More and more of us are using our smartphones and tablets to stream, download, purchase, and play music, and we are seeing the portable speaker market get very competitive. As a regular traveler I also appreciate a good set of active noise-canceling headphones.
I have spent the last couple weeks testing out two new products from Beats: the Beats Pill portable Bluetooth speakers and Beats Executive headphones. In my comparison testing, I found that both are actually serious competitors for the top accessory in their respective categories.
You can check out several photos of the Beats Pill and Executive products in my image gallery.
I am sure there will be comments left by readers that state Beats by Dr. Dre is simply a marketing scheme and that the audio quality is not worth the price of admission. Keep in mind that Beats broke off the Monster partnership earlier this year and these two are the first products fully developed, manufactured, and distributed by Beats.
I have been testing out the Beats Audio support in the HTC Droid DNA and HTC 8X and find that this added technology with powered amps does indeed provide me with a better audio experience. (I try to go into reviews without preconceived notions based on reader comments.) I tested both of these devices against two other products in each of the same categories and can say without a doubt that the two Beats products were better and, in my opinion, are worth consideration.
Beats Pill portable Bluetooth speakers
Jawbone was one of the first to launch a portable Bluetooth speaker with the Jambox and set the bar for others. I tested the Jambox, Braven 650, and Logitech UE Mobile Boombox in the past. I listened to the same songs with the same phones on the Beats Pill, Braven 650, Jambox, and Logitech UE Mobile Boombox and find the Beats Pill to top them all. The Beats Pill was louder and also had crisp sound. I actually was a bit surprised that it wasn't too heavy on the bass since that is what people have stated was a focus of Beats in the past.
It's actually pretty slick how the Beats Pill is shaped like a pill you would take for an illness.
The Beats Pill checks off all of the high end specifications for a portable Bluetooth speaker, including NFC, aptX technology, microUSB for charging, audio in and out for full connectivity, and an integrated microphone for speakerphone functionality.
You will find a very nice carrying case with carabiner, USB charge/data cable, 1.5 meter 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable, and AC adapter. It's actually pretty slick how the Beats Pill is shaped like a pill you would take for an illness and even comes wrapped in a plastic pill holder in the box. I like the humor here with the play on Dr. Dre and the Pill.
I was sent a black Beats Pill to check out and they are also available in red, white, and even a cool red, white, and blue one.
The form factor is great with the large pill shape and feels rock solid in your hands. You can see the four speakers through the front grill with the prominent red Beats logo lit up when the speaker is turned on right in the middle.
There are volume down and up buttons above the Beats logo in the center and then wrapping around the back you see the NFC tap spot and power button. On the back you will find the audio out and in ports on the left side with the Bluetooth indicator white light and microUSB port on the right side.
There is a long flat rubber piece on the bottom to prop up the Beats Pill and keep it securely in place. The zippered case is designed so that the flat bottom fits in and the zipper keeps everything secure.
The iPhone 5 did not come with NFC and many people stated it wasn't a big deal because there is no real need for NFC. While it isn't essential yet, it still makes using devices like the Beats Pill so much more efficient. I tested the Beats Pill with the HTC Droid DNA, Nokia Lumia 920, and Samsung Galaxy Note II. It was so nice to simply tap each of these devices to the Beats Pill and have the connection made via Bluetooth automatically thanks to the NFC technology in all of them. There is a spot on the Pill labeled NFC so you know exactly where to tap your phone or tablet to initiate the connection.
Battery life is stated at 7 hours and I found this to be about right, but life will change with the volume you have set on the speaker. The speaker will shut off after 30 minutes of inactivity.
I enjoyed listening to music and podcasts, while also holding calls on the Beats Pill. Bass wasn't as prominent as I thought it would be and actually I would like to hear a bit more in the Pill. Volume was excellent, without distorting the music either. The Beats Pill seemed to hold the connection to the Android and Windows Phone 8 devices I tested and I was very pleased with the whole experience. It is priced the same as all these other Bluetooth wireless speakers at $199.95 so price really isn't a consideration when you are looking to purchase one of these systems.
Beats Executive headphones
I see young people using Beats headphones all the time and my middle daughter jumped on the chance to take the Beats headphones I received as a gift earlier this year. I found those headphones way too tight and I felt like my head was getting squeezed in a vice after just a short time.
While Beats seems to appeal to a younger demographic, it looks like they are trying to expand with the Beats Executive headphones designed for the business traveler who appreciates active-noise canceling (ANC) headphones. I see business travelers using Bose headphones all the time and never personally picked up a set of those. I do have pairs of the Nokia BH-905 and Solitude X ANC headphones that I compared to the Beats Executive. The Beats Executive clearly beat these two headphones in terms of audio quality.
The out-of-box experience with the Beats Executive (actually the Beats Pill, too) is amazing and may help explain some of the high cost of the Executive. You will find a robust zippered carrying case, two AAA batteries, airline adapter, standard 3.5mm cable, cable with in-line microphone, cleaning cloth, and some pamphlets. The box is rugged and makes you feel like you purchased a high quality product.
If you are a regular traveler who needs a durable set of headphones with ANC then these are a competitive choice to consider.
The cable with in-line microphone provides different functions for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry smartphones. With iOS devices you can control playback of your media, answer and end calls, use Siri, and control volume. With other mobile platforms you can play/pause music, answer and end calls, and use voice control systems with varying performance.
The Beats Executive headphones themselves are rock solid with heavy duty hinges that both rotate and fold 90 degrees so that you can easily store them in the hard shell carrying case. The headphone hinges and major pieces are all aluminum and while this adds some weight to them, it never bothered me after watching a couple of movies on the Droid DNA.
These headphones also do not squeeze my head like the other Beats I tried and are very comfortable. I like the soft leather padded material on the over-the-head piece and earphone cups. The Beats button on the right side pushes in and I found it mutes the audio while you hold it in. This can actually be quite helpful on the airplane while the flight attendant asks you what you want to drink and you don't want to remove your headphones.
On the left side you will find a magnetic cover where the two AAA batteries are stored. The four magnets hold the cover securely in place. The one aspect of these headphones that may cause you to think twice is the fact that they must be powered on for you to hear any audio. If you slide the switch to off or the batteries die, then the headphones are worthless. My other two ANC headphones still play audio with no power. If you are traveling, make sure you carry an extra set of AAA batteries. Beats should have included a AAA battery compartment in the carrying case to make this more convenient.
I thought the headphones sounded great with a number of smartphones and were much louder than the other ANC ones I tested out. Sound was not too heavy on the bass either and music sounded fantastic. The Beats Executive headphones are priced at $299.95; if you are a regular traveler who needs a durable set of headphones with ANC then these are a competitive choice to consider. I know you can buy much cheaper headphones, but there is a cost for the brand and quality -- as all iPhone owners know.