The Philips Shoqbox SB7200 portable wireless speaker doesn't fill a room with sound quite as well as the pricier Shoqbox SB7300 model, but a tough shell helps it stand out among all the portable Bluetooth speakers currently flooding the category.
The hard-mesh speaker and rubber casing amplify bass tones as well as protect the unit from dirt and dust, making it a logical companion on outdoor adventures like hikes and trips to the beach. Pro tip: its light waterproofing also does equally well in your bathroom if you prefer bathing to a soundtrack. The Smart Sensor does a so-so job of recognizing hand gestures to adjust the volume and change tracks, but that's more of a gimmick than a regularly used feature. At $179, the speaker isn't cheap either, but if you're shopping for an overbuilt, portable Bluetooth speaker to match your adventurous (or maybe just clumsy) lifestyle, the Shoqbox SB7200 is worth the investment.
Design and features
Like most Bluetooth speakers, the Shoqbox SB7200 is easily portable, measuring just 7 inches long and a little less than 3 inches wide. It's easy to pack in a backpack or a suitcase as well. Judging by the marketing, Philips really wants you to use it outdoors on a camping trip or a rock climb, and the unit even has a small ring for a carabiner. Still, if weight is an issue, you probably won't string this along with you on long hikes, since the speaker weighs just under a pound with all the rubber draped around it.
The SB7200 comes in purple, white, black, and green color options; I instinctively went with the olive drab for its military appeal that lends itself well to the splash-proof rugged exterior. A hard mesh grille and rubber webbing on top offer two layers of protection across the length of the tube, and the main power button on the right lip also gets the rubber treatment.
Pairing the device with a Bluetooth-enabled audio source is simple enough -- hold it down for 5 seconds and a woman's voice will tell you it's in pairing mode. Identify and select the corresponding Shoqbox through the Bluetooth Settings menu on your music player (I used an Apple iPhone 4S), and the handshake happens automatically. The voice will guide and confirm the successful pairing along the way. After you link it up the first time, the Shoqbox will remember the partnership and automatically connect the next time you turn it on.
The power button also controls other features on the speaker, and while this singularity is effectively simple, it's also prone to hiccups in the user experience. For example, if you hold it down too long while powering it on, the speaker will go into language selection mode, where you choose the language for the voice prompts. Getting out of the menu is as easy as hitting the button once more when the option gets to English, but it can be a nuisance if you forget how to turn the speaker on and off properly.
While you're playing music through the speaker, you can hit the power button again to verify the remaining life of the lithium rechargeable battery. However, the voice reads you the battery level using vague descriptions like "Plenty of life left" -- I would have preferred a more specific indicator that used percentages.
The Shoqbox also doubles as a speakerphone when you pair it with a smartphone, but it's sensitive to wind and the sounds of passersby so I recommend you use this feature in an enclosed area to reduce audible distractions.