Upon unboxing, the JBL Charge 3 was bigger than what I’ve come to expect from a portable Bluetooth speaker. Measuring just over 8 inches long and 3.5 inches high, this is a beefy speaker and charging station. The JBL Charge 3 is equipped with a 6,000mAh power bank and a USB port to charge your devices on the go.
While it’s not the most portable speaker around, there’s a lot to appreciate about the JBL Charge 3. It sports decent, but not great, sound quality and there are plenty of features you’d expect from a Bluetooth speaker retailing at $150.
Just make sure you save some space in you bag for it. The JBL Charge 3 reminds me of a footlong sandwich. That’s not what you might want to hear about a Bluetooth speaker, but stay with me for a second.
One hefty speaker
A good sandwich nails the ratio between the meat, cheese, toppings, condiments, and bread. It’s in harmony, and you can hold it in your hand, take a bite, and stay relatively clean. Too much of anything and then some things start spilling out and you either have lettuce on the floor or mustard on your face. It’s still a portable, handheld sandwich, but it’s not as functional or satisfying as that golden-ratio sandwich.
That too-big-sandwich experience is what the JBL Charge 3 reminds me of. It fits in my hand, but it’s sort of spilling out, too. It’s definitely portable, but it also weighs around 1.7 pounds — as much as some laptops. You can’t really dangle it from the handlebars of your bike or clip it to your backpack. Yeah, it’s portable, but definitely on the opposite end of the spectrum than, say, the JBL Clip 3.
And, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, there are a lot of lightweight, waterproof Bluetooth speakers out there, but can they also charge your phone? That’s a great feature to have, even though it adds to the overall heft of the JBL Charge 3.
The JBL Charge 3 performs admirably as a Bluetooth speaker and charging station. There are also a lot of features you need and expect to make a portable Bluetooth speaker stand out from the competition.
The oblong speaker has buttons on top, a rugged mesh exterior, and bass radiators on the sides (more on that in a moment). The speaker sits on a rubber pedestal that includes LED status indicator lights. There are a lot of dots on that pedestal, so let’s start there.
Equipped with a 6000mAh power bank, the JBL Charge 3 can, theoretically, be used only as a charging device and fully charge an iPhone 7 twice before needing to be recharged. Fully charging the speaker itself takes 4.5 hours and playtime sits around 20 hours depending on use and volume. Opening up the charging flap reveals a mini-USB input, a USB output, and a 3.5mm aux input.
All the buttons to operate the JBL Charge 3 are on top of the speaker, raised so you can operate them by touch. The JBL Connect button lets you connect multiple Charge 3 speakers. You can skip songs by pressing the Play/Pause button twice, but there’s no way to go backward. So, if you want to hit repeat on that summer jam, you’ll have to do it from your phone or paired device.
The JBL Charge 3 has features on top of features. We’ve already talked about the battery pack, but it’s also waterproof and can be submerged in 3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes. That’s practically a necessary feature for a go-to portable speaker these days, especially one that’s retailing for $150.
While it’s not drop-tested, there are a lot of rubberized components to avoid being labeled as fragile. The durable fabric face looks nice and can withstand a round or three in the park or in the dirt.
The exposed bass radiators are mostly a cosmetic feature so you can “see” the low end in action. We’ll talk about the actual bass soon, but it’s a bit of flash that doesn’t impress me much. It’s neat the first time around, but you’re likely using the Charge 3 at a party or in a large group so it’ll mostly go unnoticed.
Since the bass radiators are out in the open, there’s the slightest chance that you can drop it in just the right (or wrong) way to damage them. There are rubber notches that give the radiators around a half-inch cushion, so you’ll also have to be pretty unlucky for that to happen. These are things I have to think about because I’ve dropped my phone on a rock and cracked my screen before, so I know the odds are not always in my favor.
There are even more features when you use the JBL Connect app. I’m not a huge fan of these apps because they are either barren or too clunky for their own good. There are some useful features and updates within the app to make it worth a download, but I’m still not a fan of these apps.
You’ll probably have to install a firmware update, as I did, before you can get started with the app.
In the app you can select “Party Mode” to pair up to 100(!) JBL Connect-compatible speakers or select “Stereo Mode” to set two JBL speakers as left/right channels. Pushing the setting wheel opens up the other features in the app. You can switch between Play/Pause to control music or activate a Voice Assistant, current support for Siri or Google Now, by pressing the Play/Pause button.
You can also turn the Charge 3 into a speakerphone and turn off the audio feedback sounds. And, if you’re into personalization, you can change the name of the Charge 3 to something like, “Charles’ Sound Machine,” if you’re so inclined.
All about that bass
The Charge 3 booms. It’s a battering ram that lets you know it’s here to party. JBL emphasized the bass with the Charge 3 and it definitely delivers in that department. You can hear, feel, and even see how much bass the Charge 3 is packing thanks to those exposed bass radiators.
However, while the speaker plays loud, and the bass will definitely satisfy, the overall sound quality is only fine. I never stopped to marvel at the mix or found myself getting lost in the details of a song.
Songs sound like they should, but there’s no real richness or warmth. Great speakers invite you into the music and create that one-to-one connection with the listener. You may be in a packed party, but you can’t help but get lost for a second in a song’s chorus. We’ve all had those experiences, but the Charge 3 comes up just short in this department. Still, bassheads will definitely love how much this portable Bluetooth speaker thumps.
In a bright red nutshell
It’s hard to question the utility of the JBL Charge 3 since it’s both a portable Bluetooth speaker and a charging station. I appreciate its overall heft, even if it means making a bit of room in my bag.
As a summer or party speaker, there’s a lot to like with the Charge 3. It’s waterproof, can be paired with multiple JBL speakers, and can double as a speakerphone if you just so happen to need to take a call by the pool.
Overall, the JBL Charge 3 is a versatile device that works well as a party speaker and looks the part, too. However, the generally fine, but not exceptional, sound holds the JBL Charge 3 from truly standing out from the crowd.