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UE's Roll speaker is a resilient flying saucer of sound

Jon Turi, @jonturi
06.16.15
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Ultimate Ears just tied up the last loose end in its product line today, replacing its aging Mini Boom speaker with the UE Roll. Instead of a rounded rectangle with mono-directional sound, this new model takes the form of a flying saucer, with a similar design as the higher-end Boom and Megaboom. Outside of its colorful exterior, there are plenty of other updates packed into this new entry-level offering. One thing that hasn't changed is the price: the UE Roll costs $100 (£100 in the UK). Starting today, you can pick one up from the Ultimate Ears website, while Best Buy will have select colors (Reef exclusively) on June 21st, followed by the Apple store on July 7th. I had a chance to test one out for a few days, and while it's a cute bit of eye candy, it still seems to hold its own among everything else in UE's lineup.

Gallery: UE Roll | 27 Photos

Gallery: UE Roll press images | 18 Photos

The first thing you'll notice about the Roll is the colorful design and unique form factor. It weighs about 12 ounces, much the same as its predecessor. Somehow, though, its unique disc shape (just over five inches wide) seems to make it even more portable than before. The series arrives in six multicolored hues, with half of them bearing Keith-Haring-like patterns. On one side you'll find UE's now-standard stain-resistant finish, along with large volume icons stitched into the surface. On the flip is a grippy rubber material with the power button, micro-USB port, 3.5mm audio jack and a "marine-grade" bungee cord that opens up a world of mounting options.

Indeed, you can strap this thing onto bikes, backpacks, clothing or umbrella poles -- it's actually quite convenient. I did my best Iron Man impression and wore it on my messenger bag strap. Biking and rapid stair climbing didn't come close to dislodging it. You don't have to worry about the weather either, because the Roll is waterproof (IPX7). The ports themselves, while covered under a snug flap, are actually waterproofed too, so you could even take it swimming. It won't float, though, since the compact design didn't allow much room for air pockets. As a solution, the company is offering a "Floatie" to buyers this summer to help it get some pool time. (Yes, it's essentially an inflatable donut.)

So how does the Roll sound? It's a good bit louder than its predecessor, the Mini Boom, and delivers crisp, slightly thumpy audio when turned up. I did a side-by-side comparison and the 360-degree spread trumped the mono-directional Mini. The Roll is actually rated for slightly lower frequencies, too, with a range of 108Hz to 20kHz, compared to the Mini's 130Hz to 20kHz. I only had one unit to test, so I wasn't able to try out a paired scenario, but a single Roll was loud enough for hanging out on a roof deck with a few friends. If you're looking for power, though, it's not going to match the beefier sound that the Boom and Megaboom supply. As for battery life, it seems to have a good deal of endurance. Playing it at mid to high volume, I managed to get something near its nine-hour rating, spread out over a few days' worth of intermittent listening sessions.

On the software side, you get a new UE Roll app available for Android and iOS that includes all the features of the previous releases: alarm, EQ, Double Up and settings. One other subtle, but useful option that we first saw on the Megaboom is the ability to control power and monitor battery capacity using Bluetooth Smart. If your mobile device is compatible, simply open the app and after a few moments you should see a power icon and the battery status of your UE Roll. From there, you can remotely turn the device on or off, which is convenient if the speaker is perched out of reach, strapped on a bag (with the power button face-down) or you're simply feeling lazy. Double Up lets you pair two Roll speakers or even a Roll with a Boom or Megaboom for more sound; they're all compatible with up-to-date firmware. There's another intriguing feature on the way, currently slated for the fall: Following an over-the-air software update, Roll, Boom and Megaboom users should be able to pair 10 or more speakers for an expanded daisy chain of sound.

Overall, the new UE Roll seems like a great addition to the lineup. The design is colorful and visually attractive. Bungee cord mounting is surprisingly useful and its waterproof exterior lets you take it in or around the water with ease (just don't forget the donut). Audio quality and battery life also get high marks here, especially for a $100 speaker. One negative is that the volume and power buttons seem to be buried in the rubbery surface material, making it difficult to register a press -- especially for volume. Hopefully, you'll be happy using your Bluetooth device to control all those functions. That said, if its feature set ticks all the right boxes, there's little reason not to consider this if you're in the market for a new Bluetooth speaker.

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