Think smartphone speakers don’t matter? Think again

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Last month, I reviewed the Verizon HTC One M8. Like my colleague Michael Fisher, I gave it one of our highest review scores ever … and rightly so. The design is phenomenal, the software is surprisingly great, and the user experience is off the charts. The camera, of course, could stand to be better, but the One M8 is still one of the most impressive handsets I’ve ever used.

A few days after publishing my review, however, I started to miss the One M8 … for several reasons. Most importantly, the M8 ships with dual-front-facing BoomSound speakers. Like last year, these front-firing speakers put practically every other smartphone loudspeaker to shame, except the BoomSound speakers on the M8 are of notably better quality than the M7’s. They’re louder, more crisp, and simply have more depth.

Switching back the the Moto X, a phone with a notoriously bad speaker, was awful. The Nexus 5 was even worse. And even the iPhone 5 I always carry (but rarely use) didn’t make up for missing the M8.

As such, I bought my very own M8 and later asked why other manufacturers hadn’t tried to compete with HTC’s BoomSound speakers. I suggested that maybe it was the design aspect, or maybe other OEMs simply don’t understand the appeal of front-firing speakers. Either way, BoomSound speakers are still – and will always be – one of the standout features of HTC’s flagship smartphones. It’s one of the better features of the Xperia Z2, Lumia Icon, and the Find 7a, and the fact that more OEMs aren’t focusing on speaker quality baffles me.

I digress. I read through the comment section of that editorial several times, and I can’t help but cringe at all the commenters who sorely and actively miss the point and overlook the usefulness of BoomSound.

boomsound-wrong

Wrong.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Several commenters spoke of investing in a Bluetooth speaker. I have one. I have a very nice one I would recommend to anyone looking to buy a speaker – the Ultimate Ears Boom by Logitech. It’s incredible and packs a serious wallop for a speaker hardly bigger than an energy drink can.

Still, I use the speakers on my phone more often than not. It’s convenient. Carrying around a Bluetooth speaker everywhere I go isn’t, nor is it ideal (unless you have a purse or backpack at all times). It doesn’t fit in my pocket, and I don’t want to have to power it on every time I watch a video.

one-m8-headphonesOthers suggested using headphones and not being that “jerk” who listens to music aloud in public. I can’t agree with those commenters more. There is nothing more nerve-wracking than someone playing music aloud from their phone in public – be it on a bus, walking down the sidewalk, or in a coffee shop.

I love headphones. No, I really love headphones. I wouldn’t go as far to call myself an audiophile; I don’t listen to FLACs and I don’t stress over slightly subpar music quality when streaming or otherwise.

That said, I use headphones daily. I have several sets of earbuds and over-the-ears that I use regularly: Bose MIE2is for casual listening (not my top pick, but the only earbuds which stay in my ears), Audio-Technica ATH-M50s, Nokia Purity Pros, Jaybird BlueBuds X, and Ultimate Ears 600s. I love and use them all very often.

Despite my undying love for all of the headphones I have, I also use the loudspeaker on my phone every day. For one, I’m not always in public, and even when I am, sometimes I’m the only one around. Also, we can’t overlook the convenience factor again.

over-the-shoulder

When I’m at home on my couch and I want to watch a YouTube video or listen to a song, I don’t want to fumble around and untangle my headphones or connect my Purity Pros. I play media through the phone’s built-in speakers … every time. I play music from the loudspeakers of my phone when laying in bed almost every night, even though I have the UE BOOM; I don’t need excessive volume, but the audio quality is still nice. And when I have friends over or we’re at some sort of gathering, it never fails – someone says, “Pull that video up.” Someone will grab their phone, everyone will huddle around, and then, “SHHHH! I can’t hear.”

At my birthday dinner a few weeks ago, this happened. Then someone said, “Taylor, doesn’t your phone have really nice speakers? You play the video.” So I did. Everyone heard the video just fine, then we streamed music from the One M8’s speakers.

speakerphone

That’s not all, though. My phone in my alarm clock. Better, louder speakers are welcomed in this area. (Trust me, there’s nothing quite like waking up to a One M8 blaring an alarm at full volume.) And phone calls? I often switch to speakerphone when no one else is around or I’m cooking or cleaning at home to both free up my hands. The louder and clearer, the better.

If these were rare, niche use cases, I could understand all the comments crying over how pointless great loudspeakers on a smartphone are. But they aren’t.

These are things I do nearly every day, if not every day.

Do headphones and Bluetooth speakers provide even better audio? Yes. But to claim no one uses the loudspeakers on smartphones could not be more wrong. I do, you do, and everyone else does, too. If you disagree, you’re either lying to yourself, basing your conclusion off never having used a phone with a great audio experience, or you’re one of those weirdos who runs around (literally) everywhere with LG Tones around their neck.

Joking aside, take your headphones out (off) and try to be more social. My friends and I are always sharing videos with each other in person, and having great speakers could not be more helpful. It’s nice to not have to bang our heads together while we share earbuds.

I can’t stress the importance of great speakers on a smartphone enough. And if you haven’t heard smartphone speakers like the One M8’s, Xperia Z2’s, Find 7a’s or the like, you’re missing out.

Tell us, ladies and gents, do you actually use the speakers on your phone? Or are you the type who always stays plugged in with some headphones?

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About The Author
Taylor Martin
Based out of Charlotte, NC, Taylor Martin started writing about technology in 2009 while working in wireless retail. He has used BlackBerry off and on for over seven years, Android for nearly four years, iOS for three years, and has experimented with both webOS and Windows Phone. Taylor has reviewed countless smartphones and tablets, and doesn't go anywhere without a couple gadgets in his pockets or "nerd bag." In his free time, Taylor enjoys playing disc golf with friends, rock climbing, and playing video games. He also enjoys the occasional hockey game, and would do unspeakable things for some salmon nigiri. For more on Taylor Martin, checkout his Pocketnow Insider edition.| Google+