How to use a two-factor security key

Two-factor authentication is a good way to add an extra layer of security to online accounts. It requires the use of your smartphone, however, which is not only inconvenient, but can be a problem if your phone is lost or breached. Hardware security keys can offer an additional layer of security to password-protected online accounts and, in turn, your identity. They’re also not hard to install. Here’s how to set them up for your Google account, Facebook, and Twitter.

Security keys can connect to your system using USB-A, USB-C, Lightning, or NFC, and they’re small enough to be carried on a keychain (with the exception of Yubico’s 5C Nano key, which is so small that it’s safest when kept in your computer’s USB port). They use a variety of authentication standards: FIDO2, U2F, smart card, OTP, and OpenPGP 3.

When you insert a security key into your computer or connect one wirelessly, your browser issues a challenge to the key, which includes the domain name of the specific site you are trying to access. The key then cryptographically signs and allows the challenge, logging you in to the service.

Many sites support U2F security keys, including Twitter, Facebook, Google, Instagram, GitHub, Dropbox, Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Microsoft account services, Nintendo, Okta, and Reddit. The best thing to do is to check the website of your security key of choice and see which services are supported — for example, here’s a link to the apps supported by YubiKeys.

A setup process is necessary before you can use a security key. After that, securely accessing your online profile on a site is a simple matter of entering your password, inserting the key, and tapping the button.

Keep in mind that you can’t copy, migrate, or save security-key data between keys (even if the keys are the same model). That is by design, so keys can’t be easily duplicated and used elsewhere. If you lose your security key, you can use two-factor authentication on your cellphone or an authenticator app. Then, if you want to use a new key, you will have to go through the process of reauthorizing your accounts all over again.

Which security key should I use?

Several brand choices are available. Yubico, one of the developers of the FIDO U2F authentication standard, sells several different versions. Google sells its own U2F key, called the Titan, which comes in three versions: USB-C, USB-A / NFC, or Bluetooth / NFC / USB. Other U2F keys include Kensington’s USB-A fingerprint-supporting key, and the Thetis USB-A key.

For this how-to, we used the YubiKey 5C NFC security key, which fits into a USB-C port but also works with phones via NFC. The process is pretty similar for all hardware security keys, though.

Pairing a key with your Google account

In order to use a security key with your Google account (or any account), you need to have already set up two-factor authentication.

  • Log in to your Google account, and select your profile icon in the upper-right corner. Then choose “Manage your Google Account.”
  • In the left-hand menu, click on “Security.” Scroll down until you see “Signing in to Google.” Click on the “2-step Verification” link. At this point, you may need to sign in to your account again.

“Signing in to Google” > “2-step Verification.”” data-upload-width=”1422″ src=”” >

Go to “Security” > “Signing in to Google” > “2-step Verification.”

  • Scroll down until you see the “Add more second steps to verify it’s you” heading. Look for the “Security Key” option and click on “Add Security Key.”
  • A pop-up box will list your options, which include devices that have built-in security keys and the option to use an external security key. Select “USB or Bluetooth / External security key.”
  • You’ll see a box telling you to make sure the key is nearby but not plugged in. You’ll also see an option to use only the security key as part of Google’s Advanced Protection Program (which is for users with “high visibility and sensitive information”). Assuming you don’t fall into that category, click “Next.”
  • The next box lets you register your security key. Insert your key into your computer port. Press the button on the key, then click “Allow” once you see the Chrome pop-up asking to read the make and model of your key.
  • Give your key a name.
  • Now you’re set! You can come back to your Google account’s 2FA page to rename or remove your key.

Pairing a key with your Twitter account

  • Log in to your Twitter account and click on “More” in the left-hand column. Select “Settings and privacy” from the menu.
  • Under the “Settings” heading, select “Security and account access” > “Security” > “Two-factor authentication.”
  • You’ll see three choices: “Text message,” “Authentication app,” and “Security key.” Click on “Security key.” You’ll probably be asked for your password at this point.
  • Select “Start.”

Once your security key is registered, you receive a just-in-case backup code (deleted here).

  • Insert your security key into your computer’s port, then press the key’s button.
  • The window should refresh to say, “Security key found.” Type in a name for your key and click “Next.”
  • The window will now read “You’re all set.” It will also give you a single-use backup code to use if you don’t have access to any of your other log-in methods. Copy that code and put it somewhere safe.
  • If you’ve changed your mind and want to remove the security key, go back to the “Two-factor authentication” page and select “Manage security keys.”
  • Click on the name of the key, and then choose “Delete key.” You’ll need to enter your password and verify that you want to delete the key.

Pairing a key with your Facebook account

  • Log in to your Facebook account. Click on the triangle icon on the upper-right corner and select “Settings & Privacy” > “Settings.”
  • Now you’re at “General Account Settings.” Select the “Security and Login” link from the left sidebar.
  • Scroll down until you see the section labeled “Two-Factor Authentication.” Click “Edit” on the “Use two-factor authentication” option. You may be asked for your password.
  • If you don’t have 2FA set up, you’ll be given three choices: “Authentication App,” “Text Message (SMS),” and “Security Key.” It’s recommended that you use an authenticator app as your primary security, but if you prefer, you can just click on “Security Key.”

You can use a security key as your main authentication method.

  • If you do have 2FA set up, then you’ll find the “Security Key” option under “Add a Backup Method.”
  • Either way, you’ll get a pop-up box; click on “Register Security Key.” You’ll be instructed to insert your security key and press its button.
  • And that’s it. If you don’t use 2FA, you’ll now be asked for the security key if you log in from an unrecognized device or browser. If you do, you can use your key if you don’t have access to your authentication app.
  • If you no longer want to use the key, go back to “Two-Factor Authentication,” find “Security Key” under “Your Security Method,” and click on “Manage my keys.”

The best phones to buy if you’re a phone enthusiast

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There are plenty of buying guides for figuring out the best phone to buy at a given time, across a wide variety of prices. We have two of them, in fact. But if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool phone enthusiast, you don’t need a guide that’s going to give you the best rational recommendation. You need something that’s going to help you scratch your new gadget itch in the most satisfying way.

I’m here for you because, well, I’m one of you. This is the internet’s premiere buying guide for phone enthusiasts. We’re not going to focus on practical, rational choices, nor are we going to concern ourselves with budgets. These are the dream phones, the ones you buy not as a utilitarian tool, but for the fun of playing with a new piece of tech that you’ll probably sell or trade in for a loss in six months. I’m not even going to single out a specific model that you should buy, because you’re likely buying a new phone every year (or maybe more!) anyway. This is all about throwing caution to the wind, diving deep into a hobby, and buying something you don’t need but absolutely want. Budgets be damned.

Grab your cargo shorts, we’re going shopping.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

1. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G

The best folding phone because you know you need one in your collection

Folding phones are the future, right? You can’t call yourself a Real Phone Enthusiast without one in your life. Hands down, the best folding phone you can buy right now is Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G. It’s got everything you might want from a modern smartphone, but it also opens up into a tablet-sized screen that lets you put more than one app side-by-side or look at a giant version of Google Maps. It’s easy to justify because you can tell yourself that you will get SO MUCH WORK done on it, right after you finish watching that YouTube video. Promise.

The Fold 2 costs more than most laptops, you have to baby it, and there’s a really good chance the screen will crack or break on you even if you are careful, but that’s just the price you have to pay to be on the bleeding edge.

Apple iPhone 12 Mini
Photo by Chaim Gartenberg / The Verge

2. Apple iPhone 12 Mini

The best iPhone for when you’re double-fisting an Android phone

Look, I know that you know that everyone in the world has an iPhone and it’s the farthest thing from an “interesting” phone. But at the same time, it’s hard to ignore what Apple’s doing, and really, iMessage and the Apple Watch are pretty great. Lots of people carry an iPhone alongside an Android phone, and you could be one of them.

The best iPhone for doing this is the iPhone 12 Mini. It does everything its bigger siblings can do, but it can easily fit in a secondary pocket and isn’t a burden to carry around. The battery life is kinda lousy, but who cares, that’s why you have a second phone on you anyway, right?

The Asus ROG Phone 5 Ultimate comes with a clip-on fan and has 18GB of RAM.
Photo by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

3. Asus ROG Phone 5 Ultimate

The best phone for seeing what this “gaming phone” trend is all about

Gaming phones are so hot right now (unless they’ve got a great cooling system) — it seems like a new model is released every three months. You can’t call yourself a true phone enthusiast without being up on this trend, and the best one to dip your toes into it with is the Asus ROG Phone 5 Ultimate.

The ROG Phone 5 Ultimate has a ton of features that can make any mobile accomplisher swoon. A massive battery. A ridiculously high refresh screen. An OLED screen on the back you can customize to show whatever you want. A bunch of accessories to make gaming better. 18GB of RAM! How could you not buy this phone?

Asus ROG Phone 5

  • $1,000

Prices taken at time of publishing.

The Asus ROG Phone 5 is the quintessential example of a modern gaming phone. It has over-the-top specs, lots of gaming accessories, and a head-turning design.

  • $1,000

    at Asus

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

4. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

The best phone for pretending you’re going to use a stylus

Writing on a phone screen with a pen is so cool! It feels futuristic and is just so natural. At least, it is for the first week until you forget about it and it never leaves the little garage built into the side of the phone again.

If you’ve been telling yourself that little “I’m gonna be a stylus person” lie, you need a phone that supports one and it’s hard to see buying anything other than Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20. It’s got a low latency S Pen, a bunch of software features that can utilize the stylus, and all of the other bells and whistles of a modern smartphone, which means it works quite well long after you’ve forgotten about the stylus.

The Google Pixel 4A

5. Google Pixel 4A

The best phone for messing around with the Android 12 beta

Okay, I said I wasn’t going to recommend anything rational in this guide, but this is perhaps the recommendation that makes the most sense: if you want to mess around with the Android 12 beta but don’t want to install it on your main phone, you should just buy a Google Pixel 4A. It’s only $350 (that’s just $20 more than it costs to fix a broken screen on an iPhone 12 Pro Max) and can work with Google’s latest and greatest software even before it’s released to the public.

You know the Android betas are going to be messy — battery life is going to be bad, there will be lots of bugs, certain apps might not work correctly — so you don’t want to put it on a device you actually need to rely on. Once the beta period is over, the Pixel 4A is a great device for experimenting with the aftermarket ROM world. Get a Pixel 4A and flash those ROMs to your heart’s content.

The Microsoft Surface Duo
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

6. Microsoft Surface Duo

The best phone for making people go “Whoa, is that a phone?”

As a phone enthusiast, you already know this harsh truth: the Microsoft Surface Duo is not a good phone. It has an old processor. The camera is worse than any iPhone of the past five years. The battery life is decidedly Not Great. It gets hot doing simple tasks. There are SO MANY software bugs. It’s got a generation-old version of Android. It doesn’t even support wireless charging or NFC payments! Oh yeah, and there’s that questionable build quality to worry about.

But there’s something undeniably cool about the Surface Duo, like it’s a device from the future coming here to bless us in the early 21st century. It’s so thin, it has two screens, the hinge is incredibly neat. Open it up in public and you’re sure to get someone to ask “wow, is that a phone?” which we all know is the ultimate goal here. You can then show them all of its cool features, right after it’s done rebooting itself for the fifth time that day.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge

7. Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

The best phone for telling yourself that you don’t need an actual camera

For years now we’ve been told that phone cameras are so good that you don’t need an actual camera. The iPhone 12 Pro Max might be the best example of that yet. It’s got a bigger sensor! It’s got three focal lengths! It can shoot video in Dolby Vision HDR!

At the end of the day, it’s still a phone camera and can’t really hold a candle to the image quality or creative control you get with a larger mirrorless camera. But hey, it’s fun to live in that lie and you can totally see the difference between the 12 Pro Max images and other phones. When you blow them up on a big screen. And zoom in.

Oppo Find X3 Pro
Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge

8. Oppo Find X3 Pro

The best phone for saying “you can’t get this in the US”

Perhaps the ultimate phone flex is pulling a phone out of your pocket that nobody else is going to have. If you’re in the US, the Oppo Find X3 Pro is that phone. It’s got features you can’t get on any American phone and a design you won’t see everywhere, like a microscope camera and softly rounded camera bump. Sure, it won’t really work great on the cellular networks here, importing it is an expensive hassle, and you won’t have any warranty whatsoever. But just think of the envy on your friends’ faces when you tell them they can’t have this phone.

Oppo Find X3 Pro

  • $1,178

Prices taken at time of publishing.

Oppo’s Find X3 Pro is the company’s latest flagship and it’s not sold in the US. It has a unique camera system and head-turning design that you won’t see on American phones.

  • $1,178

    at Amazon

OnePlus 9 Pro
Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge

9. OnePlus 9 Pro

The best phone for when you realize that Pixel phones aren’t great, but you don’t want a Samsung either

Google’s Pixel phones have such great software and then… mediocre everything else. Samsung phones have incredible hardware but are laden with heavy software and actual ads inside of the stock apps. The OnePlus 9 Pro splits that difference — it has software that’s similar to Google’s on hardware that’s virtually a Samsung with a different logo on it.

The 9 Pro is just what the phone enthusiast ordered: a high-end, bells-and-whistles device with All Of The Specs but none of the cruft.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

10. Samsung Z Flip 5G

The best weekend phone for when you’re “disconnecting”

Here comes the weekend, with all of its promises of relaxation and enjoyment. You don’t need a phone that’s going to make you more productive, you need something that’s going to slip into your pocket and won’t distract you with a colorful display unless you absolutely need it to.

The Z Flip 5G is this phone. You can flip it closed to ignore it and then pop it open and have a full smartphone inside, complete with every feature you get on non-flippy phones. You’re making a compromise without really making a compromise, because we all know that you had no intention of actually disconnecting for the weekend.


Moto G30 arrives for pre-order in the United States

The Moto G30 arrived in Europe in February and later it expanded its availability to India. Now, the phone has gone on pre-order in the United States on Amazon, revealing its price – $299.99.

The phone was initially launched with 128GB storage, but the US version is getting downgraded to 64GB, as well as just 4GB RAM. At this point the only available in Black with the flashier Pastel Sky color missing.

Other specs of the phone include a Snapdragon 662 chipset, a 5,000 mAh battery and four cameras on the back, with the main one having a 64MP sensor. This device is not 5G-enabled, maxing out at LTE networks but it does support NFC and Bluetooth 5.0.

The Moto G30 will start shipping on July 30 according to the listing. This is more than two months from today, but at least the phone is not tied with any telecoms and is sold unlocked for all carriers.



Google I/O 2021: the biggest announcements

Google just finished its live Google I/O 2021 keynote, where the company unveiled a huge number of announcements, including a new look coming to Android, a bunch of features coming to its Google Workspace productivity suite, and even a new AI that talked as if it were Pluto.

Nilay Patel and Dieter Bohn followed the whole thing in real time right here on our live blog. But if you just want to get caught up on the biggest news from the show, read on for our recap.

Android 12 has a radical and bubbly new look

Image: Google

Google revealed that Android 12 will have a brand-new “Material You” design with a whole lot of new changes. It offers a lot of color and customization, and the new mobile OS will even be able to change system colors to be able to better match your wallpaper. It also offers some new privacy features, including a new privacy dashboard. A beta will be available today, and it works with phones from 11 device makers.

Google is making Workspace more interconnected

Google announced “smart canvas,” a new initiative for its Workspace office software that will make it easier to work between products. Features include “smart chips” that let you link to other Workspace apps and the ability to start a Meet video call right from Google Doc, Sheet, or Slide.

Google showed off its new LaMDA AI language model and demoed conversations with Pluto and a paper airplane

Image: Google

Google CEO Sundar Pichai showed off some impressive (but pre-recorded) demos of someone having a conversation with an AI powered by its new LaMDA conversation technology. In the demos, the AI “talked” as Pluto and a paper airplane.

Google and Samsung are merging Wear OS and Tizen

Google announced Wear OS (now called just Wear) and Samsung’s Tizen will be combined into a unified platform. That should lead to apps launching faster and longer battery life.

Project Starline creates a 3D model of a person sitting across from you

Image: Google

Google demonstrated Project Starline, which uses high-resolution cameras and depth sensors to create a real-time 3D model of a person who is “sitting” across you to re-create the feeling of having a face-to-face meeting.

Google is building a camera that’s more inclusive of skin tone

Image: Google

Google is working on updates to its camera and imaging products to make them better at capturing and reproducing skin tones accurately in images.

Google Photos will be able to make animated photos from still shots

GIF: Google

Google Photos is getting impressive new “cinematic moments” that use two photos to create a moving image. You can see what they look like in the GIF above. Google is also adding new types of Memories, including ones based on visual patterns in your photos.

Google Photos will let you store photos in a locked folder

Image: Google

Google is adding a feature in Google Photos to let you store photos in a password-protected space on your phone. These photos won’t appear when you’re scrolling in the app. It’s launching first on Google Pixel and coming to more Android devices “throughout the year.”

Google will let you change a site’s password right from inside its password manager

GIF: Google

Google announced that it’s adding a way to change a stored password for a website right from inside Google’s password manager. It’s rolling out gradually to Chrome on Android in the US and will be widely available in the coming months.

Google Maps’ AR Live View tool will show more information

Google is making some changes to Google Maps, including rolling out new features for its Live View augmented reality tool. Google is also adding features to make maps more informative, such as showing different restaurants at different times of day, pointing out local landmarks if you’re visiting a new city, and showing how busy a certain area is.

Google is adding a privacy-friendly sandbox for machine learning data in Android

Google is adding a number of privacy-focused features to Android, including a sandbox in Android, the Private Compute Core, that will securely store data used for machine learning.

There are now 3 billion active Android devices globally

Google announced that there are now more than 3 billion active Android devices. That’s a lot!

Android will support digital car keys so you can unlock your car with your phone

Image: Google

Google will let “select Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones” work as digital car keys starting with Android 12. The feature supports UWB and NFC, though BMW is the only automaker confirmed to support Android’s digital car key so far.

Google debuts new health tool to identify skin conditions using your camera

Image: Google

Google revealed a new health tool that lets you take a photo of a problem skin area and answer questions about their skin type and symptoms to help you better identify skin conditions. Google aims to launch a pilot of the tool this year.


Android 12 will turn your Pixel phone into a car key — assuming automakers bother

Nearly a year after Apple announced the iPhone would become your digital car key, Google is doing the same. Android 12 will officially let “select Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones” natively double as a car key later this year, the company just announced at its Google I/O 2021 developer conference today.

It’s not like Google is exactly late to the party, though, because automakers are taking their sweet time rolling out the technology, too. In fact, Google’s announcement only names a single brand — BMW — which already announced it would work with Samsung earlier this year. And last we checked, BMW has only committed a single car to support the seemingly “best” version of the digital car key technology.

The end goal here is to replace your bulky key fob — which already lets you enter a car without removing it from your pocket — with your phone instead, using new ultra-wideband (UWB) radios to securely tell your car you’re actually standing right in front of it. Apple’s quietly slipped those radios into (almost) all of its new iPhones and its latest Apple Watch Series 6, and presumably today’s announcement means the next Google Pixel will have them as well. (They could also let you locate your car in a crowded parking lot, something Samsung plans to take advantage of.)

But… whether for backwards compatibility’s sake or because they’re pinching pennies, both Google’s and Apple’s technology also supports near-field communication (NFC), which requires you to physically pull your phone out of your pocket and tap it to a car like the 2021 BMW 5 Series. In some ways, that’s actually a step backward from the humble radio key fob.

Now, BMW likely isn’t the only automaker interested in the potential of UWB: Hyundai, at least, is a member of the FiRa Consortium that’s pushing for UWB specifically, and both Hyundai and Kia are members of the UWB Alliance as well.

(Apple, Google, Samsung, LG, BMW, GM, Honda, Hyundai, and Volkswagen are all on the board of the Car Connectivity Consortium as well, though that group’s promoting both NFC and UWB in its digital car key standard.)

No matter what automakers pick, it seems likely that participation in standards bodies and global Android support will let you use (and share) your digital car key across smartphone brands. Samsung announced as much earlier this year at its Galaxy S21 event. Google says it’ll share more on standards when it launches later this year.

In other Android / automotive news, Google says that cars from BMW and Ford will soon support Bluetooth Fast Pair to pair your Android phone with a single tap. Android Auto itself — the smartphone-based infotainment system that’s been around for six years and directly competes with Apple’s CarPlay — has now made it into 100 million cars, the company says.

Google also promises that going forward, the “vast majority of new vehicles” from GM, Ford, Honda, and other automakers will support Android Auto wirelessly, no need to pull your phone out of your pocket and plug it in. That’s a feature that’s been rolling out rather slowly since its introduction in 2016, partially because it wasn’t native to Android phones until last August, partially because automakers had been holding out on Google-powered infotainment systems, and perhaps because Android Auto has been methodically rolling out across the world instead of launching everywhere simultaneously.



