Before we begin this review I must disclose that I am not an audiophile. Whether that removes value (because I don’t know audio to a science) or adds value (because I’m sure to be as far from elitist as possible) is up to you. That said, let’s get into it.
As someone who has suffered from the unfortunate limitations of laptop sound I was excited to learn I’d be reviewing the Jabra Solemate. Let’s face it — there are only a few select laptops, smartphones, tablets, et al. with speakers powerful enough to deliver respectable sound, and those devices tend to cost you some moolah (with a majority of the costs being driven by other components).
With that, the need for a portable speaker is ideal for a ton of people, and I believe Jabra has come to town with an offering that challenges the mighty Jawbone in a very significant way.
Let’s jump into sound first — after all, the audio is what’s most important in such a device. The Jabra Solemate features three front-facing speakers with the middle unit delivering a good punch of bass.
This device was made with a clear goal of delivering LOUD sound and booming bass in mind. The three speakers will be more than capable of drowning out other noise in a moderately small, crowded room. Without any parties or other gatherings to attend I didn’t have an opportunity to use this thing around more people, but if you’re looking to entertain a room of people that needs to be bigger then the size of your average den you should probably invest in something with more range.
On a noisy avenue with roaring cars I couldn’t really hear my music too well, and while I had to look like one of those old school sidewalk boombox cronies to test this out I caused no considerable amount of disturbance. Perhaps this device is more suitable for use in an off-road environment where minor or no traffic is an issue.
But while being loud is important, being clear and precise is also another important factor. The Jabra Solemate handled most of my music pretty well without the need for excessive EQ. I was able to pick up a lot of instruments (the main thing being some nice, groovy bass lines) and subtle notes that I’d not been able to before, and that’s always a good thing.
At the same time, a good portion of my music also didn’t scale very much. Whether this has to do with the way the tracks were mixed or limitations of the Solemate I can’t say, but every song is different so you have to expect some degree of inconsistency.
And let’s not get “very much” confused with “very well.” My music scaled almost as well as compared to listening through mid-ranged headphones like Sennheiser’s HDR 120. Both of these devices deliver, and you have to remember that neither promise to be high-end equipment like professional studio monitors so I was quite happy with performance.
The only real issue I have with the sound quality of this device comes with increased volume. Bass can get really distorted when you have the volume cranked up. It’s generally good to keep your audio at moderate levels anyway so this doesn’t affect me, though I understand the need to get those decibels as high as you can in certain situations.
I found that keeping the Solemate’s volume at a certain range of medium-medium high and adjusting the volume at the source of the audio was a more rewarding balance, though subtle changes will be necessary depending on what you’re listening to.
As this device can playback audio wirelessly (more on the connectivity features in a bit) it’s important to address any potential loss of quality. I found little-to-no difference between playing my music over Bluetooth or via the standard 3.5mm jack. There does seem to be a very, VERY short delay of playback over Bluetooth relative to when playback on the source device begins, but you aren’t missing a millisecond of audio, nor will there be any audio syncing/latency issues with video.
In all, these won’t impress those who need the best sound possible delivered to their ears but the Solemate’s hardware will please those of us who are used to bad or average audio to begin with. The bass at higher volume levels can make things muddy or distorted, but that’s to be expected in bass-heavy songs which haven’t been mixed well and users can eradicate the issue by adjusting both sources of volume accordingly.
The next most important factor is the feature-set. The Jabra Solemate holds its own with a well-rounded list of features. Bluetooth? Check. 3.5mm jack connector? Check. Awesome voice that tells you your battery life in an ultra smooth tone? Check, check, check. The list isn’t long, but for what you need this thing to do it’s plenty enough.
The Solemate features speakerphone capabilities with its built-in omni-directional microphone, and for some select handsets it can even function as a voice dialer using the middle button positioned at the top.
It worked fine for my Galaxy Nexus, though I personally still prefer to dial using my hands. Compatibility will vary from phone to phone, but at the very minimum most phones should recognize the Solemate as a speakerphone no problem.
Unfortunately speakerphone performance was very inconsistent. In some calls my friends and family had no problem hearing me, but others would force me to repeat what I’m saying two or even three times because they weren’t able to hear me that well. I could hear others fine but the other end of things seems to be a major problem area.
Bluetooth connectivity is the major seller here, of course, as the main selling point of these wireless speakers are to be… well, wireless. We have standard Bluetooth 3.0 radios inside, and I found the connection process to be a blissful and pain-free experience. I was up and running on my laptop, phone, and tablet in no time.
One of my favorite features is the device’s ability to be connected to multiple audio sources at the same time. I was able to watch a YouTube video on my laptop, then use the Solemate to take a phone call once a call actually came in. The phone overrode my laptop, then gave the reigns back to my laptop after the call ended. This seamless hand-off was a real deal-maker for me, and even with questionable speakerphone quality it should be for you, as well.
The Solemate also features your standard 3.5mm auxiliary jack for those who want to use it with devices which don’t have Bluetooth. What’s more is that the unit comes with its own 3.5mm cable — we’ll get more into that on the presentation side of things.
Inside is a rechargeable battery of unknown size, though Jabra rates it for 8-10 hours of continuous playback. I can attest to that claim on a full charge (sometimes I go a little longer), though expect it to fall a tad short of that mark with more charges over time. We’re sure Jabra will help you with that, but as I haven’t had any issues with the unit this isn’t a warranty review.
Charge times seem fairly reasonable as I was able to go from completely dead to completely full in just under 2 hours. You will be happy to know the device will also function while it’s being charged so there doesn’t have to be a gap in playback as long as you can find your way to an outlet or powered USB port.
Presentation and Build
While Jawbone decided to go the safe route with the design of its Jambox, Jabra’s Solemate makes things a lot more interesting. In fact, the device’s name was no doubt inspired by its design. The Solemate is built to look like tennis shoes in several areas.
For starters, the back of the device is outfitted with a finger loop. The bottom of the device looks like the sole of a shoe, though the ridges are a bit more overstated than your average shoe.
Even the 3.5mm headphone cable included with the device (which can be stored into the bottom of the device) pays homage to the all-important shoe as its wiring is encased with a shoestring-like material.
This design philosophy results in a great look, but it also serves a higher purpose. The Solemate is designed to be a rugged device that you can take anywhere. It’s dust proof and water resistant, so taking it to places like camping or to a day on the beach should be no issue. We imagine it can take quite the beating, though it’s never a good idea to try and hurt the device no matter how durable it’s meant to be.
While I have yet to come across the opportunity to use this thing in harsh conditions I can’t tell you enough how rock solid it feels. It’s not a flimsy piece of plastic encasing speakers and wireless components, and for that we thank Jabra.
It’s not something that you’re going to be able to put into your pocket, but it’s a device that’s big enough to be loud, powerful, and durable, while at the same time being small enough to throw into a bag. And should you want to leave the house with it and you happen to be devoid of a bag the Solemate comes with a pretty decent carrying bag of its own.
Those looking for a cute little device that can easily be tossed into their pockets need not apply, but if you are looking for some very solid sound in a durable and reasonably-sized package the Solemate is the way to go.
The Solemate holds its own in the way of connectivity, features and battery life, no doubt. Audio is usually the main draw, though, and it delivers a very respectable package for the price, speakerphone aside.
For sheer audio there are more capable options out there, including Jawbone’s BIG Jambox and Bose’s Soundlink, but both of those will cost you $300 while the feature-packed Solemate will run you just $200. If your budget just can’t come to terms with the former two then there really is no other option you should be considering.
A Jabra Solemate unit was provided by Jabra for this review.