The plainly named Bose Portable Smart Speaker is an interesting device. If you couldn’t guess, the $399 unit offers all the benefits of a quality smart speaker with your choice of Alexa or Google Assistant. It also includes a built-in battery that lets you move the speaker from room to room and beyond without a power outlet. Its reliance on Wi-Fi for smart features does rain on the portable parade somewhat, but if you’ve got a niche it can fill, the Bose Portable Smart Speaker is a delight — albeit a pricey one.
Bose’s Portable Smart Speaker isn’t for everybody. At $400, it’s really expensive, and while its built-in battery means you can position it however you like, its Google Assistant or Alexa-based smart features require a Wi-Fi connection. So although portable and smart, it’s not both simultaneously. Still, if you’ve got the budget for it and want a smart speaker to freely position around your home (and use it as a great Bluetooth speaker), you won’t be disappointed.
- Dimensions: 7.54″ x 4.69″ x 4.09″
- Weight: 2.34 lb
- Integrations: Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Spotify Connect
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2
- Ports: USB-C
- List Price: $399
- Colors: Triple Black, Luxe Silver
- Full, robust audio
- Attractive design and solid build quality
- You can move it around!
- Too expensive
- Doesn’t include charging cradle
- Smart features require Wi-Fi
Bose Portable Smart Speaker
Bose Portable Smart Speaker: Design, hardware, and what’s in the box
The Bose Portable Smart Speaker is an aluminum cylinder about eight inches tall and four inches wide, with controls and a carrying handle at the top, and a downward-facing audio driver. There’s also a USB-C port at the bottom. It’s available in black or white.
With fine holes machined into the speaker’s aluminum, and a hefty weight of more than two pounds, the Portable Smart Speaker certainly feels high quality. I also really appreciate the rigid, fabric-wrapped handle. It makes the speaker easy to move around, but it’s also a convenient way to hang up the speaker anywhere you want music, like an audio lantern. It’s IPX4 rated, which means it’s resistant to splashes, but you shouldn’t try to use it in the pool. I’ve used the speaker in light rain a few times, and there hasn’t been any issue so far.
Speaker buttons are on the top surface, protected under a flexible silicone layer. There are buttons for power, Bluetooth pairing, play/pause, microphone mute, voice control, and volume. A circular strip of LEDs around the top of the speaker visualizes the volume as you adjust it, which is a nice touch. Plus, the LEDs light up when you’re interacting with a voice assistant. I do wish there were buttons to skip tracks, though. With the current controls, you skip forward and backward by pressing the play/pause button twice or three times, respectively. That works fine, but the process would be easier with dedicated buttons, and there’s definitely room on the speaker for them.
The Portable Smart Speaker comes with a standard USB-C charger. Bose also sells a cradle that you can set the speaker on to charge. You’ll want this cradle if you plan to move the speaker around (which is the whole point here). The charging cradle costs $29, and I purchased one for my review unit. I’m irritated it’s not included in the box since this speaker costs a very high-end $399. Bose’s skimping on accessories feels very cheap.
Bose Portable Smart Speaker: Functionality, audio, and battery life
The big draw of the Bose Portable Smart Speaker versus other speakers is that it’s… a portable smart speaker. It can function as a regular Bluetooth speaker, but it can also connect to Wi-Fi to enable control by Google Assistant or Alexa. So, anything you can do by voice with a Nest Audio or Echo speaker, you can also do with the Bose Portable Smart Speaker.
You can ask questions, adjust smart home gadgets, control media playback, and the whole nine. You can also add the speaker to groups of your other Assistant or Alexa speakers to sync audio playback across rooms. Having multi-room audio functionality baked into a speaker that I can use outside is a huge get for me.
Unlike headphones and earbuds that use your phone’s data connection, voice assistant functionality requires stable Wi-Fi, which might limit the draw of a portable smart speaker to some. It is a shame you can’t use the speaker’s full feature set when you’re, say, camping in the woods, but the ability to position the speaker wherever I want around my home is still very appealing to me (and so is not having to futz with Bluetooth to play music). My small backyard is also pretty well covered by my Wi-Fi network, so I haven’t had any trouble using the Portable Smart Speaker for phone-free background music during bonfires and yard work.
The Bose Portable Smart Speaker sounds great. At the speaker’s default tuning, the bass is full and bouncy without sounding hollow or too boomy, and higher sounds are sharp and well-defined. You can adjust bass and treble settings in the Bose Music app; from a default level of 0, each setting can be tweaked in increments of 10 from -100 to +100. I’d have preferred a more traditional five-band EQ, but any customization is better than none, and the way the speaker sounds out of the box is already just about how I’d like it.
The Portable Smart Speaker’s audio driver points downward, distributed evenly around the speaker. The thing gets loud enough. Indoors, with the speaker sitting nearby at 50 percent volume, you’d have to raise your voice to be heard over the music. Full blast is rowdy-house-party loud, but the sound does start to get distorted around 65 percent, with the speaker struggling to push enough bass to match the mids. That said, beyond testing, I haven’t pushed the volume past the two-thirds mark.
Bose quotes the Portable Smart Speaker’s battery life at 12 hours per charge, and in my experience, that’s probably a fair benchmark. Longevity will vary widely based on how you use the speaker, however. For example, low-volume Bluetooth playback from a nearby source will likely exceed 12 hours, while loud Wi-Fi streaming on a less-than-ideal connection will tap the battery sooner. Charging from zero percent to 100% with the included charger (or the optional dock) takes about five hours.
Bose Portable Smart Speaker: Should you buy it?
The Bose Portable Smart Speaker is a unique offering. If you know what you’re getting into here, and it fits your budget, you’ll probably like the speaker a lot. I definitely do. Being able to freely position a better-than-average smart speaker around my house — including outside — is a dream come true, especially when I want the same music playing indoors and outdoors simultaneously. The ability to choose between Google Assistant and Alexa in the same model is also pretty clutch.
But the speaker can’t use your phone’s data connection for its smart features; if you’re away from Wi-Fi, it’s a standard Bluetooth speaker. A lot of what’s good about the Bose Portable Smart Speaker is still good without the smarts — whether connected to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, it sounds very nice, and the design and build quality are great. But if you won’t often be able to take advantage of the Portable Smart Speaker’s Wi-Fi-enabled tricks, you should probably aim for regular Bluetooth speakers instead.
Buy it if…
- Your whole-home audio solution could use an outdoor boost, and your Wi-Fi will reach.
- $399 for a high-end smart speaker you can move around your house sounds reasonable.
Don’t buy it if…
- You want voice assistant features when you’re away from Wi-Fi. Over Bluetooth, the Portable Smart Speaker isn’t especially smart.
- You’d set it on a shelf and leave it there. Get a regular smart speaker.