“It's never been easier to take room-filling sound with you, without sacrificing smart speaker features.”
- Very portable
- High sensitivity mics
- Great 360-degree sound
- Alexa and Google Assistant
- AirPlay 2
- Limited app features
- Missing some midrange
- Not ideal for Android
We’ve only just started to see the first wireless speakers that are designed to easily transition from whole-home Wi-Fi component to go-anywhere, battery-powered Bluetooth nomad, but Bose has already laid claim to this turf with its $350 Bose Portable Home Speaker.
It’s light, has a built-in handle, and can deal with the elements and the occasional bump or tumble. It’s even a full-fledged smart speaker. But does it have the kind of sound quality and convenience we’ve come to expect of the Bose brand? Here’s our full review.
Good to go
Let’s be honest. You’re never going to hear amazing sound out of a speaker that’s small enough to fit in your purse. Size matters when it comes to sound quality, so the challenge when creating a portable speaker is to make it small enough to be portable, big enough that it sounds great, yet not so big that you don’t want to take it with you.
Bose absolutely nails this balancing act. The Portable Home Speaker feels far lighter than its 2.3 pounds suggests, and the convenient fabric-wrapped handle begs to be grabbed on the way out the door. Available in both black or white, the white version looks a little like a Google Home smart speaker on steroids. However, with an IPX4 rating, it only looks like it belongs on a shelf.
Before using the Portable Home Speaker, I thought that handle might bug me when not toting it from place to place, but in fact, the opposite has turned out to be true. It’s a constant reminder that I can take my tunes with me anywhere, even if it’s just to another room.
All the controls are easily accessed on the top surface. They’re physical buttons that sit beneath a thin silicone membrane, which keeps the elements out but also provides a smooth tactile feel. As much as I appreciate the way touch controls allow for seamless surfaces, nothing beats physical buttons that you can use at a glance.
The grippy rubber ring on the bottom of the speaker gives it plenty of traction on. Can it handle some abuse? As (bad) luck would have it, I accidentally dropped it from a height of about five feet onto paving stones. The Portable Home Speaker survived with only a tiny cosmetic scratch on the top edge.
How does this speaker sound? You will not be disappointed.
Bose has repeated its formula of extracting every ounce of acoustic performance from a very small package. The Portable Home Speaker can easily fill a room with detailed music, especially in the high and low frequencies. Bass is present in a way that makes you look twice at the speaker that’s producing it, but it never overwhelms. It offers warmth and depth without getting boom-y.
The highs are crystal clear. When indoors, they tend to make themselves felt a bit more than you’d expect, but this is actually beneficial when you take the speaker outside where it has to compete with a variety of other sounds.
How does this speaker sound? You will not be disappointed.
I placed the Portable Home Speaker in all kinds of places around the house. In bookshelves, on coffee tables, and even hung from an overhead pot rack in the kitchen (why not? isn’t that what the handle is for?). Regardless of location, the speaker’s 360-degree sound dispersion kept audio quality remarkably even. You can’t get stereo out of it, but the expansive mono performance is so good you might not miss it. It’s not perfect — it lacks definition in the midranges making it less than ideal for critical listening of certain genres of music (classical and jazz come to mind) but this isn’t surprising given its tiny footprint. It’s also not a deal-breaker in my opinion, given its many other strengths.
Impressively, audio quality hardly suffers at all when connected over Bluetooth — good news for both frequent travellers and Android users.
When in Wi-Fi mode, the Portable Home Speaker can play host to your choice of voice assistant — Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. Either way, the microphone array that sits atop the speaker will hear your commands with impressive accuracy. I sat the speaker within inches of a Google Home Mini, and every time I uttered, “Hey Google…” the Bose speaker was first to respond both visually with a confirmation light and by the Assistant’s verbal reply.
The microphone array that sits atop the speaker will hear your commands with impressive accuracy
Adding the Portable Home Speaker to my Google Assistant app was a snap. I didn’t test it with Alexa.
App or AirPlay 2
When you’re at home (or anywhere there’s an available Wi-Fi network) the Bose Music app for iOS and Android is your key to setting up and controlling the Portable Home Speaker. The simple, well-organized interface gives you fast access to music services and lets you keep tabs on the speaker’s battery through a small floating button that encircles a photo of the speaker with a battery-life indicator ring.
If you have multiple Bose smart speakers, these can be grouped for synced play within the app. A planned update will also let you stereo-pair two Portable Home Speakers.