Android 12 preview: first look at Google’s radical new design

There are new features, but it’s the biggest design update in years

Google is announcing the latest beta for Android 12 today at Google I/O. It has an entirely new design based on a system called “Material You,” featuring big, bubbly buttons, shifting colors, and smoother animations. It is “the biggest design change in Android’s history,” according to Sameer Samat, VP of product management, Android and Google Play.

That might be a bit of hyperbole, especially considering how many design iterations Android has seen over the past decade, but it’s justified. Android 12 exudes confidence in its design, unafraid to make everything much larger and a little more playful. Every big design change can be polarizing, and I expect Android users who prefer information density in their UI may find it a little off-putting. But in just a few days, it has already grown on me.

There are a few other functional features being tossed in beyond what’s already been announced for the developer betas, but they’re fairly minor. The new design is what matters. It looks new, but Android by and large works the same — though, of course, Google can’t help itself and again shuffled around a few system-level features.

I’ve spent a couple of hours demoing all of the new features and the subsequent few days previewing some of the new designs in the beta that’s being released today. Here’s what to expect in Android 12 when it is officially released later this year.

Android 12’s new design includes a lot of color and customization
Image: Google

Material You design and better widgets

Android 12 is one implementation of a new design system Google is debuting called Material You. Cue the jokes about UX versus UI versus… You, I suppose. Unlike the first version of Material Design, this new system is meant to mainly be a set of principles for creating interfaces — one that goes well beyond the original paper metaphor. Google says it will be applied across all of its products, from the web to apps to hardware to Android. Though as before, it’s likely going to take a long time for that to happen.

In any case, the point is that the new elements in Android 12 are Google’s specific implementations of those principles on Pixel phones. Which is to say: other phones might implement those principles differently or maybe even not at all. I can tell you what Google’s version of Android 12 is going to look and act like, but only Samsung can tell you what Samsung’s version will do (and, of course, when it will arrive).

The feature Google will be crowing the most about is that when you change your wallpaper, you’ll have the option to automatically change your system colors as well. Android 12 will pull out both dominant and complementary colors from your wallpaper automatically and apply those colors to buttons and sliders and the like. It’s neat, but I’m not personally a fan of changing button colors that much.

You can customize the system colors to match your wallpaper in Android 12.
GIF: Google

The lock screen is also set for some changes: the clock is huge and centered if you have no notifications and slightly smaller but still more prominent if you do. It also picks up an accent color based on the theming system. I especially love the giant clock on the always-on display.

Android’s widget system has developed a well-deserved bad reputation. Many apps don’t bother with them, and many more haven’t updated their widget’s look since they first made one in days of yore. The result is a huge swath of ugly, broken, and inconsistent widgets for the home screen.

New widget designs in Android 12.
GIF: Google

Google is hoping to fix all of that with its new widget system. As with everything else in Android 12, the widgets Google has designed for its own apps are big and bubbly, with a playful design that’s not in keeping with how most people might think of Android. One clever feature is that when you move a widget around on your wallpaper, it subtly changes its background color to be closer to the part of the image it’s set upon.

I don’t have especially high hopes that Android developers will rush to adopt this new widget system, so I hope Google has a plan to encourage the most-used apps to get on it. Apple came very late to the home screen widget game on the iPhone, but it’s already surpassed most of the crufty widget abandonware you’ll find from most Android apps.

Bigger buttons and more animation

As you’ve no doubt gathered already from the photos, the most noticeable change in Android 12 is that all of the design elements are big, bubbly, and much more liberal in their use of animation. It certainly makes the entire system more legible and perhaps more accessible, but it also means you’re just going to get fewer buttons and menu items visible on a single screen.

That tradeoff is worth it, I think. Simple things like brightness and volume sliders are just easier to adjust now, for example. As for the animations, so far, I like them. But they definitely involve more visual flourish than before. When you unlock or plug in your phone, waves of shadow and light play across the screen. Apps expand out clearly from their icon’s position, and drawers and other elements slide in and out with fade effects.

More animations mean more resources and potentially more jitter, but Samat says the Android team has optimized how Android displays core elements. The windows and package manager use 22 percent less CPU time, the system server uses 15 percent less of the big (read: more powerful and battery-intensive) core on the processor, and interrupts have been reduced, too.

Android has another reputation: solving for jitter and jank by just throwing ever-more-powerful hardware at the problem: faster chips, higher refresh rate screens, and the like. Hopefully none of that will be necessary to keep these animations smooth on lower-end devices. On my Pixel 5, they’ve been quite good.

One last bit: there’s a new “overscroll” animation — the thing the screen does when you scroll to the end of a page. Now, everything on the screen will sort of stretch a bit when you can’t scroll any further. Maybe an Apple patent expired.

Shuffling system spaces around

It wouldn’t be a new version of Android without Google mucking about with notifications, Google Assistant, or what happens when you press the power button. With Android 12, we’ve hit the trifecta. Luckily, the changes Google has made mostly represent walking back some of the changes it made in Android 11.

The combined Quick Settings / notifications shade remains mostly the same — though the huge buttons mean you’re going to see fewer of them in either collapsed or expanded views. The main difference in notifications is mostly aesthetic. Like everything else, they’re big and bubbly. There’s a big, easy-to-hit down arrow for expanding them, and groups of notifications are put together into one bigger bubble. There’s even a nice little visual flourish when you begin to swipe a notification away: it forms its own roundrect, indicating that it has become a discrete object.

The quick settings and notification shade have gotten a facelift in Android 12.
GIF: Google

The thing that will please a lot of Android users is that after just a year, Google has bailed on its idea of creating a whole new power button menu with Google Wallet and smart home controls. Instead, both of those things are just buttons inside the quick settings shade, similar to Samsung’s solution.

Holding down the power button now just brings up Google Assistant. Samat says it was a necessary change because Google Assistant is going to begin to offer more contextually aware features based on whatever screen you’re looking at. I say the diagonal swipe-in from the corner to launch Assistant was terrible, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it seriously reduced how much people used it.

I also have to point out that it’s a case of Google adopting gestures already popular on other phones: the iPhone’s button power brings up Siri, and a Galaxy’s button brings up Bixby.

New privacy features in Android 12.
Image: Google

New privacy features for camera, mic, and location

Google is doing a few things with privacy in Android 12, mostly focused on three key sensors it sees as trigger points for people: location, camera, and microphone.

The camera and mic will now flip on a little green dot in the upper-right of the screen, indicating that they’re on. There are also now two optional toggles in Quick Settings for turning them off entirely at a system level.

When an app tries to use one of them, Android will pop up a box asking if you want to turn it back on. If you choose not to, the app thinks it has access to the camera or mic, but all Android gives it is a black nothingness and silence. It’s a mood.

