If you're in the market for a supremely stylish portable Bluetooth speaker, chances are that you're seriously considering the new Beats Pill+ right now. The Pill+ is the first portable speaker to come out of Beats since Apple purchased the brand a few years ago, and unlike the original and hugely popular Pill 2.0 speaker, the Pill+ has Apple's DNA written all over it. But as popular as the original Pill was, we never thought it sounded good enough to recommended. So how will the new Pill+ stand against some of the best portables you can buy right now? Let's find out!
There's an extreme amount of polish and vibrant audio that comes along with every Beats product, and that typically is what makes them highly sought after gadgets. The same can be said about the Pill+. It's well designed, minimalist and unlike its predecessor – an impressively made speaker that uses smooth rubber and perforated metal as its core structure. The Pill+ has kept its long pill-shaped design, only instead of that capsule-shaped body of the original Pill speaker, the Pill+ now has this long multi-vitamin pill look to it which I think is a serious upgrade. The way the flattened rubber seamlessly wraps around the speaker and is sandwiched between two perforated metal speaker grilles strongly reminds me of the UE Mini Boom, and I really like this type of material design as it's both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
This may be an Apple product after all, but you may be disappointed to hear that the Pill+ doesn't come in colors to match your shiny iPhone 6s. At least for right now, it's available in an all-white or all-black colorway. The new Pill+ will set you back $230, putting it roughly in the same category as the Marshall Stockwell, UE Boom 2, Bose SoundLink Mini 2, JBL Pulse 2, and Braven 805.
It really is one of the nicest, most impressively designed portable speakers we have ever laid our hands on. Incredibly well made and very solid. It may resemble the older Pill models, but this version is noticeably better made and has a grown-up look and feel to it that's unexplainable and must be experienced in person. It's also larger and heavier than the Pill 2.0, which is actually a good thing. It'll still easily fit into any backpack or messenger bag and more or less shares a similar portable form factor as some of its rivals including the UE Boom 2 and SoundLink Mini 2.
Inside the Pill's handsomely packaged box you'll find a number of accessories like a USB power adapter, a color matched protective storage sleeve made from a nice and soft cotton-like material complete with a metal pull string cinch - as well as a black Lightning to USB cable. But more on that later. Lastly, you'll also find a user guide and a set of multi-colored Beats stickers for you to fanboy over.
So when you first power on the Pill+ the Beats logo will light up and the speaker will automatically go into pairing mode. Oddly enough Apple hasn't enabled the convenience of NFC pairing, so even if you've got an iPhone 6 or 6s, you'll still need to go into your Bluetooth settings to pair with the Pill+. At the top you'll find simplified button controls seamlessly integrated into the rubberized layer. From left to right we have a power on/off button, a metallic multi-function button with the illuminated Beats logo that can be used to play/pause/skip music as well as answer/end calls, and of course volume control buttons.
In terms of added features, the Pill+ has everything you'd want in a portable Bluetooth speaker apart from protection against the elements. That means if you're planning on taking this outside and getting it dirty and wet, you'll run the risk of ruining your $230 investment really quickly. There's a really great built-in speakerphone for making and receiving calls and an LED fuel gauge that always keeps you updated on the battery life status.
Being that this is Apple's first portable speaker, it naturally is the first one in the world to feature a Lightning port for charging. The included Lightning to USB cable can be used to charge the Pill+ from a computer or from a wall outlet using the included USB power adapter. It only takes 3 hours to fully charge the Pill+ giving you up to 12 hours of battery life, depending on how loud you set the volume that is. In normal listening levels you should easily be able to reach 12 hours.
You can also use the included Lightning connector cable to charge your iPhone using the Pill+'s built-in USB charging port, which essentially turns the Pill into a backup battery just like the JBL Charge 2+ which is a very useful feature to have when you're on the go. In addition, there's also a 3.5mm audio input for use with non-Bluetooth audio sources. All three ports are covered by a rubber flap.
