The Dell AD211 is a must-buy for those in need of a cheap, capable Bluetooth solution who aren't expecting stellar audio quality.
NFC, Built-in microphone
Good battery life
Unusual control placement
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The Bluetooth speaker market might be crowded, but there's always extra room for more competition, especially when it comes in at a cool $59 (£68.39, AU$79). With the Dell Bluetooth Portable Speaker - AD211, it may not be eye-catching, but its low price tag sure is. And at that, it's impressively well-stocked with features and a satisfactory sound.
Compared to more expensive and similarly-sized options like the Harman/Kardon Esquire Mini and the JBL Charge 2, the unimaginatively-named AD211 holds its own as a capable speaker, offering many of the features seen in the competition for less hefty of an investment. But how does it sound?
With the AD211, Dell's choice to play it safe in its design isn't an oversight. The grey, energy drink-sized speaker canister is purposefully plain, matching the (rather appealing, if I do say so) aesthetic of Dell's office-friendly products. The biggest stride it makes in design is keeping it simple, which allows its functions to benefit from its form. For a bargain, the materials and design offer a basic, yet effective presentation.
The speaker's design is conventional but tuned to be highly usable, no matter which of its two modes of orientation you utilize. If you choose to stand it upright, its bottom side rests on a stable, rubberized plate that hushes buzzing created by strong bass. The top plate displays the onboard controls, allowing for easier access than if it were laying horizontal. If you do choose to lay it horizontally, the speaker rests on two rubber feet, putting the controls out of sight. Thankfully, they're easy and limited enough to easily commit to memory.
If you stood the AD211 next to a 24oz. can, it'd be roughly the same size and weight. To give exact measurements, it's 6.6 x 2.4 x 2.4 inches (WxDxH) and .66 pounds. Thankfully, it has more features than a can. Skimming the body of the unit from the front to back, its front is basic, with the active 5-Watt speakers covered by a uniform grille.
Running up the top, two features take stage. The NFC tap site takes center position and the microphone, used for telephone calls, hangs off to the side in support. On the back, a shiny-yet-subtle Dell logo is stamped and is about the size of a quarter coin. To the side of the logo, a small, black compartment curves slightly inward, housing a microUSB port and a 3.5mm auxiliary port.
Considering that the AD211 is a budget-friendly Bluetooth option, it's almost a given that it will underperform when stacked up against more expensive and premium Bluetooth models, like the Harman/Kardon Esquire Mini and the JBL Charge 2, which we lauded for their great sound quality and small form factor. And it's true, the AD211 can't hold its composure at high volume and the sound delivery is cloudy at times. But at $59, £68.39, AU$79, let's put performance into context.
With test samples ranging from the soulful jazz joints of Robert Glasper, to the reverb-laden, arena rock of Tame Impala, the AD211 delivered my music in full-form with ease at a moderately-loud volume. Things got hairy with the volume up to max; the speaker whimpers under the attack of heavy bass, mids and highs simultaneously.
Utilizing NFC, I tapped my HTC One M7 gently on the top of the AD211 and within a second, the phone was paired over Bluetooth and ready to go. The aptX decoder, which enables CD-quality over Bluetooth, is nice to have but due to the limited performance of the AD211, it didn't sound quite CD-quality, per se.
Speaking on the Bluetooth capabilities of the AD211, the speaker can operate up to 33 feet away from a device. I had little to no issues within that range, barring the occasional hiccup once line of sight with my phone was broken. Its battery had no problem lasting its advertised 8 hours, and it even chipped in a couple extra hours if I turned the volume down.
With two different ways to orient the speaker, I found myself favoring the vertical orientation for a few reasons. First off, it can fit in more places. Plus, having the controls facing me was a perk. Lastly, the AD211 delivered better sound while standing up. The bass resonated more through the surface on which it rested.
It's hard to argue against a $59, £68.39, AU$79 Bluetooth speaker, even if it does come with its share of minor flaws. Thankfully, none of these flaws are deal breakers for the casual listener. With extra perks like quick pairing via NFC, support for conference calls, and dual orientation, the AD211 makes a convincing argument to dive in, especially for such an affordable price.
Some may like the subdued design (me), but for others it will undoubtedly come off as cheap. Decorated with two rather dull shades of grey, it's not an eye-opening product any way you look at it.
The speaker has a slight metallic sound that is exacerbated at high volumes.
If you're looking for a no-frills Bluetooth speaker at a price that's a no-brainer, you'll be incredibly happy with the Dell AD211. You'll be hard-pressed to find a competitor that offers similarly great features for the price.
Cameron is a writer at The Verge, focused on reviews, deals coverage, and news. He wrote for magazines and websites such as The Verge, TechRadar, Practical Photoshop, Polygon, Eater and Al Bawaba.