Beats’ New Bluetooth Speaker Shows Traces of Apple Influence
Well over a year after having been bought by Apple, Beats' headphones and speakers still look and sound much the same. Sure, they come in Space Gray to match your iPhone and iPad, but there are still the bright colors and slightly brash attitude. The new Pill+ is a Bluetooth speaker that holds on to the core Beats identity while clearly showing some influence from Cupertino.
The Pill+ is a major improvement over the Pill 2.0, which was last updated in late 2013. It's a little larger (a little more than 8 inches long and about 2.5 inches tall and deep), but it still has the familiar long, rounded shape and it has four internal speakers. In the Pill+, the speakers themselves are larger than those found in the original, and the tweeters have been angled outward to broaden the optimal listening area and minimize interference. The Pill+ also gets 12 hours of battery life on a three-hour charge, nearly double the Pill 2.0's 7 hours. It weighs a little over a pound and a half, so it fits fine in a suitcase—but it's a little bit too heavy to just toss in your purse for the day.
The build quality is extremely solid and the perforated grill extends all the way around the Pill+, even though the back is actually closed to give the speakers solid grounding. All the buttons are right on top and the "b" branded button is multi-use to minimize clutter on top. In a move reminiscent of the Apple of yesteryear, it only comes in black and white (no rose gold, sorry).
The sound is what really shocked me, though. Beats' headphones are most often criticized for being bass-heavy, but this emphasis wasn't present at all with the Pill+ during my short test. The low notes were light and clean, with none of the muddiness often found in small speakers. If anything, it was the highs that were a little sharp. There was plenty of air and separation between notes and instruments, and everything from The Weeknd to Tom Petty sounded just like I wanted it to, especially at higher volumes. At lower volumes it sounded more pedestrian, so don't be afraid to crank it up.
One of the original Pill's best features is the ability either to pair in mirror mode for more volume or to create a stereo pair with left and right channels. This hasn't gone away in the Pill+, and Beats has made the system a lot easier to control. Instead of awkward gestures that involve tapping the speakers together, there's a companion app that also lets multiple people connect to a speaker in "DJ mode." The Beats Pill+ app will be available for both Android and iOS devices, so no need to be an Apple loyalist to use the speaker.
The only overt nod to Beats' new parent company is a tiny connector hidden under a flap: a Lightning port. Now you can charge the Pill+ with the same Lightning connecter you use for your iOS devices instead of using the micro-USB more common with Android phones. You can also charge your phone from the speaker's battery by reversing the Lightning cable and plugging into the onboard full-size USB port.
The Beats Pill+ will cost $230 when it hits Apple.com and third-party Beats retailers in November.