The Ultimate Ears Boom has long been the best Bluetooth speaker around. But for all its popularity, the line of speakers was plagued for years by a critical flaw: it lacked a play / pause button. Then, in 2018, it finally got one, and the addition has made all the difference between the Boom being a great Bluetooth speaker and the single best option for taking music to the pool.
The Magic Button (its name, not mine) does two things. First, it serves as a play / pause / track skip button: you press once to toggle between play / pause or quickly double click to skip to the next song. (The skip function does not work particularly well, but it’s better than nothing.) Second, it has a unique function that allows you to simply press and hold the button, which will turn on the speaker, automatically connect it to your phone, and start playing a preset playlist. Pressing and holding it again switches to the next preset playlist, allowing for a wider range of control.
It’s the ability to control playback directly from the speaker that’s so crucial. When the original Boom launched in 2013, there were only four buttons on it: power, Bluetooth, and the brand’s iconic rubberized + / - buttons for controlling the volume. But if you wanted to actively manage what songs were playing, you had to use your phone.
This was a problem for two reasons: first, it was just plain annoying, requiring any would-be party DJs to track down the phone in question any time a dull song came on shuffle. But more importantly, it severely hindered the use of the Boom in its intended environment: beside bodies of water that could damage your phone.
One of the biggest selling points for the Boom is its ultra-rugged waterproof casing, which lets you bring the speaker by the pool, out in the snow, or on a beach. But by requiring a smartphone to control song selections, it added a more fragile element to the mix. What good is an indestructible beach speaker if you have to subject your phone to the sand and saltwater to switch songs? And remember, back in 2013, our phones weren’t nearly as waterproof as they are now, so keeping an iPhone by the pool was a much more dangerous situation.
At one point in college, I even wrapped my old Pebble watch around the speaker as a dedicated play / pause / skip track button to keep my phone safely inside a bag and away from the water.
Fortunately, Ultimate Ears realized that a dedicated music control button would be useful on 2017’s Wonderboom. As the company’s first floating speaker, it could be subjected to even more perilous locations for a phone than ever before. The button finally came to the Boom 3 and MegaBoom 3 (which can also float) in 2018 in an updated format that also added the aforementioned playlist feature for even more control.
Given the nature of the devices, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a truly untethered Bluetooth speaker. But by giving full control to the Boom 3 through the Magic Button, Ultimate Ears has done the next best thing, allowing its devices to live up to their full potential.
Now, if only it would make a speaker with a USB-C port, but that’s a whole other rant.