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Lifewire / Danny Chadwick
Powerful, clear sound
Long battery life
Charges other devices
Can’t mount to the wall
The JBL Charge 4 is a versatile and waterproof Bluetooth speaker with lots of power and great sound
The JBL Charge 4 looks and feels like a high-quality device right out of the box. And that first impression proves itself after just a few minutes of using it. This Bluetooth speaker goes where other speakers can’t, whether it’s piping tunes into the shower or starting a party on the beach.
We found it to be highly durable and useful for more than just music—it produces great sound, has a battery that will last all day, and can be networked with multiple other JBL devices. Plus, it costs less than you would expect for the quality you get.
Both the form factor and the materials of this speaker convey a feeling of portability, ruggedness, and high performance—and it delivers on all three. You can expect this speaker to stand up to the elements, endure heavy usage, and last all day.
The surface of the device has a durable fabric skin designed to protect it from the elements and make it decently resistant to damage. In our testing, it survived a fall or two off a table, but we didn’t want to push it farther than that — it weighs about two pounds and hit the ground with a thwack that made us think it would stop working. But it just kept going, seemingly unharmed.
It costs less than you would expect for the quality you get.
You can control the volume of the speaker and skip songs either from the speaker itself or the device it’s paired with. Unfortunately, there’s no way to skip to a previously-played song with the speaker’s control panel.
JBL claims the Charge 4 gets 20 hours of battery life, which is definitely on the long side compared to similar products. We took this speaker on a road trip to the beach and let it play constantly throughout the day and it never quit.
The battery meter is one convenient feature on the JBL Charge 4 that isn’t found on many other speakers. It not only gives you a general idea of how much juice it has left, but also indicates its charging progress when the speaker is plugged in.
It took our test unit about four hours to go from completely dead to fully charged, which is 90 minutes faster than JBL advertises on the included materials. That’s still on the longer side for charging time, but this should be expected considering the Charge 4’s battery capacity. (And if you charge it overnight, it doesn’t really matter anyway.)
You can tell this is a next-generation device due to its charging cable, which utilizes the relatively new USB-C technology. The male-to-male charging cable has a USB-C connection on the speaker end and USB to connect to the power supply.
We also found the charging bank to be very convenient. The speaker’s back panel includes a USB port that you can use to charge smartphones and other devices. This was great when we took it to the beach since it allowed us to extend our time by the waves without our devices dying.
You can expect this speaker to stand up to the elements, endure heavy usage, and last all day.
If you have more than one Charge 4, you can use the JBL Connect mobile app to network them together. Similar speakers like the Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM and Polk BOOM Swimmer Duo have similar capabilities, but only JBL has the app that can network more than 100 devices. (We don’t know when you’d ever need that number, but it’s there.)
In addition to the Connect app, JBL has a couple of others to compliment your speaker. You can download JBL Music and JBL Tools. These apps give you much more control over both your media and the performance of your speaker. If you want a unified, branded experience, these apps are invaluable tools.
While the Charge 4 is a very portable speaker, it’s bulkier than competitors like the Swimmer Duo. It takes up a good amount of space in a day-bag and it doesn’t lend well to carrying around in your hand.
The same applies to indoor use—if you intend to take advantage of the waterproof capabilities and use it as a shower speaker, note that there’s no suction cup to attach it to the wall, and it’s sure to take up some valuable real estate on your shower shelves.
Another feature this device lacks is a speakerphone. Many similar speakers allow you to take calls from your smartphone with a built-in mic. This is a convenient feature, but it’s not surprising that the Charge 4 doesn’t have it since it’s not really designed for up-close-and-personal use.
The speakers doesn’t really look “waterproof” on account the side-mounted woofers. But as part of our testing, we let some ocean surf wash over it and the speaker was fine—the music kept playing, and it was no worse for the wear after we dried it off.
The JBL Charge 4 is incredibly easy to setup, mostly due to its size. The buttons are large and their functions are obvious. Even without reading the instructions you can have this speaker fully functional in less than a minute.
Even without reading the instructions you can have this speaker fully functional in less than a minute.
If you’re new to using Bluetooth devices, pairing the speaker will be the most challenging aspect of the setup. But the included Quick Start guide shows you how to do it with extremely easy-to-follow instructions.
When we took this speaker to the beach, we could clearly hear the music over the sound of the waves and the ambient noise.
Every song we played sounded as good as it possibly could. All the small details—horns, vocals, hi-hats—came through clearly and true to the recording. If the sound quality isn’t perfect, it’s very close.
The JBL Charge 4 retails for $149.99. When we tested it, we were surprised it wasn’t closer to $200 for the power, utility, and performance you get. Even at retail price, this device is a great deal in our estimation.
But if $150 still feels steep, you can find this speaker for around $120 from a lot of online retailers.
The only product that we tested that comes near the quality and utility of the Charge 4 was the Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM, which retails for slightly less at $99.99.
The biggest difference between these two Bluetooth speakers is the form factor. The Charge 4 sits horizontally and pushes the sound out the front, while the WONDERBOOM is more of a sphere shape and produces 360-degree sound, which makes it more of a party device than the Charge 4.
The sound quality is pretty much the same from both speakers, although the WONDERBOOM bass is a bit more thumpy at max volume.
If you want big sound and great versatility, it’s hard to beat the JBL Charge 4.
This Bluetooth speaker over-delivers on all its features. It produces sound that will satisfy audiophiles, has great extra features (like the ability to charge devices via USB), and has a battery that will last all day. All of this gives it great value for the price.