For location, Google is adding another option for what kind of access you can grant an app. Alongside the options to limit access to one time or just when the app is open, there are settings for granting either “approximate” or “precise” locations. Approximate will let the app know your location with less precision, so it theoretically can’t guess your exact address. Google suggests it could be useful for things like weather apps. (Note that any permissions you’ve already granted will be grandfathered in, so you’ll need to dig into settings to switch them to approximate.)

Google is also creating a new “Privacy Dashboard” specifically focused on location, mic, and camera. It presents a pie chart of how many times each has been accessed in the last 24 hours along with a timeline of each time it was used. You can tap in and get to the settings for any app from there.

The Android Private Compute Core

Another new privacy feature is the unfortunately named “Android Private Compute Core.” Unfortunately, because when most people think of a “core,” they assume there’s an actual physical chip involved. Instead, think of the APCC as a sandboxed part of Android 12 for doing AI stuff.

Essentially, a bunch of Android machine learning functions are going to be run inside the APCC. It is walled-off from the rest of the OS, and the functions inside it are specifically not allowed any kind of network access. It literally cannot send or receive data from the cloud, Google says. The only way to communicate with the functions inside it is via specific APIs, which Google emphasizes are “open source” as some kind of talisman of security.

Talisman or no, it’s a good idea. The operations that run inside the APCC include Android’s feature for ambiently identifying playing music. That needs to have the microphone listening on a very regular basis, so it’s the sort of thing you’d want to keep local. The APCC also hands the “smart chips” for auto-reply buttons based on your own language usage.

An easier way to think of it is if there’s an AI function you might think is creepy, Google is running it inside the APCC so its powers are limited. And it’s also a sure sign that Google intends to introduce more AI features into Android in the future.

No news on app tracking — yet

Location, camera, mic, and machine learning are all privacy vectors to lock down, but they’re not the kind of privacy that’s on everybody’s mind right now. The more urgent concern in the last few months is app tracking for ad purposes. Apple has just locked all of that down with its App Tracking Transparency feature. Google itself is still planning on blocking third-party cookies in Chrome and replacing them with anonymizing technology.

What about Android? There have been rumors that Google is considering some kind of system similar to Apple’s, but there won’t be any announcements about it at Google I/O. However, Samat confirmed to me that his team is working on something:

There’s obviously a lot changing in the ecosystem. One thing about Google is it is a platform company. It’s also a company that is deep in the advertising space. So we’re thinking very deeply about how we should evolve the advertising system. You see what we’re doing on Chrome.

From our standpoint on Android, we don’t have anything to announce at the moment, but we are taking a position that privacy and advertising don’t need to be directly opposed to each other. That, we don’t believe, is healthy for the overall ecosystem as a company. So we’re thinking about that working with our developer partners and we’ll be sharing more later this year.

The Android TV remote in Android 12.
Image: Google

A few other features

Google has already announced a bunch of features in earlier developer betas, most of which are under-the-hood kind of features. There are “improved accessibility features for people with impaired vision, scrolling screenshots, conversation widgets that bring your favorite people to the home screen” and the already-announced improved support for third-party app stores. On top of those, there are a few neat little additions to mention today.

First, Android 12 will (finally) have a built-in remote that will work with Android TV systems like the Chromecast with Google TV or Sony TVs. Google is also promising to work with partners to get car unlocking working via NFC and (if a phone supports it) UWB. It will be available on “select Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones” later this year, and BMW is on board to support it in future vehicles.

Android 12 will add some new integrations between Android phones and Chromebooks.
GIF: Google

For people with Chromebooks, Google is continuing the trend of making them work better with Android phones. Later this year, Chrome OS devices will be able to immediately access new photos in an Android phone’s photo library over Wi-Fi Direct instead of waiting for them to sync up to the Google Photos cloud. Google still doesn’t have anything as good as AirDrop for quickly sending files across multiple kinds of devices, but it’s a good step.

Android already has fast pairing for quickly setting up Bluetooth devices, but it’s not built into the Bluetooth spec. Instead, Google has to work with individual manufacturers to enable it. A new one is coming on board today: Beats, which is owned by Apple. (Huh!) Ford and BMW cars will also support one-tap pairing.

Android Updates

As always, no story about a new version of Android would be complete without pointing out that the only phones guaranteed to get it in a timely manner are Google’s own Pixel phones. However, Google has made some strides in the past few years. Samat says that there has been a year-over-year improvement in the “speed of updates” to the tune of 30 percent.

A few years ago, Google changed the architecture of Android with something called Project Treble. It made the system a little more modular, which, in turn, made it easier for Android manufacturers to apply their custom versions of Android without mucking about in the core of it. That should mean faster updates.

Some companies have improved slightly, including the most important one, Samsung. However, it’s still slow going, especially for older devices. As JR Raphael has pointed out, most companies are not getting updates out in what should be a perfectly reasonable timeframe.

Beyond Treble, there may be some behind-the-scenes pressure happening. More and more companies are committing to providing updates for longer. Google also is working directly with Qualcomm to speed up updates. Since Qualcomm is, for all intents and purposes, the monopoly chip provider for Android phones in the US, that should make a big difference, too.

That’s all heartening, but it’s important to set expectations appropriately. Android will never match iOS in terms of providing timely near-universal updates as soon as a new version of the OS is available. There will always be a gap between the Android release and its availability for non-Pixel phones. That’s just the way the Android ecosystem works.

Android 12.
Photo composite by Amelia Holowaty Krales and Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

That’s Android 12. It may not be the biggest feature drop in years, but it is easily the biggest visual overhaul in some time. And Android needed it. Over time and over multiple iterations, lots of corners of the OS were getting a little crufty as new ideas piled on top of each other. Android 12 doesn’t completely wipe the slate clean and start over, but it’s a significant and ambitious attempt to make the whole system feel more coherent and consistent.

The beta that’s available this week won’t get there — the version I’m using lacks the theming features, widgets, and plenty more. Those features should get layered in as we approach the official release later this year. Assuming that Google can get this fresh paint into all of the corners, it will make Google’s version of Android a much more enjoyable thing to use.


Best Bluetooth speakers 2021: portable speakers for every budget

Best Bluetooth speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?’s round-up of the best Bluetooth speakers you can buy in 2021.

Finding the best Bluetooth speaker for your particular needs isn’t the cake walk it might at first seem. It’s nothing to do with shortage of options – every online manufacturer from Apple to Ultimate Ears is vying for a bite of the Bluetooth cherry and by association, your hard-earned cash. The challenge is knowing which model is most worthy of your precious coin. Fret not, for that is where we come in. We’ve done the heavy lifting and rounded-up our pick of the best Bluetooth speakers across all shapes, sizes and prices to ensure you discover a product you’ll be over the moon with.

It may sound obvious, but the key thing when looking for a Bluetooth speaker is to avoid opting for the first model that takes your fancy. Yes, it might be a looker, but is it the best model for you? If you want your love for it to still be strong, after the boys of summer have gone, why not read our independent review of the product – and maybe reviews of competing products in the price category – first? You might discover a few features you didn’t know you could get for the money. 

(Image credit: JBL)

1. JBL Flip 5

No frills and fantastic sound quality – this is the Best Bluetooth speaker for value.


