Waterproof Bluetooth speakers are all the rage nowadays, but one of the first companies to get it right was UE with its Boom series. While the original Boom and even the Boom 2 were good, we weren’t as impressed as everyone else was given the price. With the newest UE Boom 3, though, there’s hope again: it’s actually competitively priced at around $150 (and often even less). So, is the UE Boom 3 any better than previous versions?
Who’s it for
- Beachgoers or people in rainy climates. I lived in the Pacific Northwest for a year, and when they say it rains every day they aren’t lying. If you live in a part of the world where it rains all the time, waterproofing all your things isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity.
- People who like the JBL Charge 4 but want something more portable. While the Charge 4 is a great speaker for the price; plus, it comes with some cool features. That said, it’s also pretty large. And while the built-in stand and bulging shape make it great for the deck or the yard, it isn’t as easy to bring around as the UE Boom 3.
What’s the UE Boom 3 like?
The UE Boom 3 is immediately recognizable as a UE product, but there’s something off about it. That uneasy feeling is because, despite the similarities, the UE Boom 3 received a subtle makeover. It’s the uncanny valley of speakers. Gone is the soft plastic bumper down the middle of the speaker that had the plus and minus buttons. Instead, it’s been replaced with a slimmer plastic strip down the speaker’s spine.
This might sound weird to say about a cylindrical speaker, but it’s also less rounded off. The edges end sharply and the entire speaker is shaped more like a soda can than the previous version. That design choice was intentional, as the UE Boom 3 easily fits anywhere that a water bottle would—whether that’s in your bag, your car’s cup holder, or even the water bottle bracket on your bike.
It’s wrapped in an IP67 waterproof fabric that’s tough and feels nice and grippy, and I had no problems keeping a good hold on it even when it was wet. Even better, the Boom 3 floats just like the Wonderboom did, which is a small thing that adds a lot of value. It’s not just the outside that was made to be tough either: UE claims that the speaker is drop-proof, too. While we didn’t do any drop tests off a building, it did survive a roll off my bed without a problem, which is probably a more common scenario anyway.
Of course, it still sports the signature plus and minus buttons for adjusting volume and three buttons up top for controlling playback and powering the speaker on/off. I had no problem with these buttons because unlike the Charge 4, the buttons on the Boom 3 are all different shapes. Even in the dark, it was easy to feel around and find the one I wanted. There’s also a small hang loop on the back, but I found it too small to be useful for anything. Unless you attach a separate carabiner to it, I don’t see many people finding it useful.
It doesn’t seem like many companies are having too many issues with Bluetooth connectivity in recent years, at least when it comes to staying connected. Wireless audio quality is a different story, though. Fortunately, the UE Boom 3 doesn’t seem to have any issues with dropped connections or stutters. As long as you stay within ~50 feet there’s nothing to worry about. It even gets the job done at around 100 feet with no walls in the way.
Then, there’s the app which is both good and bad. It’s bad because I’m tired of downloading apps for everything I buy but good because it adds functionality. For one, it has a basic EQ so you can tweak the sound of the speaker to your liking, but it also lets you save up to four EQ presets. That way, you can have one for when you’re listening to your podcasts in the shower (that can’t just be me right?) and another for when you’re at the beach with friends.
Besides that, this is where you go to connect to other UE speakers. You can connect up to 150 other UE speakers, and it’s backward-compatible, meaning the older UE Boom 2 can take advantage of this. We couldn’t test this as we only had one speaker to play with, but it’s good to have the option if you and a few friends all have UE speakers. UE also says that it’s working to bring the alarm clock feature to the Boom 3. At the time of this post, however, it isn’t available. One of the newer features that UE is pushing is the ability to switch between playlists without needing to reach for your phone.
Of course, you’ll have to set this up in the app, but you’ll be able to skip between playlist by long-pressing the multifunction button in the middle for three seconds. Then controlling your music is just like anything, with a single tap pausing/playing and a double-tap skipping to the next song. Curiously, the ability to triple tap to return to a previous song is missing, which is kind of a bummer because otherwise the UE Boom 3 would have everything.
UE claims a battery life of 15 hours, but in our testing, we got 8.3 hours which is a bummer. While it’s fine for an average day, it isn’t going to blow you away like some other, less expensive speakers that can play music for 24-hours straight. But again, UE made a slight change that I think is really cool: you can charge the UE Boom 3 wirelessly with the proprietary Power Up dock. The caveat? It’s sold separately.
The dock has three pins that charge the speaker via a small metal divot at the bottom. I wish it came with the speaker, but it isn’t absurdly expensive at $40. Just keep in mind that if you take this speaker out with you for a long beach day, you’re going to have to throw back on the charger when you get home.
Another nifty feature is the ability to power up the Boom 3 without touching it via a power button in the UE Boom app. What is a little disappointing is that both the speaker and the dock use micro-USB instead of USB Type-C. It seems like UE has a bunch of great, futuristic ideas for this speaker but it’s being held back from truly being future-proof by clinging to an old port. It obviously isn’t a big deal, but it means that if you get the UE Boom 3, there’s a good chance it might be the only device in your life that charges via micro-USB in a few years.
What does it sound like?
The UE Boom 2 wasn’t our favorite sounding speaker in the past, and that hasn’t changed here. It still puts more emphasis on being loud than sounding good, but if you’re going to be outdoors at the beach or in the park, that might be what you’re looking for. For all of our listening, we didn’t alter the EQ in the app and left it as-is out of the box.
The first thing you notice when listening to music is that this speaker definitely puts the “boom” in Boom 3 (I couldn’t resist). In all seriousness, the low end is overemphasized, but the drivers aren’t big enough to do bass notes any justice. Instead, the bass in the song Daffodils by Mark Ronson sounds less powerful, almost like midrange frequencies, which means that it competes with vocals far too often and often ends up masking them.
Similarly, the high end doesn’t sound like there’s much holding it back, which results in distortion and harshness at high volumes. This is easy to hear in the song Horchata by Vampire Weekend; the bells and cymbals sound too loud compared to everything else. It’s worth mentioning that most of my issues seemed to be at volumes greater than 80 percent. At regular volumes, there aren’t too many issues but if you’re getting the UE Boom 3, chances are you’re going to be pressing that volume up button a lot.
Should you get the UE Boom 3?
If you don’t have another Bluetooth speaker or are looking for a quick and practical gift to give someone, then absolutely. The Boom 3 isn’t the best sounding speaker, for that you’d probably have to go with the JBL Charge 3 or Charge 4. But UE has made a lot of incremental improvements such as the ability to link up to older UE speakers, wireless charging, and a redesigned body. It seems the company took the time to think about how people are actually going to use this speaker, and that attention to detail combined with the lower price point makes the Boom 3 an easy recommendation.