The JBL Flip series is one of the most popular lines of Bluetooth speakers for a few reasons. The most important of which being that every Flip speaker could be had for less than $100. The JBL Flip 4 is older now but that doesn’t mean that it’s outdated. So how does it hold up right now against the more recent competition? In short: pretty damn well.
Editor’s note: the JBL Flip 4 has been discontinued. However, this article has been updated on September 30, 2020, to replace the UE Wonderboom with the UE Wonderboom 2 as an alternative to the JBL Flip 4.
What’s inside the box
In the box you’ll get the speaker, a bright orange charging cable, and the instruction and warranty information. Pretty standard from the company and I wasn’t expecting any kind of fancy carrying case at this price point anyway.
How’s the build and design of the JBL Flip 4?
At first glance, there isn’t much about the Flip 4 that sets it apart from the previous Flip 3, and that’s because aside from a few minor design changes like the phone button being turned into a more fitting triangle for pause or play, there really isn’t too much difference between them. The Flip 4 is still rocking the iconic cylindrical shape with exposed passive bass radiators on either end to match the rest of the JBL line-up. That said there is one key difference that makes this a worthy upgrade to the previous model – waterproofing.
The fabric that wraps around the speaker might look fairly similar to the previous model, but it’s actually completely waterproof now. It’s IPX7 waterproof to be exact, which along with being able to be submerged for 30 minutes in up to a meter of water, also means that’s sealed against dust, dirt, and sand. So taking this to the beach was no problem.
I was able to toss it around in the sand and in the water and then just wipe it off, throw it in my bag, and keep on moving. It’s probably not a huge deal for you if you have a Flip 3 and haven’t ever dropped it in water (or even had it near water for that matter), but it’s good knowing that whether you drop it in the pool or in the ocean you won’t have to replace the speaker.
Editor’s note: Sara tested a JBL Flip 4’s IPX7 rating by submerging it in a pool for about 10 seconds, and it came out broken. The speaker still produced sound, but the sound was shrouded by a loud crackling. JBL customer support stated that the one year warranty had passed, and defective products out of warranty could not be replaced for free. Considering JBL is a company whose big selling point is their waterproofing, this was disappointing.
On that note this speaker still doesn’t float like the UE Wonderboom we reviewed, so if you do accidentally drop it into a pool that thing is sinking to the bottom. And if you’re in the ocean just kiss it goodbye. But besides that the rest of the speaker hasn’t changed much. You’ll still get the four playback control buttons along the side of the speaker, and the power button and JBL Connect+ along the spine.
That’s also where you’ll get the five indicator lights that show you how much battery life is left along with a small flap to keep water out of the micro USB charging input and the 3.5mm input hidden underneath. The string is also still there so you can hang it from a hook or tie it to your bag if you want. Though I prefer the flexible cord you’ll find on something like the UE Roll, the string here is fine.
What about the connection strength?
Let’s circle back to that JBL Connect+ plus button for a second because this is one of my biggest complaints with this speaker. If you remember the Flip 3 also had a JBL Connect button, but this one is Connect+ and that extra plus sign makes a huge difference. While the old one could only connect two JBL speakers together, this new Connect+ button can connect up to 100. Pretty great, until you realize that you can’t connect to any previous speaker that doesn’t have Connect+.
So if you have another speaker and were hoping to connect the Flip 4 to it you’re out of luck. This is a real bummer because the Flip series isn’t so expensive that it’s impossible to imagine someone buying one every time a new one comes out, and now they can’t even connect them together.
Okay rant over. Besides that, I’ve had no issues with the connection aspect of this speaker. The signal stayed strong regardless of where I was in the house, which practically means about 50 feet with a few walls in the way. If you’re outdoors I’m sure you can push it a bit more as well, as I got well past 50 feet when I took it to the beach though, to be fair, I didn’t have a measuring tape to get an exact distance. The playback controls also work very well and the buttons are nice and clicky so you’re not left wondering whether you’ve actually pressed it or not.
You can control volume with the plus and minus sign buttons, pause/play music or access your phone’s personal assistant with the play button, skip to the next song by double-tapping the triangular play button, and easily enter Bluetooth pairing mode with a dedicated button. All of this works perfectly and I had no complaints.
How’s the battery life of the JBL Flip 4?
JBL claims a battery life of about 12 hours, but in our initial testing, we got exactly 4 hours on max volume. Yeah, big difference. But the reason is because I feel like most people using a waterproof Bluetooth speaker are going to be using it outdoors, where it’s probably going to be on max volume. So that’s how I tested it.
However, when I lower the volume to between 50-75% it reaches 12 hours easily. So that’s something to keep in mind if you think you’re going to be out somewhere like the beach. For a few hours you won’t have a problem, but if you’re planning a day trip or a day by the pool you might want to avoid high output or the speaker isn’t going to make it.
How does the JBL Flip 4 sound?
If you were looking for the Flip 4 to be a huge improvement in terms of sound quality over the previous model, I’m sorry to disappoint. The Flip 4 sounds very similar to the previous model. Now that isn’t a knock against the Flip 4 in any way because I really liked the sound of the Flip 3. There are only a few subtle differences here as far as I can tell, one of them being in the highs.
On the Flip 3, I found a slight distortion when the speaker was maxed out but that doesn’t seem to be an issue on this new model. The finger slides that used to sound a little harsh in Cinder And Smoke by Iron & Wine is now much more controlled. You can still enjoy it without it bothering your ears which is a plus.
