JBL Flip 4 Bluetooth speaker Review

Introduction

With July upon us, summer is finally in full swing, and when
these hot, sunny days have you feeling the urge to hit the
pavement – get out and have some fun – you can rely on plenty of
mobile devices to bring the entertainment along with you.

Obviously, that means bringing along your smartphone, but to
get the most out of an impromptu summer cookout or lazy
afternoon at the pool, you’re going to want to share some of
that entertainment with all your friends – and who wants to
spend that time huddled around a handset?

Instead, you’re probably thinking about pairing your phone with
a versatile, outdoor-friendly speaker, letting you play DJ and
share your favorite new tracks with everyone within earshot.
There are plenty of options for doing so, but when it comes to
feature sets best suited for summer listening, the JBL Flip 4
caught our eye.

Promising waterproof operation, a rugged, rubberized build, and
the ability to deliver hours and hours of party-fueling tunes,
the JBL Flip 4 sure looks like it hits all the notes we’re
looking for. Does the portable speaker meet all its potential?
Let’s check it out.

In the Box

  • JBL Flip 4
  • Micro USB charging cable
  • Warranty card
  • Quick-start guide
  • Safety sheet

Design

JBL builds a resilient, durable speaker without making it feel
like a tank

While there’s any number of designs a mobile Bluetooth speaker
can take, it feels like the majority of them go the “tube” or the
“brick” route. And here, JBL wholeheartedly embraces the former
with the cylindrical Flip 4.

The hefty speaker is a mix of molded plastic and an expansive
fabric-covered grille. While the whole design is largely
monochromatic, the Flip 4 is available in a decent variety of
colors, including some bold, fun-looking shades.

Each end of the tube is populated by a passive bass radiator,
recessed to help avoid accidental damage. They still feel a
little exposed, but it’s fun watching them pulse and twitch to
the beat. Around front we don’t see much a prominently centered
JBL logo, but behind the fabric weave on each side hide the
speaker’s 40mm drivers.

Up top we find the primary controls, a set of four raised
buttons: Bluetooth, volume up and down, and a multi-feature play
key. Tucked a little further back behind is the Flip 4’s power
button with battery-charge indicator right next to it. There’s
also an initially mysterious hourglass-looking button that turns
out to help control multi-speaker JBL Connect+ functionality,
which we’ll discuss in a bit.

A deep rubber flap conceals the micro-USB charging port and
analog 1/8-inch port for accepting non-Bluetooth audio sources
– and as you pop that flap open, it becomes pretty clear you’re
compromising the speaker’s water-resistance in the process. And
finally, there’s a lanyard loop to ease in carrying the Flip 4
around.

That water-resistance comes in the form of an IPX7 rating,
meaning the speaker can withstand immersion in up to one meter
of water. Officially, that’s nice clean freshwater, but JBL
says that the Flip 4 should withstand a dip in a salt or
chlorine-treated pool, though recommends washing the speaker in
fresh water after. Also keep in mind: while the Flip 4 is
indeed waterproof, it won’t float, so you’re going to want to
keep an eye on it around deep water.

Software and functionality

The Flip 4 offers good reason to install JBL’s custom app

A Bluetooth speaker doesn’t always need its own app – and
sometimes even when the manufacturer goes to the trouble of
delivering one, it doesn’t do much to add value to the listening
experience. Well, while JBL very much has an app for the Flip 4,
this one thankfully has some real functionality to it.

Now, you can use the JBL Flip 4 just like a generic Bluetooth
speaker, and doing so couldn’t be easier: hit the big button
shaped like the Bluetooth rune, and pair on your phone. That
will give you music playback, as well as volume and playback
controls. All pretty standard, right? So what’s the app for?

Well, once you download and install JBL Connect, you’ll gain
access to three additional features for the speaker. Maybe the
most useful there is the ability to set up access to a voice
assistant like Siri (on iOS) or Google Now.

Normally, the arrow-shaped play button on the speaker acts as a
pause/play button when pressed, or to advance to the next tract
when you press-and-hold. But once you set up your voice
assistant in the app, that single-press action instead pauses
the music and lets you perform voice actions.

That’s pretty cool, but we have a few issues with the
implementation. For one, the audio quality (we tested with
Google Now) of the voice assistance is noticeably lower than
that of the music – it sounds almost like you’re hearing it
over a phone line. It’s also quite a bit quieter than music,
and while that might be nice if you wanted to do a quick voice
search without everyone in the room hearing, we wish there were
controls to set the volume to our tastes.

There’s also the issue that you lose the ability to pause
music in this mode. While that’s clearly a concession to the
number of available hardware buttons on the Flip 4, why not link
the voice assistant feature to a button that’s not routinely used
during listening – like the Bluetooth pairing button? That way
you could still easily pause things at your discretion.

JBL’s app also opens up two special modes for users with
multiple speakers. Remember that hourglass-shaped JBL Connect+
button on the speaker’s back? With the help of the app, you can
press that button to tie the outputs of multiple speakers
together. In one mode, you can chain together a whole mess of
speakers (up to 100), all cranking out the same tunes. In the
other, you can create an expanded stereo effect by taking two
speakers, and dedicating one to the left channel, and the other
to the right.

We weren’t able to check out either of those capabilities
(thanks to only having one JBL Flip 4 for this review), but
it’s worth noting that the JBL Connect+ feature they rely on is
new to the company’s speakers, and won’t work with older
models.

In addition to working with voice assistants, the microphone
JBL gives the Flip 4 lets you use the unit as a speakerphone.
Sound quality’s really not bad, but you’re still going to want
to keep relatively close to the speaker in order to be as
intelligible as possible to the party on the other end.

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