If you are still on the lookout for a late holiday gift or gadget, check out the iBN26 from iHome ($79.99). This small portable speakerphone allows you to stream and play your favorite music, as well as make and take calls through the surprisingly peppy Reson8 speakers. With aux-in support, you can also use it to play input from almost any external source.
The iBN26 is light, so the first thought I had was that it is cheaply made. I have reviewed a few iHome units in the past, and in every case found that the systems produced a good audio experience for the cost—speakers typically priced below other higher-end audio systems with similar features. I always like the design aspects of every speaker system they make, even if not what you might term "top of the line." The iB26's attractive black/grey polycarbonate shell seems very sturdy, but a lightweight speaker normally translates to a lightweight sound. Not so with the iBN26.
At the first pairing/playing experience, I had an exasperating problem where the speaker kept ramping up volume to max level (which is pretty loud.) I had to reset and power off both the speaker and my iPad to get it to stop doing that. The iBN26 has common button control on the top side (Talk/play/pause/volume, etc.) If you have an NFC capable phone, it integrates with the capability of the device, but there isn't much to say on that since Apple hasn't chosen to adopt any capability involving NFC. The included USB port on the back, which also charges your device, is easily accessible and a convenient way to extend the always too short lightning cable.
Sound coming from the speakers was quite good, and it also proved to be a great way to drive audio from my computer using aux-in. There was little to no distortion at high volumes (to a point, and depending on the music), though I admit the iBN26 performs much like most small compact speakers—little separation, and though not exactly a rich complex sound, still able to drive overall tones pretty well. As a speakerphone, the small unit similarly worked very well, including speakerphone echo cancelation. One minor complaint is that the control buttons on top are a bit too snappy. They literally make a loud snapping noise when pressed, and as a result feel a bit cheap.
- Decent sound quality in a small package
- Easy to configure and use
- No rechargeable battery
The iBN26 is a tiny, yet capable speakerphone. As a small office or computer/iPad speaker, it works well. As a mobile Bluetooth speaker, the lack of rechargeable battery (which most small BT speakers now include) makes it less useful, but still viable if you don't mind lugging the charger with you. The retail price might be a bit pricey at $79.99, so try a web search (Amazon had in-stock units for almost $20 less.)