Dimensions: HxWxD (cm): 7.4 x 18.1 x 6.9 | Power: 20W | Features: Bluetooth v4.2, PartyBoost for multiple connections to PartBoost enabled JBL speakers, IPX7 rated | Connections: USB-C charger

Reasons to Buy

Solid bass and timing

Great sense of acoustics

PartyBoost stereo pairing

Reasons to Avoid

No aux-in or microphone

Not Connect+ compatible

Basic app

A What Hi-Fi? 2020 Awards-winner. If all you want is a portable Bluetooth speaker that sounds as good as you can currently buy for around £100 ($100, AU$119), you’ll be hard-pressed to better the fantastic Flip 5. JBL’s newest offering sounds great for the price and is rugged enough to cope with a day at the pool.

The Flip 5 is waterproof to an IPX7 rating, boasts a 12 hour battery life and has a USB-C charging port, meaning it goes from flat to fully juiced in just 2.5 hours. It’s a pleasure to use and scores highly for portability, with a wrist strap that slips comfortably over our hand. There’s also a PartyBoost button that helps you pair two PartyBoost-enabled speakers to create a stereo pair, or link over 100 PartyBoost-compatible speakers in mono. 

Sound is impressively weighty and agile, with a good punch of bass and a real sense of openness and texture. Assuming you don’t mind the lack of an aux-in port or inbuilt microphone (as seen in the Flip 4), you’ll almost certainly be wowed by this speaker’s sonic chops. A superb performer.

Read the full review: JBL Flip 5

(Image credit: Tribit)

2. Tribit Stormbox Micro

A fun and bubbly Bluetooth speaker that’s serious when it comes to sound


Dimensions: HxWxD (cm): 9.8 x 9.8 x 3.5cm | Power: 9W | Features: water/dustproof, Bluetooth 5.0, stereo-pairing mode | Connections: 3.5 mm stereo

Reasons to Buy

Mature, musical sound

Surprisingly weighty bass

USB-C charger

It’s hard to imagine a home decor, backpack or personal taste that the Tribit Audio Stormbox Micro couldn’t merge in with happily. It’s the size of a stack of drinks coasters, it’s IP67 rated, there’s a useful rubberised strap across the back of it and you can pair two of them in stereo mode. 

You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the bass clout the Tribit is able to deliver. Although a speaker of such dimensions is obviously limited in terms of bass weight, it does remarkably well; close your eyes while listening and you’ll picture a bigger product. 

If your budget maxes out at £50 ($60), the Tribit is a splendid option. Similarly, if you only have a small zip compartment in the top of your backpack for a sonic travel companion, this speaker is worthy of that space. Take note, Ultimate Ears: a little-known brand called Tribit Audio just produced a budget belter of a Bluetooth speaker.

Read the full review: Tribit Audio Stormbox Micro

(Image credit: JBL)

3. JBL Charge 5

Updated specs and subtle tweaks for JBL’s fifth-generation Charge


Dimensions: HxWxD (cm): 22 x 9.6 x 9.4cm | Power: 30W + 10W tweeter | Features: waterproof, Bluetooth v5.1, power bank, voice assistant integration | Connections: USB-C, USB-A

Reasons to Buy

Clearer and more detailed sound

Wider soundstage

Updated dustproofing

The JBL Charge 5 is even more durable and better sounding than the four Charges before it. Its predecessor carried an IPX7 rating, meaning it could handle being submerged in water to a depth of 1.5m, but the IP67-rated Charge 5 builds on that durability by also being fully dustproof. Want a speaker roughly the dimensions of a bottle of wine that’ll charge your phone and sound great? You’ve found it. 

Thanks in part to a new 10W tweeter and racetrack-shaped driver, the Charge 5 is currently as good a sound as you can get in a portable Bluetooth speaker design for under £200 ($200, AU$300). It boasts marginal improvements, both sonically and aesthetically, over its predecessor, the five-star Charge 4 (below). 

One day JBL may produce a Charge that can be outdone by a new and plucky rival, but rest assured, that has not happened with the rather splendid Charge 5.

Read the full review: JBL Charge 5

(Image credit: Bang & Olufsen)

4. Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd Gen)

The weightiest and most refined little speaker we’ve heard in a while


Dimensions: HxWxD (cm): 4.6 x 13.3 x 13.3cm | Power: 2x30W | Features: Alexa inbuilt, water/dustproof IP67, Bluetooth 5.1, stereo-pairing mode | Connections: USB-C

Reasons to Buy

Expansive sound, weighty bass

Competent Alexa integration

Stunning build and finish

Bang & Olufsen isn’t noted for following the herd. In the Danish electronics specialist’s catalogue you’ll find a wheel-shaped wireless speaker, a TV that opens up like a butterfly, and an 8200-watt monolithic speaker comprising 18 drivers. Its output could reasonably be described as “premium” and “innovative” – and the B&O Beosound A1 (2nd Gen) wireless speaker is no exception.

It boasts similar dimensions to a large floury bap, but that’s where any comparisons with baked goods end. The new A1 supports Qualcomm’s latest aptX Adaptive Bluetooth 5.1 codec, and of course, Alexa is built-in. 

It works a treat, too, delivering a pleasingly comfortable yet authoritative performance that you’d be happy listening to all day. Throw in its classy, well made design, easy to use operation and the bonus of Alexa, and you’re looking at a Bluetooth speaker sequel that has very much been worth the wait. 

Read the full review: Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd Gen) 

(Image credit: JBL)

5. JBL Go 3

JBL’s newest soap-sized speaker sounds good – but the finish and battery life won’t wash with today’s class leaders


Dimensions: HxWxD (cm): 8.8 x 7.5 x 4.1 | Power: 4W | Features: Water/dustproof IP67, Bluetooth 5.1 | Connections: USB-C

Reasons to Buy

Sensible treble

Fuller bass

More volume

Reasons to Avoid

Poor battery life

Not very durable finish

The diminutive, soap on a rope-styled Go 3 features Bluetooth 5.1 instead of 4.1 plus a maximum power output of 4.2W, up from 3W in the Go 2 (listed below). The one specification that hasn’t changed is the Go 3’s stamina. It takes 2.5 hours to charge fully, and you can still only get five hours of playtime from it from a single charge. 

If you can live with this, there’s much to celebrate in the sound department at the level. The extra power and overhauled design have resulted in some solid sonic enhancements, and aesthetically it’s perhaps even cuter than the original. We gave this iteration five stars for sound. Will five hours get you through a day at the beach or a lazy picnic in the park though? Probably best to take a wireless charger. 

Read the full review: JBL Go 3

(Image credit: JBL)

6. JBL Charge 4

A fun and bubbly Bluetooth speaker that’s serious when it comes to sound.