Unfortunately, when it comes to actual music control, the Bose Music App is limited. You can’t play music stored on your device from within the app, or on your local home network whether in iTunes or on a NAS drive. There are no playlist or queue management functions outside of what your individual music services offer. That means no way to mix and match tracks from different services, like Amazon Music and Spotify. There’s also no way to search all of your music from a single search page.
Bose’s way of dealing with the restrictions within the Bose Music App is simple; Apple AirPlay 2 capability. It’s true: On an iOS device you can choose any music management app you wish, from Apple Music to Spotify to Plex or anything else. But this is cold comfort for Android users as AirPlay 2 only works from iOS devices.
Android users will have to make do with the Bose Music App’s limited feature set, or if you’re a Spotify Premium member, the Spotify Connect option works too. Otherwise, you’ll have to fall back to Bluetooth.
Of course, a portable speaker would be useless without Bluetooth, and the Portable Home Speaker makes switching from Wi-Fi to Bluetooth effortless thanks to a dedicated Bluetooth button on the top. Pairing with the speaker is quick, and if you’ve been out and about with the speaker in Bluetooth mode, it will automatically and seamlessly switch back to Wi-Fi when you get home.
The Portable Home Speaker makes switching from Wi-Fi to Bluetooth effortless
Choosing Bluetooth mode also means choosing to abandon Google Assistant and Alexa as neither will work without Wi-Fi. Surprisingly, Bose has chosen to restrict what you can do via Bluetooth — despite the excellent mic array, there’s no speakerphone function and no Bluetooth stereo-pairing, both of which are offered on the company’s dedicated Bluetooth speakers.
As perplexed as I am by this decision, Bose isn’t alone in making it. Sonos’ new $399 Move speaker is a direct competitor to the Portable Home Speaker, and it also lacks these features when in Bluetooth mode.
Bose claims a 12-hour battery life for the Portable Home Speaker, and I reckon that’s accurate as long as you’re not listening at full volume.
When you turn the speaker on, a voice will tell you the battery level which is very convenient. When left turned on, the speaker will drop into a low-power standby mode after no music has played for a while, but it can still respond to voice requests over Wi-Fi and remains available over Bluetooth or AirPlay 2. You’ll get about 30 hours or so in this mode, after which the speaker will shut down. To conserve battery, you can simply switch it all the way off.
Having a battery-powered speaker is super convenient, but what happens when that battery can no longer hold a charge? Bose says you should get more than six years of normal use out of the Portable Home Speaker’s power cell but after that, you’ll have to rely on its USB-C power cord, as the battery is not user-replaceable.
The speaker comes with a USB-C cord and power adapter and you can buy an optional $29 charging cradle. Unlike the Sonos Move, which has strict power requirements, you can charge the Portable Home Speaker from virtually any USB-C source.
The $350 Bose Portable Home Speaker manages to balance portability, ruggedness, sound quality, and smart speaker features in a single well-designed product. Though its Bose Music companion app lacks the features and sophistication of a Sonos product, if you spend most of your music listening time streaming from a single subscription service, this might not bother you at all.
With impressive 360-degree sound quality that belies its diminutive size and a design that encourages you to take the Portable Home Speaker everywhere you go, it’s a superb add-on to other Bose smart speakers. For some, it may be the only speaker you need.
Is there a better alternative?
I’m not convinced that the Bose Portable Home Speaker’s most direct competitors are better, but each certainly has its strengths. For only $250 the Ultimate Ears Megablast gives you Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and longer battery life, but it’s Alexa-only and it lacks the Bose’s elegant yet convenient design.
For $50 more than the Portable Home Speaker, you can buy the Sonos Move, a portable smart speaker that packs more power and better audio quality, and has the nearly perfect Sonos app. However, it’s a beast at more than double the weight of the Bose speaker which will make you think twice before taking it with you.
Want more options? Check out our best portable speakers of 2019.
How long will it last?
All powered Bose products like the Portable Home Speaker are covered by a one-year warranty, but you can expect the speaker to last for years. Bose products are very well built, and the Portable Home Speaker is no exception. Of course, if you subject to a lot of rough treatment, or push its IPX4 rating beyond the occasional splash or shower, this could affect the product’s lifespan. If we have one reservation, it’s around the permanent battery. Still, six or more years isn’t bad, and even though you won’t be able to replace the battery yourself, it’s possible Bose will be able to do it for you when the time comes.
Should you buy it?
Yes. While its $350 price tag will require some thoughtful budgeting, the Bose Portable Home Speaker will reward its owners with fantastic sound in a highly portable package.