With that out of the way, let's talk about the rest of what the app has to offer. For starters, you'll have to log in on first use to register the device. Once you're in, you'll see options to change or turn off audio prompts (unfortunately, there's no way to select specific ones), along with a guided Bluetooth setup with a cheat sheet for all the button shortcuts. Throughout, the layout of the app is extremely easy to navigate and will match up with the color of your speaker.
Updating the Mini with new firmware and features, however, is an annoying process. You'll find options to "install" different voices, languages and LiveAudio, but clicking these simply directs you to plug in your device and visit Jawbone's website. That said, LiveAudio doesn't come pre-installed on the Mini, like it did on the Big Jambox, so you'll need to download it. After logging in with your credentials, you'll need to install an updater onto your Windows or Mac machine, which merely stays active in the background. With the updater running and your Mini plugged into a USB port, you'll be able to finally update it through the website. We seriously hope that we'll one day be able to do all that from within the application. For what's it worth, we were able to carry out this process without any hiccups. You know, save for the fact that it can take up to five -- 56k modem-like -- minutes for any changes to apply while using the web interface.
For its time, the Jambox was an impressive piece of kit. But now we've got lots of similar options, such as the UE Mobile Boombox, which easily bests the original Jambox in terms of audio quality. The biggest problem we've found with that older model is its tendency to become distorted at any reasonable volume level. We're happy to report, though, that performance is much improved in the Mini. All throughout the range of volume, its two drivers and passive bass radiator pushed out much smoother sonic waves. There was no major distortion from the aggressive samples on Yeezus to the heaviest of Jimmy Eat World tracks. It does feel slightly compressed and veiled with noticeable limiting, though. This is likely thanks to a loudness-compensation algorithm, compression and Jawbone's own EQ, which seem to work more aggressively here than on the Big Jambox; you can't get this unit to distort because it won't even get loud enough to.
The Mini impresses initially with a healthy amount of thump, but this means the drivers can't pierce through noise pollution like SOL Republic's $200 Deck, which has an outdoor mode. There is a LiveAudio setting on the Jawbone Mini (enabled within the app or by holding both volume buttons), but it merely serves to provide a "3D" sound. It's a decent little option for widening the soundstage, but usually it makes a negligible difference -- just like on the Big Jambox. We'd also be remiss not to point out that the $200 Beats Pill goes a few notches louder and sounds noticeably clearer, but the Mini Jambox balances this out by maintaining a much more consistent wireless connection. Granted, the speakers we've mentioned have bigger dimensions, but they'll all fit in a jacket pocket when it comes down to it. On the opposite end, this puppy easily outclasses the UE Mobile Boombox, which has been besting the OG for a while.
For all the improvements Jawbone's made in the audio department, the Mini still suffers from the same fatal flaw as its predecessor: it's just not loud enough for use in areas with moderate ambient noise. We can't shake the feeling that a louder volume output from the size of the original Jambox would have been more useful than sizing everything down. Make no mistake, though, the level of volume and clarity the Mini outputs is still very impressive for a speaker this size.
Finally, a note about that speakerphone functionality: I found myself frustrated with calls. No one ever complained about clarity, but there were usually complaints about my voice not coming through loud enough unless I was seated in front of the speaker.
We're smitten with the Mini Jambox's colorful styling and well-constructed casing, not to mention the improved app, but it mainly seems to raise the bar within Jawbone's own product lineup. It's hard to justify the $180 price if loudness is a concern, especially with competing products from SOL Republic, Logitech and Beats priced about the same, or even cheaper. That said, the price is right if you're interested in what the Mini Jambox has to offer -- namely, a stylish, well-built Bluetooth speaker with extended app functionality. Whether or not you're sold, don't even think about getting the regular Jambox instead of this: the Mini is a clear improvement over the original for the same price.