With the Beats Pill+ app for iOS and Android you'll be able to update the firmware and software of your speaker whenever a new version is available - as well as wirelessly pair it up with another Pill+ speaker for a left and right stereo or amplified (simultaneous playback) music experience from a single audio source like your smartphone. Another feature enabled using the Beats Pill+ app is DJ mode, which enables two people to control the music being played on the Pill+ from two different audio sources. It's worth noting that a similar feature is also available on the JBL Charge 2+ called "Social Mode", which allows for up to three people take turns playing their music on the same speaker.
A sleek design, portable form factor and fancy packaging are undoubtedly things that everyone can come to appreciate, but what it actually comes down to is sound quality. Because after all this is a speaker and not an iPhone. And the Beats Pill+ doesn't really impress on that front. Don't get me wrong though. The sound quality is actually very good. Highs sound crisp and bright, mids are acceptably pronounced and the bass...well, sounds thumpy and unexpectedly tamed. So really there's not much here to fault the Pill+ on.
It even produces deeper and more satisfying lows than the UE Boom 2, which sounds a lot brighter and is also quite louder in comparison. To be fair though, the UE Boom 2 is $30 less expensive and does have an advantage in that it produces 360-degree sound and has a IPX7 rating so it's fully waterproof unlike the Pill+. The Pill+ may have better sounding bass and a richer sound signature, but it doesn't sound as big as the UE Boom 2 and that's a compromise worth taking if you like your bass as strong as your coffee. Which hopefully is a medium roast with some milk and sugar.
Right then, back to why we weren't that impressed by the Pill+'s sound performance. We were hoping that for $230, the Pill+ would at least outperform less expensive alternatives like the JBL Charge 2+. Alas, in our comparison tests we found that the Pill+ sounded as good as the Charge 2+, with very small differences that make it hard to pick which has a more appealing sound signature. The Pill+ features two front-facing woofers and two front-facing tweeters - while the Charge uses two side-firing passive bass radiators and two front-facing dynamic drivers. The Pill+'s tweeters might have a better handle on higher frequencies, but judging based on how the Pill's DSP is configured, it's hard to tell when comparing the it against the Charge.
They both sound great and each are capable of delivering room-filling sound with thumpy bass. That said, the Charge 2+ has softer sounding bass and sound signature while the Pill+ produces a tighter sounding bass and sharper highs. If I had to pick one out of the two, I'd only need to consider which I think looks better to my taste and if I'd be willing to spend more for the Pill+'s sleeker aesthetics. That said, if you're looking for a more durable speaker that's water and dirt-resistant, the Charge 2+ is the best alternative to the Pill+.
Bass stays fairly consistent across low and medium volumes, but like every other portable speaker at this size, the Pill+ can't produce the same punchy bass at higher volumes resulting in a drop in richness at volumes above 75% - leaving behind a stronger emphasis on brighter highs. Fortunately, we couldn't get the Pill+ do distort at high volumes so feel free to crank it all the way to full.
At the end of the day, the Pill+ may be a huge improvement over its predecessor, but it doesn't necessarily sound any better than a $150 Charge 2+ speaker from JBL. And yes, you are paying an extra $80 for a highly polished design we all know and have come to expect from the Beats by Apple brand. At $230, we think that the Pill+ does arguably sound better than the $200 UE Boom 2 with its punchier bass and neutrally rich sound signature, despite not having an omnidirectional sound.
Although it isn't even water-resistant like less expensive alternatives, the Pill+ is a very good sounding portable Bluetooth speaker with rich lows and plenty of clarity. It's built impressively well, has an Apple-esque design and features a long-lasting battery life that can also charge your external devices. And for that you'll need to consider whether or not it's worth paying extra for. As much as we love the Pill+'s styling and build quality, it's difficult to recommend it over the Charge 2+ simply because of its $230 price tag. Granted the Pill+ has a lower profile with its sleeker design, but both offer the same exact features except for the Pill+'s lack of water and dirt protection and proprietary Lightning connector charging. That being said, if good design is also really important to you then we don't think you'll be disappointed with what the Beats Pill+ has got to offer.