We don't hear of many major launches in the portable wireless speaker category these days. There also aren't a lot of big brands in the affordable part of this market anymore, with options from JBL, Boat, Anker Soundcore, and Sony dominating online listings and offline store shelves. That said, low-cost portable Bluetooth speakers still have plenty of appeal. Xiaomi has been present in this segment for a while now, but product launches have been few and far between for the past few years.
The company recently made a re-entry in the space with the Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W). Priced at Rs. 2,499, this speaker is priced affordably for what's on offer, at least on paper. As the name suggests, you get 16W of rated sound output, IPX7 water resistance, and more. Is the Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker 16W the best you can buy in the portable wireless speaker segment for less than Rs. 5,000? Find out in this review.
While many portable wireless speakers on a budget tend to go with sharp lines and bright colours to seem more attractive, I quite like the simple and on-point styling of the Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W). It's similar in design to the Mi Outdoor Bluetooth Speaker which was launched in 2020; the fabric-wrapped exterior, elastic cord, and rubber buttons all reminded me of the smaller speaker.
Although you can position the Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W) vertically, it's ideally placed horizontally on a table-top and has rubber grips at the bottom to sit securely. With this orientation, the speaker drivers fire forwards, and the buttons are at the top. The controls include power, volume, playback, Bluetooth pairing, and a dedicated button for stereo wireless pairing, which can be used if you have two of these speakers and want to use them together.
The buttons are easy to press, and don't leave any room for water to slip into the sensitive electrical components of the Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W). They cover most of the functions you'd need to operate the speaker directly without needing to pick up your paired source device too often.
An IPX7 water resistance rating for the Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W) means that all kinds of exposure to the elements and even being fully submerged in water for a short while shouldn't harm the device at all. There's a USB Type-C port for charging under a tight rubber flap on the right side, along with a 3.5mm socket for auxiliary connectivity. Of course, the primary mode of connectivity for the speaker is Bluetooth 5, with support for only the SBC Bluetooth codec.
The Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W) has a rated output of 16W, split between two identical 8W full-range drivers. There are two equaliser modes – deep bass and normal – which can be switched between by pressing the play/pause and ‘+' button together. You can also invoke the default voice assistant on your smartphone by double-pressing the power button when the speaker is on.
Battery life is decent for a speaker of this size and output; the Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W) has a 2,600mAh battery, which ran for around 9-10 hours per charge at moderate volumes. Charging is through the USB Type-C port, and it took around 3 hours to charge the speaker fully using a 10W wall adapter. It's worth noting that you only get a USB cable in the box, so you'll have to use your own adapter.
Design isn't the only similarity between the Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W) and its more affordable sibling, the Mi Outdoor Bluetooth Speaker; the larger device has the same punchy, driven sonic signature, but is of course a fair bit louder thanks to two drivers putting out 8W of sound each. This also makes for a bit more detail in the sound, and performance is decent even at lower volumes.
When listening to Waiting by Oliver Heldens at my work desk, I had the speaker at around the 30-40 percent volume level, and this made for decent sound at a short distance. Part of this is because the front-firing drivers ensure that the sound is targeted and precise. While the thump in the low-end of this dance track was audible even at low volumes, it didn't quite have as much drive; instead, the speaker tended to highlight the mid-range impressively, which made for a detailed and enjoyable sound in the vocals.
Turning the volume up to around 60 percent, Jaago by Lifafa sounded considerably different, with deeper lows, tight and punchy bass, and a much more energetic sound, especially in the latter part of the track where the beat and tune are everything. Apart from being incredibly loud and room-filling, the sound remained clean and precise, with the vocals in the first half of the track sounding very crisp. Sound quality at reasonable levels was significantly better than I've heard from most other options available for less than Rs. 5,000.
However, turning the volume up close to the maximum level once again changed the sound a fair bit. The lows started to sound boomy and muddy, the highs started to crack under the pressure, and the mid-range tended to tear up as well. Like any affordable speaker, the Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W) doesn't hold up too well under intense strain. I couldn't hear much difference between the normal and ‘deep bass' equaliser modes; the former sounded a bit cleaner, with the latter giving the lows a slight bump.
At the highest volumes, it does get loud enough to cover a large room or even more spacious outdoor settings. That said, the Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W) is best used at moderate volumes, at which it's loud enough for reasonable home listening. That's the core difference between a product like this and more expensive options such as the UE Boom 3 which sound good even at high volumes.
The decent mids produced by the Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W) meant that I had a decent experience using it for the occasional voice call, although a speaker generally won't give you as much precision in this department as a good pair of wireless earphones.
The Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W) is impressive considering its price, for one key reason: it's very loud. Sound quality is decent, and there's plenty of thump and drive to satisfy bass lovers as well. It also helps that the speaker is IPX7 rated for water resistance, and offers good battery life for a device of its size and capabilities. On the whole, there's very little to complain about with the Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W); it's quite easily the best you can buy for under Rs. 3,000.
Although this speaker didn't quite hold its own at the highest volumes, listening at even around the 60-70 percent volume level still makes for an enjoyable experience. At its price, the Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W) is excellent value for money, and is definitely worth checking out if you're looking for an affordable wireless speaker right now.
Is HomePod mini the best smart speaker under Rs. 10,000? We discussed this on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts.