Put simply, this review is overdue. I've no idea why the nice people at Conversations by Nokia (formerly known as Nokia Connects) even let me play with this thing, let alone keep it for a bit longer than the usual two weeks... they probably just didn't want to upset me by asking for it back too early! That right there should give you a pretty good idea of my thoughts on this speaker: this is hands-down my favorite (feasibly) portable bluetooth speaker. Period. You can stop reading now.
My first real-life encounter with the Play 360 occurred at CES 2012, while I was with the rest of the (then) Nokia Connects crew. Of course I'd seen the PR television-spot, but I'd never actually been able to test one or see someone else with one (or even hear of someone owning one) until I found the Nokia booth on the CES show floor. One of the Nokia staff happily gave me a little demo and I was blown away at how loud the speaker can get, despite it's (relatively) diminutive size. However I was unable to assess the sound quality on account of all of the background noise present at the time, and the speaker soon faded from my thoughts.
As mentioned in my last bluetooth speaker review, this one, my interest in getting a bluetooth speaker was rekindled when I stumbled across a Jawbone Jambox for the first time. I've had quite a bit of time with my own speaker, had a great few weeks with the 360 (did I mention I like it a lot?), and Nokia has announced the JBL PlayUp successor of sorts to the speaker being reviewed here, I think that it's time I finally sit down and write this review all the way through.
I don't normally do a section like this, but I feel like the opening the Play 360 was something of a treat and therefore deserves it. It's not the most spectacular unboxing I've ever taken part in or even the most unique, but it was... nice. So without further ado, here's the box that the speaker comes in.
What makes the Play 360 unique from other bluetooth speakers on the market is that it doesn't make any attempt to cram two small speaker drivers into a small space just for the sake of producing stereo sound. And why should Nokia have bothered? The whole idea of a portable bluetooth speaker is first-and-foremost to create good quality sound. There's very little meaningful stereo separation that can occur within a couple of inches, so why bother at all?
Having thrown away the illusion that two speakers are better than one, Nokia went about creating a portable bluetooth speaker that is just that: a single speaker. A good, high-quality driver, with something called a "bass port" located on the right-hand side to help form the lower bass tones. (This actually does something, too, as proved by simply sealing the hole with one's hand.)
That anodized aluminum you see encasing the unit? The holes in that are purely aesthetic (so far as I can tell anyway). The 360 also comes in different colors to match your personal preferences, though it is my belief that the colored stitching on the neoprene bag is the same regardless of the color of the unit itself.
When I first pulled the Play 360 out of the box, I was curious as to whether or not I would have to charge it prior to it turning on. To my surprise, it happily chirped into life (seriously, whoever came up with the on/off-sounds did a fairly good job of making the speaker just that one little bit nicer than you'd expect). Though every other electronic device I've ever owned has also done the exact same thing, I didn't quite expect the speaker to perform for about another 14 hours before it finally shut itself off and needed its first ever recharge. (I was sent a brand-new sealed unit, just to make that clear.)
Having already played with a Jambox in a store about ten months ago, and owning the Banggood speaker for a few weeks, I had a decent idea of what I should be setting par as in terms of what to expect from a bluetooth speaker. The Play 360 managed to simply waltz past this par and didn't stop till it had wandered quite far beyond it. So blown away was I by the audio quality that I literally put the Banggood speaker in my closet and contemplated moving the stereo system on my "desk" into the closet as well.
Unfortunately I was only sent one Play 360, therefore I never got to test the two-device stereo mode. I believe that this would have literally led to the throwing-out of the above pictured stereo system, had I a stereo setup. I did, however, manage to have a coworker of mine who's phone is NFC-equipped try the auto-pair with the speaker, and was quite shocked at how well that worked. Bit surprised that nobody's figured out how to do that with just bluetooth proximity sensors, but oh well.
At the end of the day, it comes down to this: would I buy a Play 360 speaker? The answer to that question is a hesitant yes, if only because of the price tag. At around 100€ a pop these days, it would be very hard to justify over cheaper alternatives or a cheap 2.1 sound system. Or even both together. Especially since getting stereo sound will run one double that cost, and then add headaches in making sure both speakers are charged up.
There's also new Nokia speakers about to be set loose: the JBL PlayUp speakers. Which, if you ask me, look a bit like coffee mugs. (To say nothing of my current dislike of the somewhat questionable yellow and red color choices.) If the new speakers are cheaper, then I'd definitely spring for those independent of news that the JBL replacements are actually quieter than the 360s that are being retired.
But if one were to ask me what is the best portable, and by that I mean feasible to carry on airplane, bluetooth speaker... I would have to point at the Play 360. It may lack a built-in microphone or be not quite as clear as the Jambox Big, but that Jawbone creation really is too big and heavy to travel. And what the 360 gives up by lacking a microphone for conference calls, it instantly makes up for with NFC and superior sound. I'm going to miss it... maybe Nokia Connects will be kind enough to send it back for my next holiday.