One of my first Gizmodo stories was about Logitech getting serious about design. It was published a few weeks after the company released the first UE Boom, which we would eventually decide was the best Bluetooth speaker you could buy. At the time, I wondered how that little beast would evolve in the years to come. Now I know. It got a better design, one that not only makes the speakers better-looking but also more fun to use. The new Boom is not perfect, though.
The UE Boom 3 and the UE Megaboom 3 look a lot like the original speakers, save for a series of design upgrades that actually make a meaningful difference in how you might use them. The most significant one is how they look.
Gone is the rough weave of every previous Boom and Megaboom. Arrived is a smooth, somewhat iridescent, tightly woven new fabric that makes the speaker seem even more like a large can of beer. This fabric wraps around the speaker more than on previous Boom models, which had a wide rubber strip on one side of the speaker that housed volume controls marked with big plus and minus symbols. Instead, those plus and minus signs are now attached directly onto the exterior fabric of the Boom 3 and Megaboom 3. There’s still a thin stripe of rubber on one side of the speaker. On the top of that strip, there’s a little fabric loop. On the bottom, there’s a micro USB port for charging. This port was located on the underside of earlier UE Boom and Megaboom models. (Sorry USB-C fans, the Boom is still stuck in the past here.)
These little details add up to some noteworthy changes in how I found myself using the Boom 3. First of all, the whole things looks more elegant, with cleaner lines and a sleeker silhouette. Not that the old Booms were ugly, but the new ones feel even more like something I want to display around my house. The fact that the USB port is on the bottom edge of the speaker instead of underneath the base also means that you can leave it plugged in and standing up. With the older Booms, you’d have to flip the speaker over to plug it in. That meant that if you wanted to leave it standing, it would be upside down and silly-looking with the charging cable coming out the top. In other words, you can leave a Boom charging in the corning of a room without that silly tethered look.
You’ll also enjoy some new perks when using the Boom 3 and Megaboom 3 on the go. Thanks to that fabric loop, you can also hang it from a tree or something, which seems like fun. I hung it from a carabiner on my belt one time which was both silly and handy for biking. The Boom 3 and Megaboom 3 are also both waterproof and dustproof, whereas the older Boom speakers are only waterproof. Oh also, the new Boom floats. The Megaboom has always been a floater, but now the Boom floats, too.
The other big design upgrade is more functional. Where there used to be a tripod mount on the bottom of the Boom, there’s now a little metal plate that connects to the $40 Power Up charging stand that UE released alongside the Alexa-enabled UE Blast wifi-enabled speakers. (Note: UE will keep selling the Blast speakers alongside the new Boom speakers, although the Blast will keep its older design for now. The Booms do not have wifi and will not gain Alexa abilities for the foreseeable future.)
Now, you can just drop a Boom 3 onto the charging stand, and it charges. The Power Up works with both the Boom and the Megaboom, although it’s nicer with the latter since it has the same size footprint. I have a Power Up stand, so this has become the main way I keep the Boom speakers topped up. No more pulling out the rubber stop that makes the speaker waterproof and stuffing a cord into the USB port every time I need juice. This little tweak makes things quicker and works like a dream.
So far, I’ve used a lot of words to describe some design differences that seem very simple when you see the speaker. This is why they’re good upgrades. The new look not only makes the Boom 3 nicer to hold and use. They make it nicer to keep on my shelf or take to the park. And the fact that charging is easier and less ugly now actually means that I charge the speaker more often. Even though the Boom speakers have always had a 15-hour battery life—the new one does, too—I always found that I’d drain it, because charging was annoying. And then, I’d end up doing that weird tether thing by hanging it from the charging cable, while still trying to use it.
The last big difference between the old Booms and the new ones is something called the Magic Button. (Yes, it is actually called that.) It’s a big physical button on top of the speakers that lets you navigate between tracks and even beckon pre-programmed playlists from streaming services like Apple Music. (Spotify is not yet available.) You don’t need a phone in hand to beckon these playlists with the Magic Button either. Basically, you just press and hold the button to start playing one of four playlists that you can queue up ahead of time in the new Ultimate Ears app. A double tap on the Magic Button goes to the next track. Another long press goes to the next playlist.
This is something I could honestly do without. Typically, when I reach for a Bluetooth speaker, I have a song or album in mind. It’s dinnertime and breezy outside, so I want to hear my yacht rock playlist. It’s focus time, and I want my minimal techno playlist. It’s sad Sunday night time, so I want to my nostalgia playlist. I have a lot of playlists, all of which are on Spotify which—again—does not yet work with the Magic Button. Right now, the Magic Button only works with Apple Music and Deezer Premium, a service I didn’t even realize still existed. On top of that, you do still need to have your Boom or Megaboom connected to a phone, and the phone needs to have the Ultimate Ears app running. The Magic Button just lets you play (up to four) playlists without touching your phone.
The thing that really bugs me about the Magic Button is the basic fact that it takes away from the Boom’s simplicity. Sure, I did use the button to skip tracks, although it’s worth pointing out that a similar feature existed on the UE Boom 2. What I did more often, however, is think that the Magic Button was the power button, which it is not. There’s a separate power button and a separate Bluetooth pairing button. It’s one button more than previous Booms had and one button more than I want a Boom to have.
Instead of adding new features with questionable utility, I wish the Ultimate Ears and Logitech would stick to improving how well the Boom looks and works. They got the looks part down. The new design is great! However, the new Boom doesn’t have any improvements to its audio quality. The new Megaboom does have improved bass, and for that, I’m thankful. The bass does sound better! I’m still going to be annoyed when I tell a friend to turn on the speaker, and they don’t know which button to push.
At the end of the day, my gripes about the Magic Button do not outweigh my praise for the new design. Watching Logitech and subsidiaries like Ultimate Ears evolve over the past year has given me a deeper appreciation for how subtle design improvements can define a product like a Bluetooth speaker—something that’s really just supposed to do one thing consistently very well. It’s probably because I’ve always appreciated the Boom’s elegant inclinations that I’m bothered by a new thing that doesn’t make immediate sense. But again, that new thing is not a dealbreaker.
The new Boom 3 and Megaboom 3 look and feel better than their predecessors. They do more, and refreshingly, they’re also cheaper. The Boom 3 is $150, a nice reduction from the $180 price tag on the Boom 2. The Megaboom 3 is $200, an even nicer reduction from the $200 price tag on the original Megaboom. Sure, you can get the older models on sale from places like Amazon or Groupon (LOL). But the old things just aren’t as nice as the new ones.
- Sleeker fabric and less rubber give the new Booms a more modern look
- The Megaboom 3 has better bass than the original Megaboom, while the Boom 3 has same sound as the Boom 2
- But both are cheaper!
- Magic Button is relatively useless, for now
- But they float!