Dimensions: HxWxD (cm): 22 x 9.5 x 9.3 | Power: 30W | Features: waterproof, Bluetooth v4.2, power bank, voice assistant integration | Connections: 3.5 mm stereo

Reasons to Buy

Rugged and water resistant

USB port for charging

Great sound quality

Reasons to Avoid

Perhaps too subtle for some

The fact that we really like the JBL Charge 4 should come as no surprise to those who read our Charge 3 review. Not only is this one of sweetest-sounding Bluetooth speakers around at this end of the market, it serves up a whopping 20 hours of playback from a single charge. Impressive.

JBL has fine-tuned the sound in this latest iteration to please even pickier ears. Obviously there’s a limit to the bass floor in a speaker of this size, but the low-end is tasteful – and there’s plenty of punch.  

You get a nice array of features for the money, too. The IPX7 water resistance means the Charge 4 can handle being submerged in water to a depth of 1.5m. And unlike the Flip 5 (above), you can also use the Charge 4 to juice up your phone – or any other device that will charge over USB from a 5V supply. 

The Flip 5 (above) is cheaper and lighter, but the Charge 4’s rugged design, excellent battery life and ‘battery sharing’ make it a near-perfect speaker for camping, beach trips and home use.

Read the full review: JBL Charge 4

(Image credit: Linn)

7. Linn Series 3

One of the best wireless speakers we’ve heard with a premium price tag.


Dimensions: HxWxD (cm):25 x 29.6 x 20.6 | Power: : 2x100W | Features: Wireless integrated Linn DSM player, Exakt digital crossover | Connections: Ethernet, USB, HDMI ARC

Reasons to Buy

Wonderfully articulate

Luxury design

HDMI ARC for TV connection

Reasons to Avoid

No analogue inputs

No Tidal Masters support

Let’s address the elephant in the room: the Series 3 is one of the most expensive wireless speakers we have tested. It’s over three times the price of the B&W Formation Wedge. Can such an outlay be justified? Well, yes. 

Linn’s gorgeous design aesthetic and proprietary Exakt technology certainly helps. Linn Exakt aims to reduce phase errors by intentionally delaying higher frequencies so they arrive at your ear at the same time as lower frequencies. It also keeps the music signal’s data in the digital domain for as long as possible to avoid any degradation caused by signal processing. We’ve heard Exakt do its thing in many a Linn product before, and here again it contributes to an absorbing performance packed with stunning midrange clarity and a level of insight that sets it apart from more affordable competitors.

As you’d expect, the Series 3 is packed with premium features and Linn’s well established streaming platform, which offers access to networked servers and high-quality music services Tidal and Qobuz via Linn’s app. You even get an HDMI ARC socket, which allows you to connect the speaker to a TV.

At £3000 ($3850, AU$5800), we can hardly describe the Series 3 as a bargain, but we are utterly convinced of its appeal.

Read the full review: Linn Series 3 

8. Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2

An affordable Bluetooth speaker with a weighty sound and good battery life.


Connectivity: Bluetooth | Power: Battery | Battery life: 13hrs | Charge time: 2.6hrs **Dimensions (hwd):** 10.4 x 9.5 x 9.5cm | Weight: 420g

Reasons to Buy

Punchy, entertaining sound

Hefty bass

Decent battery life

Reasons to Avoid

No wi-fi or smart assistant built-in

No mic for hands-free calls

Ultimate Ears has really made a splash in the Bluetooth speaker market with a number of colourful, fun-sounding and portable models. One its most biggest hits? The impressive Wonderboom 2.

It’s waterproof, sandproof, dustproof and is also designed to float, so it should withstand the most lively of pool parties. Battery life is 13 hours and a full charge takes just under three.

Sonically, the Wonderboom 2 is an exciting listen. Bass is impressive bass given its small dimensions and there’s plenty of detail and a fine sense of attack. You also get a ‘boost’ button on the underside of the unit. When pressed, it restricts the bass frequencies, allowing the UE to play louder through the midrange, which in turn makes the sound easier to hear when the unit is used outdoors.

There’s no built-in mic or app, but the Wonderboom 2 is easily one of the best sounding Bluetooth speakers you can buy for the money – and a What Hi-Fi? 2019 Award-winner too, y’know. 

Read the full review: Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2

(Image credit: Dynaudio)

9. Dynaudio Music 5

A superb sonic performance from a distinctive speaker.


Connectivity: Bluetooth and wi-fi | Power: 250W (mains powered) | Inputs: analogue audio jack, Toslink optical digital audio | Battery life: N/A | Dimensions (hwd): 20 x 66 x 18.5cm : | Weight: 5.4kg

Reasons to Buy

Expansive, weighty and accurate

Great for larger rooms

Top-notch build

Reasons to Avoid

No AirPlay 2

No Spotify Connect

The Dynaudio Music 5 is the second-largest one-box speaker in the company’s inaugural, four-strong Music series. And love or loathe its angular looks, we can’t help but be won over by how the Dynaudio Music 5 sounds.

It might be a powerful, but the Music 5 has the sonic nous to keeps things refined. While the Award-winning Naim (below) just edges it for both subtlety and a slightly livelier sound, there isn’t much in it – and the Dynaudio Music 5 boasts superiority in other ways. In a larger room, it boasts better weight, scale and authority. Sound is smooth, detail-rich, refined and resoundingly listenable. 

Connectivity is excellent, too, with aptX Bluetooth, wi-fi and AirPlay all present. Open up the Dynaudio app and you’ll discover NoiseAdapt, a feature that helps sound cut through a noisy room – useful during loud parties.  

Assuming you love its distinctive styling, the Dynaudio Music 5 is a sophisticated performer and a superb buy.

Read the full review: Dynaudio Music 5

10. Audio Pro Addon C3

Portability, multi-room skills and excellent sound quality in an impressive package.


Connectivity: Bluetooth and wi-fi | Power: Battery | Inputs: 3.5mm | Battery life: 15hrs | Dimensions (hwd): 11.5 x 21.5 x 13.5cm | Weight: 2.45kg

Reasons to Buy

Mature, refined sound

Impressive timing

Tight, textured bass

Reasons to Avoid

Control app could be slicker

The Audio Pro Addon C3 isn’t just the best Bluetooth speaker at this price, it’s a stylish, wi-fi connected, multi-room capable centrepiece – plus it’s a What Hi-Fi? 2019 and 2020 Award winner. 

Sound is focused yet open and airy, meaning you can fill a decent sized room with immersive, weighty sound. It has an fantastic sense of refinement for such a small speaker, not to mention a rear-firing bass reflex port that delivers plenty of low-end grunt.

This model won’t charge your smartphone but it does feature an ethernet port, giving you the option to hardwire it to your home network. The battery serves up around 15 hours playback (less if you crank the volume up to the max).

The C3 supports streaming services such as Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz and Apple Music, and while there’s no built-in voice assistant, you can control the speaker via the Alexa app.

If you’re after something more rugged and portable, we’d suggest rivals such as the Ultimate Ears Megaboom or JBL Xtreme. But as a sensational-sounding multi-room proposition, this speaker gives Sonos a serious run for its money.

Read the full review: Audio Pro Addon C3

(Image credit: Naim)

11. Naim Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation

Just a few tweaks make for a superb second version of this premium Bluetooth speaker.


