The most outstanding feature of the EcoXBT is that it is indeed totally waterproof. This makes the rugged wireless Bluetooth speaker ideal for rocking to your tunes outside — at the beach, by the pool, on the river, in the rain, wherever.
The EcoXBT also floats with the speakers up to keep the tunes adrift. Though to make it truly superior in aquatic environments it needs two updates. First, it’s not self-righting, meaning it can also float with the speakers down. While this might be nice for those hanging out under water, it does nothing for the rest of us who are fond of breathing. Also, if you splash the EcoXBT a few times when the speakers are facing up, the sound will be muffled as water gathers on the speakers. That condition doesn’t do anybody any good, except for those who don’t like your choice of music. It needs some sort of self-draining feature.
Speaking of the music, when not being obstructed by water, the sound quality from the pair of full-range drivers is great. The speakers are able to crank out some decent volume, but nothing that will make the neighbors call the cops. In fact, at max volume, it’s just right for the 30-foot reach of the Bluetooth connection.
Another great aspect of the EcoXBT is how easy it is to strap or clip it down for listening in more active environments. The large handles on either side make it easy to run straps through it when securing it to, say, your raft or kayak. There’s also a small loop for a carabiner or the like to connect a safety line. While I’m a big fan of the serenity of nature and just enjoying the wilderness for what it is and the sounds it produces, it might have been fun to have something like “Ride of the Valkyries” playing while charging into the 20-foot standing waves on my Grand Canyon river trip.
Like so much of the tech gear in the world, the EcoXBT is almost totally utilitarian and displays very little design mojo. This is true for both the external casing and the user experience. For example, when the Bluetooth connection is established, a curt beep is emitted, much like the way your old Apple //c or IBM PS/2 Model 50 computer squawked when you flipped the power switch. Other Bluetooth speakers play a chiming noise or speak to you in a programmed female voice. This thing’s robotic chirp doesn’t tell you much about what’s going on.
It doubles as a speakerphone, so you can use it to take calls from the phone you’ve paired it to. This works fine if you’re sitting right next to the speaker, but I found this to be an unlikely circumstance. When testing, I was working in the kitchen and had the speaker sitting on the counter. The caller said they could understand me fine, but it sounded like I was far away when I was standing right above the speakerphone. Leaning over and getting right next to the speaker helped, but I was told I still sounded a little muted, and this was before I started testing in the water, which as mentioned above can really hinder the audio.
Even if you don’t have a Bluetooth smartphone, or want to play something from a non-Bluetooth source, the EcoXBT has an auxiliary jack. Though, this does compromise the waterproofness, which is probably fine considering your source probably isn’t waterproof either. Though, if other items have waterproof headphone jacks, why not a waterproof auxiliary input here? Another miss: the back panel to access the auxiliary port completely detaches from the unit. I wouldn’t put it past some people to immediately lose the thing, thus voiding waterproofness for future use.
The internal 1800mAh rechargeable battery has a claimed life of up to 10 hours. I actually got more out of it, though play time will depend on how loud you play your music. The battery charges from dead-empty to completely full in about 2 hours using an AC adapter that attaches via USB. It always pleases me when companies use regular (non-proprietary) USB plugs so I don’t have to keep track of a bunch of different chargers for my plethora of devices.
Cameron Martindell suffers through the throngs of gear-testing while exploring the world so you can explore the world suffering-free. Follow him on Twitter (@offyonder) and read about his exploits on offyonder/em>