Fugoo Speaker Review

03/01/2015 05:20 pm ET | Updated Apr 30, 2015

The Fugoo is marketed as a "go anywhere speaker" and it's probably true. This is a shockproof, waterproof speaker that would be safe indoors, outdoors, in the shower, on a surf board, dirt biking, in the mud (just wash it off!), snow, sand, getting dropped on concrete, even plopped underwater for up to a half hour at 1 m. It boasts an IP67 rating (which means 6 out 6 for dust resistance and 7 out of 8 for water resistance) and doesn't even need port covers for the USB and aux in jacks. Plus, if you're so inclined, you can run the thing over, at least in one of its incarnations. Yes, this speaker is safe anywhere - except perhaps on your desk plugged into a computer - more on that later.

But about those incarnations first. This speaker is actually a choice of three speakers: Fugoo+Style, Fugoo+Sport and Fugoo+Tough. Having a thing for tough guys, I reviewed the Fugoo+Tough. In all three, the speaker core is the same. All that differs is the jacket - and, in fact, the jackets are interchangeable and can be purchased separately and swapped out.
Why you'd want to do this is less clear: uninstalling and installing the jackets is a bit of a process. But perhaps you bought the Style model - a nice looking but only moderately rugged aluminum grill - for indoors use, then decided you'd like to be able to take the puppy outside and get a bit rough, so you upgrade to the somewhat beefier black/teal Sport model. Maybe you already have a Sport jacket but it's gotten beat up. Wear those bruises with pride, I say, but if you're fussier, you can replace it with a new Sport jacket.
Or perhaps you've graduated from wussy sports to xtreme ones and it's time to go from the Sport to the Tough. Now you're my kinda guy. That jacket is made out of machined aluminum pieces, some with thick rubber bumpers, that bolt together with hex nuts. It looks a bit like a Jeep with nerf bars (external bumpers). Properly installed on the core, it's the version you can drive over.
Note that qualifier - "properly installed." That's somewhat your responsibility, and it relates to the out of box experience.
Now, I don't fetishize unboxing the way some reviewers do - when I get a product I usually just open the package, admire the contents, huff the VOCs that signal "new electronics" and take it from there, pausing only to read the manual if there is one and I'm in the mood.
But the Fugoo is a "some dis/assembly required" product.
The jacket is already installed, but the whole unit is bolted into its packaging with two thumbscrews. You have to remove them and then, for the Sport and Tough, you need to replace them with two Phillips turn screws. This isn't hard, of course, but it is a requirement, warns a notice on the packaging. Finger tightening isn't quite enough, so you'll need a Phillips screwdriver - but don't overtighten or you'll strip the metal socket from the plastic housing. And don't try to install the Phillips screws using the included hex wrench - that won't get you anywhere: it doesn't fit the Phillips screws (not surprisingly), since it's intended for removing the hex nuts and disassembling the Tough jacket, should you decide to replace it with the Sport (wuss!) or if you need to replace a Tough jacket you've managed to thrash (with what, a firearm? An axe?).
Now that we've unboxed, it's time to ... play some tunes? No! Don't be so eager, it's a turnoff. Now it's time to update the firmware, which can bring you new capabilities.
Or grief. Since I'm not the xtreme sports type (now who's the wuss?), I can't tell you how this thing survives rough use, but I can offer a cautionary note on firmware updating: be very careful to plug the USB cable securely into your computer and the speaker. If you have the Tough model, you must use the USB cable supplied with the unit. That's because the Tough jacket's thick rubber bumpers constrict access to the micro USB jack and leave very little clearance. The Fugoo-supplied cable has a tapered plastic plug that fits within this clearance, whereas the more common boxy rectangular plug on most USB cables may not fit.
Or worse, it may seem to fit, but the plug may not actually be tightly plugged in. It could even come loose during firmware updating. That's what happened to me, and ...
... bricked! Yes, I bricked my Fugoo. The hard reset procedure wouldn't bring it back to life, and the firmware upgrader (a downloadable program you run on your PC or Mac, only) couldn't either. The company had to send me a new speaker. The company told me that if this happens to a customer during the one year warranty period, the swap would be under warranty and the company would provide a return label as well, so the customer wouldn't have to pay return shipping. They also said they were working on making the PC upgrader more robust (as the Mac software already is, said the company), so that re-running the upgrader would be more likely to fix a bricked unit. But, really, don't let this happen to you.
Working unit in hand, we power up and, hello, he's talking to me! Yes, the unit includes rather masculine voice prompts for powering up, pairing, connecting, powering down and battery check (for that last, you press the power button briefly and the speaker will say something like "Battery is almost full" or whatever the case may be). Pairing was easy, and reconnecting was automatic. Unlike some, the speaker does not include NFC - which would simplify pairing slightly - but it's scarcely missed. Pairing is a once-only step. The real win is automatic reconnection, which not all speakers offer, but this one does.
