One of the most consistent complaints against phones of all types, including Android superphones favored by most of our readers, is that they have to make due with tiny, weak speakers. That's not anyone's fault, really - devices that fit in your pocket with enough technology to make Ray Kurzweil drool have to make some sacrifices. But to rectify this situation, especially when you're traveling or trying to share music with lots of people, an external speaker of some kind is almost a necessity. Enter Logitech's Z515, a portable battery-powered Bluetooth speaker that intends to bring big sound in a small and easy-to-move package.
If you're familiar with Logitech's desktop speakers, or any of their more expensive products, the Z515 will seem familiar. A metal grate is surrounded by solid-feeling plastic and a hinged kickstand, with minimal controls on the back. For status indicators you get only a power and connection light. A USB receiver and software is also included, if you'd like to connect it to a computer without Bluetooth. The only other way to get sound into the speakers is via a standard 1/8th-inch next to the power jack, though unfortunately, the necessary cable is not included in the box. A simple cloth carrying case rounds out the package.
Upon first opening the Z515, I seriously wondered if Bluetooth connectivity was included at all. There's no indication of Bluetooth compatibility anywhere on the box or the device itself - not even the trademark "B" rune near the FCC information, where you'd expect it to be. The packaging pronounces that it's designed for "iPhone and iPad", and it includes the obvious USB connector that tucks into a slot beneath the kickstand. Feeling somewhat ashamed, I actually broke out the instructions, where Bluetooth pairing was explained: power the device on, then hold the volume up and down buttons. After that, it became simple enough.
The speaker system itself is about the size of a rolled up newspaper, though nowhere near as heavy. It slips into its carrying case easily enough, though you probably won't need it with the solid build. Throw it in your bag or a jacket pocket and you're good to go. The sturdy kickstand and metal front leave me with no complaints, and at a full blast I've managed to get between 4 and 5 hours of performance. That should be plenty of time for a short roadtrip, and to find an AC outlet at a party.
There's only three button controls: power, volume up and volume down. That's well and good, but for a Bluetooth speaker system I would have liked to have seen some playback controls on the unit itself - it's easy enough to implement via the A2DP protocol. I suppose the idea is that you'll be carrying your phone or tablet with you for control, and on that count, the extremely reliable connection shines. I was able to walk with my phone to the back door of my home, about 40 feet away from the z515 through three different walls, without the music ever skipping or dropping. That's easily one of the best A2DP connections I've ever seen.
The unit is loud, if not thunderously so. It'll be more than enough to entertain a full room at a party or get together, but you'd be hard pressed to shake the neighbors' windows. It managed to fill my living room well enough, which is as well as something this size could be expected to do.
The only real downside to the Z515 is Bluetooth sound quality. It's good enough for MP3 playback, but audiophiles will be turned off by some shaky highs and fuzzy lows. That's not really Logitech's fault: Bluetooth A2DP just doesn't have enough bandwidth for true hi-fi performance, and you won't find anything better on other Bluetooth speakers, even something like the much more expensive Philips Fidelio AS851. I'd say it's about as good as a solid satellite radio signal - it should be fine for Pandora or some medium bitrate MP3s, but anything better simply wouldn't sound good enough on the Z515. Sure, you could use an audio cable, but that kind of defeats the purpose of a portable, wireless speaker.
As far as value goes, it depends on what you're looking for. The $99 list price is more than I'd spend on the Z515 myself, but it's comparable to other portable speaker systems of this quality. However, look around online and you can find the Logitech Z515 in the $75 range, a much more tempting proposition. If you often find yourself traveling and straining to hear music over your phone's tiny speaker (and don't want to fiddle with headphones), I'd say it's a pretty solid investment. It's certainly the best option among its competitors, with very reliable build quality and performance.
Check out our video hands-on for a better look at the Logitech Z515's features: