It hasn’t taken Logitech’s Ultimate Ears brand to carve out a niche as maker of stylish, rugged Bluetooth speakers. It helps that the speakers in the UE range look good and perform well yet sell at affordable prices.

At the time of writing the most affordable model in the range for New Zealanders is the distinctive-looking UE Roll. You can find it on sale for a shade under NZ$150.

We’ve had one at home for over a month and it has become the go-to casual speaker when playing music from computers, tablets and phones.

Strange looking, in a good way

The UE Roll is a curvy, flying saucer-shaped disc. The speaker sits under a fabric cover with large embroidered plus and minus symbols. These symbols tell you where to find the volume controls. As you’d expect the plus sign cranks up the sound, the minus sign reduces it.

My UE Roll is mainly grey with fluro pink embroidered symbols. There’s a bungy-type cord on the back in the same shade of shocking pink. There are plenty of other colour combinations to choose from.

The UE Roll has a diameter of around 135mm and is 35mm thick. If you’ve got big pockets it will just fit. It also fits comfortably in my hand, although that might not apply to everyone.

Versatile

The elastic cord on the back hooks on a rubber lug most of the time. You can use it to attach the speaker to, say, the handlebars on a bike or to a belt. I use the cord to hook the speaker on the car sun shade while driving.

Physically the UE Roll portable and tough enough to carry to a picnic or to the beach. It can take a little punishment, so it would be ideal for raucous children. Logitech says the speaker is waterproof, I’ve used it in an Auckland rain storm, which didn’t do it any harm.

Why we like the UE Roll

The UE Roll ticks all the important boxes. It looks good, is dead simple to use and has decent sound, enough to fill a room. We also like the fact that it’s robust, that it doesn’t cost much and that it uses rechargeable batteries. Our previous portable speaker chewed through the Ever Readys.

The sound is good enough for casual listening. Hi Fi fans wouldn’t want to place a comfy chair in front of the UE Roll and settle back for the Brandenburg Concerto or a Miles Davies album. On the other hand it is great for playing rock music or reggae while chopping vegetables in the kitchen.

Where it misses out is the low, rumbling bass sounds. Everything else is lovely and clear. Hi-hats chink away, the top end sparkles. There’s enough here for your ears to notice the difference between MP3 tracks recorded at 160kpbs and 320kbps — that’s not something I can hear on my computer’s built-in speakers.

If you’re not happy with the pre-set sound range, there’s an app for tweaking the equaliser settings.

Audio cues

My favourite feature is the audio cues you get. Hit the plus and minus symbols at the same time and a voice tells you how much power is left. Connect or disconnect the speaker to hear an on-off click.

One of the most impressive features is the Bluetooth range. We run Logitech’s Z600 speakers at home. They struggle when driven by the MacBook in the study, it’s five or six metres away and separated by two walls. The UE Roll handles it perfectly. Indeed, most devices can punch out Bluetooth sound to the UE Roll from anywhere in the house without interference.

Battery life is respectable. We get about eight hours from a single charge. There may be a connection between the Bluetooth range, the speaker loudness and the drain on the power supply, although it’s not something we’ve noticed in practice.

What’s not good?

There’s little to dislike here. The weak spot is the bass sound quality, but for the price, less than NZ$150, the sound is more than good enough.

Some people might not be happy that the UE Roll can’t double as a speaker phone — there’s no built-in microphone. Others might whinge about the lack of controls to step through a playlist. You can find devices with both these feature, but you’ll pay a lot more.

And that’s the key to the UE Roll, you get a great deal for the asking price. We like it so much we’re going to buy some more to give away as presents.

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