The Xtreme is a great and powerful speaker, but not everyone can afford a $300 Bluetooth speaker. Fortunately, JBL's new Flip 3 is one wireless speaker that's affordable and very portable too. The Flip 3 improves upon its predecessor using two 40mm drivers flanked by dual external passive bass radiators for much better sounding bass, has double the battery life and features a rubberized water-resistant fabric design for greater outdoor durability. And like JBL's Xtreme and Pulse 2 speakers, the Flip 3 can also be used in a multi-speaker setup by wirelessly connecting to multiple JBL Connect-enabled speakers for an amplified audio experience much like UE's Double Up mode. In short, the Flip 3 is JBL's greatest Flip speaker the company has ever made. Could this be the the best new super portable speaker to get for under $100? You'll have to read our full review – complete with a UE Roll and UE Boom 2 speaker comparison – to find out!
Upon first unboxing, we find the Flip 3 comfortably nestled between black foam padding, some getting started instructions and a bright orange flat USB to micro-USB charging cable. That's all there is to the included accessories. Well, apart from the lanyard cord that's already attached to the speaker.
The Flip 3 boasts durable fabric exterior that's water-resistant in addition to being dirt/sand-resistant similar to JBL's other offerings like the Xtreme - as well as other portable speakers like the UE Boom 2. On both ends of the speaker are these rubberized edges that extend around the back of the Flip 3, which not only help provide anti-slip footing, but also protect that the Flip 3 against accidental drops and other everyday mishaps. JBL doesn't claim the Flip 3 is as rugged as it may look, but I'm confident it'll pull through it dropped from a reasonable height such as a table.
The Design and build quality is obviously very different compared to the metal and hard plastic construction of the Flip 2, and we think it's a great improvement moving forward. It's no secrete JBL copied a few things from Ultimate Ears here because the Flip 3 seems like it's trying to be more like the UE Boom with this rubber and fabric amalgamation. But we're hardly complaining. Not only does the Flip 3 look nicer, it feels better made too and won't damage as easily. It doesn't particularly feel like a premiumly made speaker, however, for what you're paying it definitely has a high quality fit and finish and is as solid as high-pressurized can of Red Bull. It's also worth noting that the Flip 3 comes in 8 extremely vibrant colors and will end up costing you $100 as of this review. No more than the last two iterations might I add.
As you can tell, the Flip 3 is an extremely small and portable wireless speaker, unlike its bigger and much more powerful brother – the JBL Xtreme. It can be easily picked up with one hand much like a medium sized energy drink, while the Xtreme requires at least both hands and a backpack to be carried around. The Flip 3 will actually fit into your pocket...to an extent, and if you try hard enough.
Taking a look behind the Flip 3 we can see that it features two illuminated buttons that are embedded into the rubberized layer of the speaker which include a power on/off button and well as JBL's Connect button for connecting multiple JBL speakers together to wirelessly play music from one source in either a stereo left and right setup, or simply in a amplified listening experience where all speakers play the same audio – which can be useful in a multi-room positioning.
Right next to these buttons you'll also find a row of white LED dots that tell you the remaining battery life of the Flip 3 just like the Charge 2+ and Xtreme models. Each time you turn on the Flip 3 or press a button these will light up and turn off after a little while. You can also tell how much battery is left by using the JBL Connect app. There aren't any fancy spoken battery status prompts like there are on the UE Megaboom and Fugoo XL speakers, unfortunately.
Hidden behind the sealed rubber cover are the micro-USB charging input and a 3.5mm audio input in case you'd like to physically connect an audio source to the Flip 3 using your own audio cable. Make sure to always fully close this cover otherwise water and dirt can ruin your speaker through these openings. Now unlike the Charge 2 and Charge 2+ models, the Flip 3 does not have a standard USB port for charging up external devices. Other than that omission, the same features are all shared between all of JBL's latest portable wireless speakers such as a fairly decent built-in speakerphones with a noise and echo-canceling microphone.
Finally, you'll also find more rubberized - and very much tactile - buttons integrated into the fabric mesh of the Flip 3. You can use these controls to pair the Flip 3 with your device, adjust the volume of your audio source and answer or end a call.
You can download the free JBL Connect app available for the Flip 3, but all it does is look for available firmware updates and shows you how to pair multiple JBL speakers together (supports Xtreme, Flip 3 and Pulse 2 models). The app isn't needed for connecting two or more speakers together might I clarify. Whenever an update is available for the Flip 3, it'll simply pop up rather than you having to look for it yourself which is always good.