Not much has changed in the mids, with vocals still coming through loud and clear. Background instruments do get pushed off the side a bit but not enough to be an issue. The guitar and percussion in Life is Wonderful by Jason Mraz backs up the vocals perfectly throughout the track.
Another minor change is in the low end, with a slightly beefier bass when compared to the previous model. It’s still not going to replicate the “sub-bass” of your favorite songs but it doesn’t do a bad job at replicating it at a slightly higher frequency it seems. The rolling bass of Mr. Rager by Kid Cudi is consistent throughout the background of the song without muddying up any of the mids.
What you should know
One of the biggest new features of the Flip 4 over its predecessor was the addition of an IPX7 waterproof build. The JBL Flip 3 was only splash-resistant, but that might not mean much to you if you don’t know what the differences between the two are. We have a full explainer piece so you can read up all about it to become an expert, but we also put together this chart for you to hopefully make this clear. Basically, water-resistance comes down to the last digit in the series. As you can see from the chart, an IPX7 build means that the product has been tested for up to 30 minutes submerged in 1m of water.
|IPX1||✓||Dripping water (1 mm/min)
Limit: vertical drips only
|IPX2||✓||Dripping water (3 mm/min)
Limit: Device max tilt of 15° from drips
Limit: Device max tilt of 60° from sprays
|IPX5||✓||Water jets (12.5 L/min)
Example: Squirt guns
|IPX6||✓||Strong water jets (100 L/min)
Example: Powerful water guns
Limit: 1 m. for 30 min
Limit: 3 m. for 30 min
Bluetooth quality and codecs
The JBL Flip 4 does have a 3.5mm input if you want to hardwire in a source device, but most people will probably be connecting to it over Bluetooth. The good news is that the JBL Flip 4 does have Bluetooth 4.2, the bad news is that it doesn’t have any support for high-quality codecs. If you don’t know what a codec is, don’t worry we’ve got you covered there too. In layman’s terms, a codec is like a language.
If two devices share the same language ( or codec) they can transfer data between each other faster. Unfortunately, the JBL Flip 4 doesn’t have any special codecs and just uses the default codec (or language) that all devices speak with is SBC. But don’t worry, it really doesn’t matter in this case because this speaker is meant to be tossed around and taken with you wherever you go, not for high-quality listening. Besides, you probably can’t hear it anyway.
Should you buy the JBL Flip 4 in 2020?
Even though the Flip 4 is technically discontinued, its $80 price tag makes this an absolute steal, even in 2020. In fact, we still consider the JBL Flip 4 the best-all around Bluetooth speaker for under $100. The Flip 4 sounds good, is light enough to be packed into a bag easily, and is durable enough to handle your next adventure.
For those still inclined to buy a speaker from the Flip product line, the updated JBL Flip 5 is definitely worth considering. If you’re just not ready to commit to something this expensive, give the JBL Clip 3 a try: It’s not as good, but then again, it’s also much cheaper.
What are some alternatives
If you’re checking out this review to decide if you want to get a JBL Flip 4 and find that it’s just not for you, don’t worry because there are plenty of other options you can choose from. Here are a few more speakers you might be interested in.
- Anker Soundcore Flare 2: Anker consistently surprises with how good their products are for the price you pay, and the Soundcore Flare 2 is a perfect example of this. You’ll get pretty decent sound and battery life in a small package that looks nice and also has LED lights. If you want a waterproof speaker, you can’t go wrong with this.
- Bose SoundLink Micro: Bose has a decent option for basically every category in audio, and affordable waterproof speakers are no exception. The sound quality won’t blow you away, but if you want a small and portable speaker definitely check out the SoundLink Micro. Full review
- UE Roll 2: While the Roll 2 doesn’t float, it’s still a great option for anyone that needs a waterproof speaker for outdoor activities thanks to its bungee cord. You can wrap it around anything and let it hang or just leave it dangling from your pack on a hike. Full review
- UE Wonderboom 2: This speaker builds upon the success of its predecessor with greater battery life and IP67 dust resistant and waterproof build. Just like the original, the Wonderboom 2 also floats! A waterproof speaker is great, but chances are it’s only going to end up submerged if you drop it into the water. What good is waterproofing if the speaker sinks to the bottom of a lake? If you don’t want to lose your speaker to Davy Jones’ locker, give this one a chance. Full review
But wait! What about the newer JBL Flip 5?
If you’re looking at the JBL Flip 4 and still wondering if you should instead just get the newer JBL Flip 5, then there are just a few things that you should know for. The biggest difference is going to be sound quality. While the Flip 4 doesn’t sound bad by any means, it’s clearly designed with a priority on toughness. The newer JBL Flip 5 is also tough but packs larger 44mm drivers instead of the 40mm ones found on the Flip 4. This means you can expect a subtly better low end when listening to music and this is exactly what we found in our full review of the speaker.
Because of this, the JBL Flip 5 is also ever so slightly larger than the Flip 4, but JBL made use of that size by packing a larger battery inside (4800mAh vs 3000mAh). While you might think that this will improve battery life drastically, it actually remains the same at about 12 hours of constant playback which should be fine for most people anyway. The Flip 5 also has USB-C charging and quick charging so you can charge the speaker with the same cable that charges your Android phone.
The JBL Flip 5 is definitely an improvement in a few key ways over the Flip 4, but it’s also more expensive at about $100 which is nothing new for Flip speakers but it’s still worth considering seeing as the Flip 4 can be found for cheaper. If you don’t mind spending the extra cash to get one then you won’t be disappointed, but the Flip 4 is still the better deal considering you still get the same 12-hour battery life, the same IPX7 waterproof rating, and a slightly smaller and more portable body.