I wanted to get a portable travel speaker in addition to my home Sonos setup. Googling for ratings and reviews, I came up with UE Boom 2, JBL Charge 3 and Bose SoundLink Mini II as the frontrunners from nearly all reviewers. All 3 of these have very high ratings on Amazon both in the US and the UK, so the choice likely comes down to personal preferences.
I decided against the Bose since it can’t pair with a second speaker for a stereo setup, is slightly older, doesn’t look as attractive (quite a dated look in fact) and the sound quality reviews do not put it above the other two.
Then I couldn’t decide between the UE and JBL, so purchased both. I compared them side-by-side for a week with the following observations:
1) Batteries on both last for a ridiculously long time. Yes, JBL lasts longer, but the 15 hour battery on UE is a week of regular use. What other electronics do you charge so rarely?
2) Both speakers are very loud. Assuming you’re not hosting an actual dance party, it would be surprising for either to run out of volume. JBL stays composed all the way to the max, maybe keep UE one notch above the very max on the bass-heavy songs.
3) UE has crisper high and mid frequencies, while JBL has a deeper, bigger bass. It took me a week to decide that this constitutes a tie for me, but most people would likely prefer the bigger bass of the JBL. Also, UE gives you the 360 sound, which is quite neat: you can put it in the middle of the room rather than against a wall. This could work as an effective sound multiplier since you reduce the distance to people if using it in a group.
I compared both to a single Sonos 1 speaker (much heavier and non-portable), and Sonos is significantly better across the entire frequency range than either UE or JBL. This is not to say that that UE or JBL produce low quality sound: they both sound surprisingly good for their size. My point is that we shouldn’t obsess with the sound quality comparison between the two because neither is close to being a reference sound device.
4) Size is important here. JBL is over 50% larger than the UE, which makes a huge difference. Please see the photos: the JBL is longer, wider and heavier than the UE. This was the main factor in declaring UE the winner by a good margin. The speakers are roughly tied before the size comes into play, and the UE is just a lot smaller. I am simply more likely to take it with me when travelling.
5) Other features. Both speakers are waterproof. Charge 3 will charge your phone, which is not exactly useless, but probably not a deciding feature. UE feels much sleeker design-wise, with fewer buttons and better symmetry.
To summarize: JBL Charge 3 is a great speaker, worthy of a 5 star rating. However, for my preferences, UE Boom 2 was the clear winner given its much more compact size and neater design due to them being close to tied in other areas, including sound quality.