.
As this is a splash-proof speaker, JBL have made sure the ports and connectors on the Flip 3 are well protected. Now, these are limited (again due to size and probably the price) and as such, on offer is just an Aux in and a USB charging port. These are housed within a rubber flap positioned at the back and lower part of the speaker. While not always the most convenient to use aspect of the speaker, the covering of the ports does at least ensure they are protected and maintain its full splash-proof nature.
Closing out the design aspects and the Flip 3 comes with a small carry handle which will just about fit around your hand/arm or alternatively, can be attached to your bag.
Sound Quality & Performance
Now, there is no escaping that size is going to play a factor with the Flip 3. To cut to the chase it does. This is a small speaker and as such, some elements, like the bass response are limited. Not to mention, that the louder the volume goes, the more distortion starts to set in. However, and this is a big however, this is only when compared to larger and more naturally able speakers. Comparing the Flip 3 to anything in its size range and the speaker does offer a sufficiently good level of audio response and playback. For its size, it does deliver a sizable degree of sound. In fact, for its size, this is a very loud speaker. Although, as mentioned, at the highest of volumes it does begin to distort a little. However, anywhere below the higher end of the volume range and the Flip 3 does play clear and without issue. Going back to the bass briefly, although it is not ideal on a speaker of this size, it does pack a lot of punch. It is not the deepest or even the roundest of bass responses, but it will be sufficient for most situations when you just want to feel the bass a little.
To give credit where credit is due and in spite of the limiting bass, when played at a mid-volume level, the clarity of the tops and mids are probably a lot better and clearer than you will find on alternative and similar sized speakers. Vocals were extremely clear and rather well produced. And therefore in reality, there is very little to criticize the Flip 3 with, when it is not being played at its loudest levels. This is an ideal speaker for those looking for something that will offer a good quality and clarity production but packed in to a very small size. It is quickly worth pointing out that if you want an even fuller sound, then this is an ideal speaker to link to others. While most of the current JBL range offer the ability to link and connect to each other, the price point and size of the Flip 3 make this a great choice for those looking for more convenient linking speakers. If you like the size, pick up another at anytime and you will be able to harmonize the two to play in sync. Even better if you and a friend both have one.
Battery Life & Connectivity
Any speaker that comes with Bluetooth tech inside and a rechargeable battery screams that it is one which is designed to be used away from the more traditional at-home use. However, when it comes to speakers that utilize the size of the Flip 3, then battery life is not always going to be one of the better selling features. Fortunately, the Flip 3 does buck this trend and in spite of coming with a small shape, and comparatively speaking, a smaller (3,000 mAh battery), the Flip 3 does offer a very good level of off-the-charge usage. JBL claim that it is capable of offering up to 10 hours of playback in between charges. However, they do note that this does depend on volume and content. Although, ten hours was never realized during testing, the JBL Flip 3 did easily last for 7-8 hours without any issue at any volume. If you are planning a day at the beach, in the car or lounging at the pool, then the Flip 3 will deliver for a long enough duration. That said, one minor criticism which could be picked up on, is the recharge speed. It is a little slow to recharge and does take about three hours to bring it back to a full charge. Which considering the size of the battery and the unit, is a little average. Although, this is only really a factor if you need to recharge quickly. For daily use, you won't have any major issues with the Flip 3 in standalone mode.
Likewise, there were no issues noted with connectivity. The Flip 3 makes use of Bluetooth 4.1 and connecting to a smartphone is easy. Not to mention, maintaining the connection was also an issue-free experience with the speaker reliably connecting and staying connected until manually disconnected again.
While the Xtreme certainly seems to be the speaker designed for those where quality matters, the Flip 3 does feel much more of a compromise. The size is limiting in both substance and volume. However, it also does add to its portability and general usage. This is a speaker which you could very easily carry with you throughout the day and without feeling like you are lugging a speaker around. In doing so, you will have a speaker always on-hand which can deliver a decent level of bass (for its size) and a very nice and balanced mid to top ratio. So, although, there are compromises, it has to be noted that this is a much more affordable JBL Bluetooth speaker and one which comes in at the $99 level. For that price, you could find alternatives which will offer a slightly bigger size and arguably an equal (if not better) level of quality. However, if portability is first and foremost at the top of your needs, then for the size, price, bang for buck, the Flip 3 is a solid buy. Not to mention, the battery life on the Flip 3 has seen some major improvements and really does mean this is a portable speaker that is built to be used, when and where it is needed.