Nokia JBL PowerUp Speaker Review
Nokia has a great line of new accessories to compliment their new line of Lumia Windows Phones, and the high-end JBL PowerUp Wireless Charging Speaker is one of them.
If there’s anything better than wirelessly streaming music, it’s wirelessly streaming your music and charging your phone at the same time.
Announced back in August at IFA, the Nokia JBL PowerUp (MD-100) features NFC and Qi wireless charging functionality just like the new Nokia Windows Phone 8 devices. When I bought my Nokia Lumia 920, I was adamant of picking up one of these bad boys, because when we saw them back at IFA they were quite impressive. They’re also available in black, cyan, and white colors as well, and you know how we love having more color options here at unleash. So the convenience of wireless charging, plus the simplicity of NFC, and a decent speaker too, what’s not to love? After using them for a week, here’s what we think of the JBL PowerUp Speakers.
We checked out many speakers last year, but Nokia’s entry back then was the Nokia Play 360 wireless speaker, which also feature NFC, don’t have wireless charging, but are portable enough to carry around, and can be connected to another 360 speaker for stereo sound as well. Conceptually it was a great idea, but it did mean that you had to buy two speakers for that stereo sound, and keep both charged up as well. Pros/Cons of it’s own basically.
The JBL PowerUp Speakers need to stay plugged in to work. Plus they measure 115 x 280 x 145 mm and weigh 1590 grams which is fairly large and not anywhere near small/light enough to carry about. Think of the PowerUp as a new age ’dock’ instead? Unlike most iPhone docks, you won’t have to worry about the smaller docker since there isn’t any, and unlike AirPlay you don’t need Wifi around here. Just your WP8 Lumia phone, and the JBL PowerUp.
In the retail box, you get the speaker and a wired AC adapter along with a manual on how to use it. Since this is meant to be placed on your desk or living room, that’s all you’d really need anyway.
There’s also support for the Qi standard of wireless charging, which is quite the advantage, and you can also charge compatible devices like the Nexus 4, HTC Butterfly / Droid DNA in addition to the Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 (with the wireless charging panel). Wireless charging is quite marvelous, and is incredibly convenient to have. Just place your Nokia Lumia 920 on top and listen to music while your phone happily sucks energy up through the air. Seriously, the whole fact that there is electricity, wirelessly flowing from the PowerUp speaker to my Lumia 920, honestly blew my mind. This I’d the future, people!
Ofcourse if you don’t think wireless charging is that great a technological feat, well then that’s just an extra feature that you might never use.
On the top, the JBL PlayUp has a raised rubber circle with a Nokia Logo inside, where you can set your Lumia on top of. As you do this, the four corners of the Qi charging area light up in white to indicate the boundaries within which your device must be in to wirelessly charge. What’s worth noting is that the JBL PowerUp doesn’t need to be switched on to wirelessly charge your phone, it’ll still charge it as long as its connected to a wall socket that is turned on.
When you do switch on the JBL PowerUp, you’ll see a volume up/down, back, forward and play/pause touch-sensitive buttons light up on the top, towards the front of the speaker. You can use these to control your music, instead of having to use your phone while it’s charging.
At the front, you’ll see a Bluetooth indicator button, which lights up in blue if you have paired with a device. If you haven’t, it’ll flash white. Incase you want to manually pair with a device over Bluetooth, you can press the button to switch it into pairing mode.
Which brings us to NFC which I feel a lot of people still don’t really ’get’ and still only associate with mobile payments. Basically NFC allows for easier connectivity where you just have to tap the Nokia Lumia 920 against the ’NFC’ logo on the PowerUp, and the entire Bluetooth pairing process is done automatically. The distance is less than one inch, and the NFC is used to initiate an otherwise normal Bluetooth connection, and kicks in and automatically pairs + connects to the speaker. After that, as long as you’re within normal Bluetooth range, the music will keep playing through the speakers.
The speakers use Bluetooth 2.1 (Up to 10m)) apparently, so you can also connect devices that don’t have NFC as well, like the iPhone or iPad. I’m typing this review up on an iPad 2 playing music to the PowerUp and it works great. I tried tapping the NFC equipped HTC One X, Sony Xperia S and Galaxy S3 against the PlayUp but the two didn’t seem to detect each other, which makes me assume the NFC is only meant to work with Nokia devices. They still work great with Android devices over Bluetooth though.
At the back, you have the DC input port, with a power button on the left side of it, and a microUSB port which (I assume) will allow for future software updates. There’s also a standard 3.5 mm audio input jack incase you want to use a wired connection instead of Bluetooth audio. And if you have a compatible device, there’s also support for aptX as well, for better Bluetooth audio. And there’s Sub Band Coding (SBC) and Digital Signal Process (DSP) as well.
Apart from that, it’s worth mentioning that build quality is really solid, and could probably survive… well.. better than most other docks? The white color version does seem catch dirt fairly easily though.
And there are rubber ‘stands’ at the bottom so that the PowerUp stays in place and doesnt move around, no matter how punchy your bass gets.
Speaking of which, coming to audio quality, the JBL PowerUp packs two 10W 2.5” full range drivers for stereo sound. I was pretty impressed with it, and the volumes can get pretty (insanely) loud, but audio does tend to distort a bit at maximum volume.
Bass is decent & punchy without being overbearing but not as solid as the (slightly more expensive) Bose Soundlink in my opinion. The high end is clear & distinct and lives up to the JBL name. Overall the sound is very rich, and a nice mix of bass and treble to be honest but there are times where it sounds a bit hollow. Audio purists probably wont like wirelessly streaming Bluetooth audio anyway, so this is probably not for that selection of people. The PowerUp was more than capable of filling up my entire living room with sound, and the audio is really top notch, and comparable to other docks in the same price range. You can also stream YouTube videos from the Lumia’s browser, games, and basically everything except phone calls and alarms. The latter is a bit disappointing because I figured it could replace my alarm clock, heh.
And incase you were wondering, maximum output is stated at 94 dB.
The Video Overview:
Here’s a quick overview of the Nokia JBL PowerUp Speaker, and it’s various features:-
The JBL PowerUp Speakers are a great wireless solution to have around for your Nokia Lumia phone. For other devices that don’t support the Qi wireless charging standard, I’m not entirely sure it makes sense, since it’s rather expensive an accessory to have if you’re not going to make use of the wireless charging and NFC pairing. If you have a Nokia Lumia 920 or a Lumia 820 though, this can be a very convenient pair of speakers to have around.
Personally, I still think the Nokia Play 360 is a better option to have around because its wireless and portable. Plus I’d imagine having two Play 360 speakers on either side of your living room playing music would be a lot more impressive, because you have the ability to widely separate the two channels to enhance your listening experience. But it cant get as loud as the JBL PlayUps and don’t feature wireless charging either. Plus the cost of buying two Play 360 speakers (incase you really want that stereo sound) is more or less the same as the JBL PowerUp anyway.
At the end of the day, the JBl PowerUp is still the perfect companion for your Nokia Lumia 920. Chances are, if you get one you’ll be very happy with it.