Like all previous models of the Flip, the Flip 3 can be used lying down on its side or standing upright like the UE Boom. Just like the JBL Xtreme and Charge speakers, the Flip 3 also features exposed dual-sided bass radiators which offer a nice visual presentation of ever bass movement. Thanks to raised rubber lip around each side, you'll be able to place the Flip 3 on either side without having to worry about degrading the bass performance as air can still escape out of recessed openings designed into the raised lip surrounding each radiator opening.
While the Flip 3 can be used in two different orientations, it can also be positioned on its back facing up - which will unofficially unlock its 360-degree potential. This means that the Flip 3 sounds great from any direction and loses much of its one-sided directional output much like the UE Boom 2 or the UE Roll for that matter.
For its smallish and dare I say pocketable size, the Flip 3 offers a great deal of sound with a healthy dose of bass along with a mixture of super clear highs and a decently detailed midrange. Of course a Flip 3 review wouldn't be complete without a detailed comparison between the similarly priced UE Roll. Next to the Ultimate Ears UE Roll, which happens to cost the same and is similarly designed, the Flip 3 outshines the UE Roll using slightly improved bass response. Other than that, both speakers perform very similarly. The biggest difference between the two is bass, which neither really deliver all too well to be perfectly realistic. Then again, consider their size, the Flip 3 is clearly the better choice in terms of audio quality without a shadow of a doubt.
I've only found two tracks in my entire playlist that would distort when played at full volume. It's safe to say that the Flip 3 can handle playing all types of music at its highest volume setting without actually sounding bad.
We know the Flip 3 sounds better than the UE Roll, but can it also take on the UE Boom - a speaker that costs twice as much? Against the original UE Boom, JBL's Flip 3 sounds more pleasing with its richer, bassy sound and sharp vocal clarity. But does it sound any better than the UE Boom 2 (shown above on the left)? To that we have to say no. The Flip 3 comes close to it, but it can't beat the UE Boom 2 as it's louder and it has larger drivers so audio sounds fuller. Not a big deal for the Flip 3 though because it costs half as much as the UE Boom 2 does, which we found to distort severely at high volumes.
Treble is what separates how the UE Boom 2 sounds compared to the Flip 3 the most. It's almost as if the UE Boom 2 is once again treble-happy to the point where it's too much and super bright sounding and very dispersed. The Flip 3 on the other hand sounds warmer but in a good, forward sounding way. It also produces a good balance between the highs, mids and lows. Neither have really good, deep sounding bass and actually perform extremely similarly to a point where you wouldn't be able to tell them apart when trying to listen to the bass response alone. That said, after quite some time of music listening, I did find that the UE Boom 2 was capable of producing a punchier sounding low-end. But again, the difference doesn't merit the cost compared to the Flip 3.
When compared to the $150 JBL Charge 2+, the Flip 3 doesn't quite match up to the deeper low-end of the Charge model. Again, it's really the same situation with the Flip 3 overpowering the UE Roll, only here it's bigger brother - the Charge 2/2+ - overpowers it with punchier sounding bass. So if size and price is important to you rather than a bit more bass in your music, the Flip 3 makes for a great affordable priced speaker that's highly portable.
Although the Flip 3 doesn't match up to the Sony SRS-X33's deep bass response and matured sound, it does sound more balanced at volumes past half, where the SRS-X33 struggles to maintain its punchy bass and simply sounds thin and way too bright in comparison. Overall I think that the Flip 3 sounds sharper, tighter and cleaner than the SRS-X33 and it's also a bit louder, but it's doesn't sound better at normal listening levels to be honest. There's a reason why Sony's speaker costs more. That said, the Flip 3 is more compact which is impressive considering it produces quality sound for its size.
The Flip 3 is one of the best portable speakers under $100. Is it a UE Boom 2 killer? At half the price, yes it is. The Flip 3 impressively nears the UE Boom 2 in audio performance, but can't quite match up to its powerfully loud 360-degree sound output. That being said, if you're fine with a traditional front-firing directional speaker, the Flip 3 is an outstanding choice that offers a lot of value for your $100. For the price of one UE Boom 2, you can get yourself two Flip 3 speakers and have them set up as stereo left and right mode for an even greater listening experience that would hands down outshine a single UE Boom 2. And even though the Flip 3 isn't as loud as the UE Boom 2, at least it doesn't distort heavily at its highest volume and still offers long-lasting battery life, and a great durable build quality and design that's water-resistant and very portable. It's a solid choice that we can happily recommend.