The traditional way to get sound from most iPod type MP3 players or iPhones has been to connect them either to headphones or via a docking station to some sort of powered speakers. Docking stations often contain other features such as a clock, an AM/FM radio, and possibly a CD player.
Not only are many of the extra features of docking station devices overkill and unnecessary duplications of other things we already have (who needs another alarm clock?), they also lock you into only one type of device (typically Apple) that fits in their dock, and you end up with a unit that is comparatively big and heavy and not something you’d choose to travel with.
Even worse is what happens when Apple changes its connector design, as it did with the introduction of the iPhone 5 and iPad 4 last year. Your old docks suddenly became obsolete. And – oh yes, iPads don’t fit in most docking stations anyway, which are designed for the form factor of an iPod or iPhone.
Let’s not also forget that these days Apple is far from the only provider of smartphones and tablets, making an Apple type docking station of much less than universal appeal/application.
So there is a clear trend now emerging where companies are abandoning the Apple docking station concept (and saving themselves – and thereby you too – the need to pay a hefty royalty for Apple’s proprietary connector) and instead making use of Bluetooth wireless connections, enabling a broader range of devices to connect to the speaker unit without the physical restriction/constraint of needing to have a compatible physical connector.
More and More Music Sources
There are now many more ways to get music to play through your device, in addition to using its built-in ability to store music files.
You can play music you have stored ‘in the cloud’, eg on Amazon or Android servers, and there are all sorts of music streaming services that will allow you access to just about any type of music, including intelligent streaming services which adapt to your own preferences and tastes.
My favorite of these is Pandora, but there are lots of others, too. Pandora is free, although enhanced versions cost a few dollars a month (I use the free version myself).
Anyway, your phone or tablet can now not only play the music you have loaded on it, but also act as a conduit to access music from internet and other services and pass it on to you.
Plus, if you’re watching any sort of video – something that is becoming increasingly practical with larger screen sizes and faster internet connections – you’ll quickly become keen to free yourself from the tiny and tinny speakers built-in to the phone or tablet and enjoy much greater sound quality.
Which brings us, after this lengthy introduction, to the device we’re introducing to you today. The Kinivo BTX350 Bluetooth Speaker.
The Kinivo BTX350 Speaker
The device is very simple. It is small (7.8″ x 2.9″ x 2.2″) and light (14.5 oz) and has two speakers and a passive sub-woofer inside it (the latter isn’t really a speaker at all, more like a moving baffle that amplifies the bass a bit).
Any type of device that has Bluetooth and supports the A2DP profile can connect to it wirelessly, from up to about 30 ft or so away. Although the official Bluetooth specification calls for a 30 ft range, this unit has a very sensitive receiver in it, and was working perfectly up two levels and more than 30 ft away from a music source for me. Just about every modern smart phone or tablet has Bluetooth and supports the A2DP profile.
Inside the unit is a rechargeable Li-ion battery. The battery is good for ‘up to’ five hours of music playing (depends on the music volume, of course) and the great thing about this battery is that it is a replaceable and standard Nokia type battery (the 5C). You can buy replacement batteries for a mere $5 or so on Amazon, and with the batteries being wafer thin, small and light, it makes sense to buy a few spares so if you’re going away, perhaps camping for a weekend or something, you have enough power to run the unit as long as you could possibly want.
The unit is charged via a standard USB cable and connector (supplied), and you can be using the unit and charging simultaneously, for the greatest of flexibility.
Pairing the unit to a phone or tablet is fairly easy and doesn’t even require a password, but don’t lose the (well written) instruction booklet as you’re sure to forget some months later if you find yourself buying a new phone or tablet and needing to add it to the list of devices the speakers work with. The speakers remember up to four different devices, and will first try to connect to the most recently connected device, and then the second most recent, and so on.
In addition, you can also connect the unit via a (also supplied) standard headphone type cable to anything else which doesn’t have Bluetooth in it (such as an MP3 player, perhaps).
There are eight buttons on the top, each labeled with its function (Volume up, down, bass boost on/off, skip forward, skip back, source select, Play/pause/pair, and power).
Once the unit is paired to a music source, you can use either the player controls on the music source (ie phone/tablet/whatever) or on the unit to control the music playing. So as long as you have one of the devices close to you, you can conveniently control things.
One thing I did notice was the lack of an ‘auto-off’ feature. I’d sometimes forget to turn the unit off after playing something – not the most severe problem in the world, but if it meant the battery drained (albeit very slowly while playing nothing) it is a bit of a waste of a battery charge, although most of the time you’ll probably be close to a power source to recharge it.
The sound is reasonable. There’s no way you’ll confuse it for a high-end set of free-standing speakers, but it is a gazillion times better than what you’d otherwise hear through the built-in speaker(s) on a tablet or phone.
Plus it is also much louder – not sufficient for a ‘blow the windows out’ party that has neighbors a block over complaining at 3am, but enough for several of you to enjoy background music while in a hotel room, or to provide a decent audio track for the movie you’re watching on the tablet/phone.
We preferred to operate the unit without the bass boost enabled, and did lament the murky/muddy higher end frequency response, but one has to judge this by the appropriate standard, and for what it is and claims to be, it is perfectly good and more than acceptable, and most of all, a huge improvement over the speakers built-in to phones and tablets.
You’d get better sound listening through a medium or high quality set of headphones for sure, but that’s not always convenient or appropriate, especially if wanting to share music with other people.
In addition to the BTX350, Kinivo also offer a BTX450. The BTX450 is slightly larger and heavier, has slightly better sound, but has a built in not so readily swappable battery. It is also slightly more expensive.
There’s a danger with things like this that you keep upgrading to the next level until you end up having lost sight of your original objective and have a unit that while better in some respects, is no longer what you originally needed or wanted.
So if you want a lightweight unit to travel with, we’d say the BTX350 is the best compromise between size, weight, price and performance. For a keep at home unit, then the BTX450 might be better. The BTX350 is available through Amazon for $39.99 , and the BTX450 is $59.99 from Amazon .
If you get the BTX350, here’s a link to Amazon’s page of Nokia BL-5C type batteries. As you can see, they’re very inexpensive.
Both units have a generous one year warranty. Support is available direct from Kinivo via email or online chat – we tried the online chat and found the person helping us to be sensible and responsive – clearly he wasn’t juggling a dozen different chats concurrently, as seems to often be the case elsewhere.
With so many different sources of music now available through phones and tablets, and/or with the need for decent sound to go with any video you might be watching on your tablet, the near universal connectivity offered by a Bluetooth speaker unit is very convenient, both for around the home and for when traveling.
It allows all your A2DP Bluetooth equipped devices to conveniently benefit from external speakers, and has a regular wired connector too for ‘legacy’ devices without Bluetooth.
The Kinivo BTX350 and its bigger brother, the BTX450, are fairly priced and decent performers. You’d be happy with either, although we recommend the BTX350 for travelers.