If you don't like the voice prompts, the speaker can be toggled into modes that lower their volume or suppress them altogether. This too is a one-time only task, unless you change your mind and choose to re-enable the prompts.
And now, finally, we can talk about the sound. Mostly, the Fugoo sounds great. With six separate drivers - two tweeters, two mids and two passive radiators for bass - the speaker offers great separation and a full sound stage (there are drivers on all four sides of the speaker for omni-directional sound). Mids and highs were crisp. Bass was bassy and relatively clean - at mid-volume.
So, yes, there is a caveat: I found I got decent volume without distortion, but the speaker wasn't as loud as its fierce looks suggest. Thanks to a firmware mod a few months ago, you can toggle the unit into Loud mode - yes, some assembly still required! - which is a one-time operation achieved by powering the speaker on while holding down the O button. (You can toggle back to Normal mode the same way.) But this was only a partial fix: heavy bass in some tunes suffered a rubbery distortion when cranked to the top in the Loud mode. Amazingly, I got slightly better volume - and no distortion - from a smaller unit I tested, the Harman/Kardon Esquire Mini. But it's not rugged (and has bass problems to boot).
The company said that volume limitations were more a problem with streamed sources than stored music and that it was working to improve the situation with a firmware update (not yet scheduled, however).
Another weird thing: when the battery was very low and the speaker was plugged in and recharging, I found that playing music from Spotify would suddenly stop and be replaced by a series of clicks, like a metronome. Very odd. When I switched back to the Koss BTS1 that I was also testing, I would get momentary silent patches as Spotify buffered, but no metronome. In fairness to the Fugoo, this didn't happen when I streamed using Milk (a Slacker derivative)
Also in the sound category, this time on the plus side: the Fugoo is the best speakerphone I've tested so far. The other party sounds great, and my testers said I sounded great to them too - and without any echo, a frequent problem when using Bluetooth speakers as speakerphones.
Another common problem with Bluetooth speakers is play time. Inevitably, the batteries die just when the party gets good For a rugged speaker, that would be an especial problem, since oceans and forests are populated with sharks and bobcats, not USB outlets.
Lucky for you, jocky reader, the Fugoo advertises an astonishing 40 hours of battery life when played at 50% loudness. When cranked to 100%, the company told me to expect 10-15 hours. I didn't test for battery life, but other reviewers have, and report usage at or about the claimed 40 hours. I played a lot but didn't get below 75% battery level.
Standby time is a different issue. I found that the battery drained itself in a few days when the speaker was off, a problem that they company said affected some units.
Another distinguishing factor for the Fugoo is mounting options. If you're doing something active, you may want to mount the speaker somewhere. The Tough jacket has aluminum rods that you can snap a carbineer to or run 1/4" rope through, but if that doesn't do the trick or if you have the Sport jacket, you can choose from any of the three snap-in / snap-out mounting plates, sold separately (and compatible only with the Sport and Tough, not the Style):
* a bike mount that accommodates 7/8" - 1-1/4" diameter handlebars,
* a rotatable strap mount that includes a 3' Velcro strap, good for trees, fence posts and the upright posts of volleyball nets, basketball hoops, goal posts and other stationary items (like teammates without hustle),
* and a rotatable multi-mount, which has several features, as its name suggests. A 1/4" threaded socket lets you attach the speaker to tripods, the Joby GorillaPod and perhaps to suction mounts (depending on weight limitations; the speaker is 1.1 lbs. (Sport) or 1.4 lbs. (Tough)). A loop allows easy attachment to a carabineer or threading a rope up to 1/2" diameter. And a clip can hold the speaker to a belt or strap (this probably wouldn't be very secure while in motion though).
At this writing, those accessories are $10 less expensive on Fugoo's own website (whereas the speakers are priced identically on Amazon as of this writing), where you can also find (coming in 2015 Q1) a waterproof wireless (Bluetooth LE) remote to control your speaker. You can wear it on a lanyard or strap it around your wrist. The lanyard option is ideal, because the back of the remote features - yes! - a bottle opener.
A preproduction remote worked flawlessly with stored music on an iPod Touch and a streaming source on a Galaxy S4. What other toy lets you keeps both music and beer flowing? You're a party animal, you are, and the Fugoo just might be your speaker.
Full disclosure: the manufacturer provided review product.
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