Ours is a world overflowing with Bluetooth speakers, all trying to set themselves apart from the growing pack. One of the latest features in that quest is buoyancy. We've reviewed higher-end speakers like the Nyne Aqua that really do deliver a floating party, and there's others on the lower-end that disappoint – like the S-Bubble from little-known company Slive.
We tested the S-Bubble, and while it does indeed deliver Bluetooth audio while floating around the bath as advertised, it lacks in volume, attention to design detail and affordability.
To really be practical in an aquatic environment, a portable speaker needs to deliver a few extra decibels to compete with the atmospheric noise of a bathroom or pool, whether it's running water, splashing or just basic urban background din. Listening to podcasts and audiobooks with the S-Bubble on full blast, we were unable to make out all the dialogue in anything but perfect quiet, whereas shower speakers that have been through multiple generations already like the SplashTunes Pro can overpower the sound of even the most forceful faucets.
The S-Bubble is also unusual in that it takes three AA batteries, rather than being rechargeable via micro-USB like most Bluetooth peripherals. This is probably meant to cut down on manufacturing costs, but it sacrifices convenience for the user, who is more likely to have an extra USB charger lying around than three fresh batteries. (For the record, the company says it chose disposable batteries because they are safer than rechargeable lithium batteries.)
The entire unit is made of a cheap-feeling plastic, with covers for the battery compartment and speaker itself that screw off and on. It certainly doesn't feel very water-tight, and that's probably because it's only rated to resist splashing, not full submersion in water. As with most splash-proof and even waterproof speakers, they aren't necessarily designed to get soaked and still function like normal, rather they're designed not to be completely destroyed by a certain amount of water.
We ran the S-Bubble under a faucet for about half a second, giving it a generous splash right on its speaker. The sound became distorted, which often happens, even with speakers rated to withstand submersion, but once we took off the plastic covers and let the accumulated water run out and gave it a few minutes to air dry, it was functioning as normal. We checked the battery compartment and found it to be dry as well. (The company told us after this review initially posted that the design of the speaker will allow it eventually self-drain on its own without having to take the plastic covers off.)
But this is where we run out of nice things to say about the S-Bubble. In addition to its lackluster volume, it was also awkward to operate. When floating, its push buttons are below the water line, and when the unit hangs by its designated ring, they are on the bottom of the speaker, meaning you have to flip the entire thing up or crouch down to operate it. The method of using the same buttons for volume and track control also leaves something to be desired, especially if you have yet to master the art of the upside down or underwater long press.
These shortcomings might be tolerable if the price of the S-Bubble were right. As a cheap stocking stuffer or a last-minute impulse buy in the US$20 - $40 range, this speaker might make sense. Unfortunately, the company told us that they plan to launch the product this month with a suggested retail price of US$59.95, which just seems too high.
Product page: Slive