Altec Lansing rates its Jacket H2O portable Bluetooth speaker as just about indestructible. The promo video at the bottom of this review shows it living through explosions and a thermite attack, being driven over and being shot with large caliber guns. Indeed, our review unit arrived in a toolbox with a dirty big hammer.
With a rubbery blue removable "jacket" and a solid, nuggety plastic build underneath, it's waterproof, snowproof, sandproof, dustproof and shockproof.
In our experience, it's also almost toddler-proof. My boisterous two-year-old son Max threw it around the kitchen with merry abandon, offered it to the dog to eat, floated it in the bathtub and peed on it, none of which seemed to bother it at all. He did manage to subsequently chew off the rubber plug protecting the USB charging port and 3.5mm auxiliary input, but that seems to be its only weakness.
For my part, I'm into saunas at the moment, so I've been bringing it into an 85 degrees Celsius sauna (185º F) with me for 20 minutes at a go, and a steam room that feels even hotter. It doesn't miss a beat.
So it's rugged; more than rugged enough to recommend for the rigors of an active life. That rubber shell grips pretty nicely on most surfaces, and anyway, if it falls off it couldn't care less.
Sound quality and volume are impressive for a couple of 1.5-inch neodynmium drivers in such a portable little case. At full volume it's loud enough to annoy people even in an outdoor setting. It sounds vastly better than the speakers on my phone and laptop.
Small speaker drivers are never going to push a heap of bass, so the sound tends toward clarity and crispness over punch and boom, but it lays down full enough beats to get a toddler dancing, the casing has a bit of resonance to it and personally I only notice a lack of low end when we're listening in the car. Our ancient car stereo doesn't have Bluetooth, so we've been hanging this jigger off the windscreen while we drive.
As far as complaints, well, there's a loud, chirpy voice that says "Welcome to Altec Lansing!" every time you turn it on, which feels like an unnecessarily crass bit of branding. Also, it's got a built-in speakerphone feature so that when your phone's paired you should just be able to talk to the speaker. It works fine when you're within about a foot of the speaker, but if you move back to about three or four feet, the microphone doesn't pick you up well enough for the other party to understand. You've pretty much got to pick the speaker up and talk to it. Not much chop.
It's also a bit of a pain to quickly adjust the volume; holding down the plus or minus buttons sends a next/previous track instruction rather than a volume one, and hitting the buttons repeatedly feels like it takes a long time when you're at high volume and you want to dip it quickly to hear someone talking.
All in all though, it's small and light enough to throw in a backpack or handbag, it sounds good in most outdoor or indoor situations, the battery lasts an honest 8 hours, and it's proven itself thoroughly roadworthy – it's a piece of electronics I just don't feel like I have to worry about taking special care of. Thumbs up from me.
The Jacket H2O retails for US$79.99 - or AU$119.95 in Australia, from Target, Anaconda, Big W and the Good Guys. There's a cheaper, smaller mini model if you don't mind sacrificing a bit of battery life for more portability and likewise you can go to the Lifejacket series if you want more battery and slightly larger 2-inch speakers for a bit of extra low end.
Source: Altec Lansing
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