Put simply the SoundLink sounds good… for its size and it is this latter part which causes frustration.
Bose systems have a typically 'warm' sound and the SoundLink is no different. It is happiest at comfortable listening volumes where the speaker's bass and midrange detail combine well to create a rich and enjoyable listening experience. This is important and it is where the SoundLink will likely spend the majority of its time.
Where it becomes less comfortable is low and high volumes. When quiet the SoundLink suffers from a lack of detail, the bass becomes heavy and the sound is muddier. It won't trouble a mainstream consumer, but audiophiles will take issue. The problem inverts when you crank up the SoundLink. Maximum volume is surprisingly loud for its size, but the bass cannot keep up and rock, dance and hip hop fans will find the SoundLink sounds restricted and held back. We were surprised at the omission of AirPlay, but it would not have fixed this flaw.
What makes our analysis less straightforward is the aforementioned size. 244 x 130 x 48mm and 1.3Kg makes the SoundLink easy to carry into the garden, but less convenient to pack into a suitcase. If you want the SoundLink for home use you'd be far better off paying a little more for the Arcam rCube, especially at its new reduced price. Likewise for a traveller the tiny Aliph Jawbone Jambox (151 x 57 x 40mm, 327g} may not sound as good, but it will still do justice to a hotel room and at £159 it is significantly cheaper. The SoundLink fits in well with Bose's product portfolio, but we're not sure where it fits into our lives.
The SoundLink also faces a substantial challenger in the Bluetooth equipped Altec Lansing InMotion Air. It may look uglier, be bigger and come from a less fashionable brand, but the audio is almost as good, it is certainly as loud and it costs just £149. All of which is something of a shame, because the SoundLink is a good product. It is well made, for its size the sound quality is strong (especially at its mid volume sweet spot) and there is excellent battery life. We didn't manage to hit Bose's claimed eight hours, but you'll get six to seven at the volume the SoundLink is most suited.
Bose has created an attractive, high quality mobile speaker whose biggest failing is its market positioning. Big in the suitcase, but underpowered for the home it is hard to see where the SoundLink Portable fits in. Were it cheap this would cease to be a problem, but £249-£299 (depending on the choice of finish) places it too close to top notch home docks and too far from more convenient, ultraportable travel speakers. We like it Bose, we just can't work out where to use it.