Dimensions: HxWxD (cm): 21 x 22 x 21 | Power: : 300W | Features: Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Roon Ready, Hi-res up to 24-bit/384kHz, remote control | Connections: 3.5mm aux, USB, optical S/PDIF, Ethernet

Reasons to Buy

Open, detailed and expressive

Loads of streaming options

Multi-room ready

At What Hi-Fi?, we know full well the value of revisions. Yet still, it was quite the surprise when first we heard about one made by Naim, with its second generation of the Mu-so Qb wireless speaker. The previous iteration was great, earning five stars when it was first reviewed. This version, however, is even better. 

You can now choose between an Olive, Terracotta or Peacock grille alongside the standard black, but the best tweaks Naim has made go far deeper. Remove whatever colour grille you’ve gone for and you’ll be rewarded with upgraded and optimised midrange and bass drive units, all powered by a total of 300W of amplification.

You won’t be short of streaming options, thanks to Chromecast Built-in and Apple AirPlay 2 alongside Bluetooth for streaming from a device, as well as Spotify Connect, Roon Ready, internet radio and Tidal.  You’ll also be able to access files up to 32-bit/384kHz anywhere on your home network via the updated Naim app 

With punchy bass and sparkling and rich tones across the frequencies, we had no hesitation in awarding the Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation our 2020 What Hi-Fi? Award for the best home wireless speaker over £500 – for the second year running.

Read the full review: Naim Mu-so Qb 2nd Generation 

12. Amazon Echo Dot (3rd generation)

One of the best and cheapest ways to introduce Alexa to your home.


Dimensions: HxWxD (cm): 4.3 x 9.9 x 9.9 | Features: wi-fi, multi-room, Bluetooth V4.0, Alexa voice assistant, Spotify, TuneIn, Amazon Music | Connections: 3.5 mm stereo

Reasons to Buy

Clear, solid sound

Improved Alexa capabilities

Budget price

Reasons to Avoid

Alexa intelligence is limited

Amazon’s ever-expanding collection smart speakers dish up decent sound and a whole load of voice functionality for not a lot of money. The Echo Dot is one of the cheapest in the range – and a great little portable device that’s perfect for the kitchen or bedroom. 

The fabric-covered puck features a 4cm driver that pumps out decent enough sound.  Alexa sounds loud and clear and, for the money, music sounds rich and full. It’s perfectly acceptable as a background music device, plus you can always wire in other devices via the 3.5mm aux output for better sound.

You need to connect the Echo Dot to power, so it’s not as portable as some options on this list. But on the upside, the Echo Dot can be used to play music, answer questions, read the news, check the weather, set alarms and control compatible smart home devices, from TVs to home cinema amplifiers and speakers. 

For the money, it’s one of the best cheap portable speakers around.

Read the full review: Amazon Echo Dot (3rd generation)

13. Audio Pro Addon T3

Bigger than some rivals, but still portable enough to give serious consideration.


Dimensions: HxWxD (cm): 11.5 x 21.5 x 13.5 | Power: 2x 5W + 15W Digital class D | Features: Bluetooth V4.0 | Connections: 3.5mm stereo, USB

Reasons to Buy

Full sound

Expressive and dynamic

Faultless build

It might be one of the less portable speakers in this list, but the T3 can still be carted around thanks to the carry handle. It’s robust rather than heavy, and boasts a battery life of up to 30 hours. Like bass? You’re in luck – the solid chassis and rear-firing bass port will have you tapping your toe in no time.

There’s no wi-fi (if you want wi-fi, opt of the Addon C3), but the Bluetooth-enabled T3 features a similarly classy design with textured surfaces and a leather embossed handle . 

Audio Pro tends to ignore gimmicks in favour of high-quality sound but this speaker does have the facility to charge up your smartphone or tablets via a USB port. You also get an auxiliary input for your TV/MP3 player/record player.

Sound is superb, with plenty of depth and detail throughout the frequencies. If you want something for home and in the garden, this could work nicely – maybe not the one for your carry-on luggage, though.

Read the full review: Audio Pro Addon T3

14. JBL Xtreme 2

One of the best Bluetooth speakers we’ve heard with bags of ability.


Connectivity: Bluetooth | Power: Battery | Inputs: 3.5mm | Battery life: 15hrs | Dimensions (hwd): 13.6 x 28.8 x 13.2cm | Weight: 2.39kg

Reasons to Buy

Clean, clear sound

Balanced bass

Robust build

Reasons to Avoid

Hefty design

No wi-fi or multi-room smarts

The JBL Xtreme 2’s boombox design has fun and excitement written all over it. The rugged, IPX7 waterproof exterior, 15 hour battery life and ability to charge your phone from its USB port mean it’s a great option for the beach. 

Wireless features have been stripped-back, though. There’s no wi-fi, so you can’t stream from Spotify. And it won’t let you talk to Alexa or Google Assistant, just set a button to activate them in the manner of an earphone’s in-line remote.

JBL Connect+ is the most unusual feature on this otherwise standard Bluetooth speaker. It lets you link up to 100 JBL speakers, to make the equivalent of a nightclub PA in your home.

There’s plenty of boom to the sound, but we’re not talking ridiculous levels. That deep powerful bass is also nicely controlled too. Mids are of a high quality and highs show more clarity than you traditionally get from such a product. For the money, the JBL Xtreme 2 is brilliantly balanced Bluetooth speaker.

Read the full review: JBL Xtreme 2

15. Ultimate Ears Blast

Energetic performance, Alexa onboard and Wi-Fi connectivity.


Connectivity: Bluetooth and wi-fi | Power: Battery | Inputs: N/A | Battery life: 12hrs | Dimensions (hwd): 118.8 x 6.8 x 6.8cm | Weight: 463g

Reasons to Buy

Great portable design

Exciting, dynamic sound

Good detail and punchy timing

Reasons to Avoid

Top end can get excitable at loud volumes

Alexa features not exhaustive

Ultimate Ears has a knack for making Bluetooth speakers that combine the right combination of sound, design and rugged features, and it does so again with the Blast. Its cylindrical 360-degree design means it throws sound evenly around the room, while the tough ‘IP67 waterproof’ exterior means it can  can survive in 1m of water for 30 minutes.

It’s crammed with connectivity, too. You get Bluetooth, wi-fi and Alexa smart assistant voice controls, meaning you can turn up the volume or play songs through Amazon Music Unlimited without lifting a finger. Far-field voice recognition is excellent, and there’s a nifty LED strip that glows and blinks when you interact with Alexa.  

The lack of 3.5mm audio input might bother some, but we found the Blast to be a real crowd-pleaser. The 360-degree sound and bass output is far better than one might expect for this kind of money; throw in Alexa smarts and you have a fun, energetic speaker that offers plenty of bang for your buck.

Read the full review: UE Blast

(Image credit: Amazon)

16. Amazon Echo Show 5

One of the best Bluetooth speakers we’ve seen with a screen.


Dimensions (hwd): 8.6 x 14.8 x 7.3cm | Connectivity: Wi-fi, USB, 3.5mm line-in | Battery life: n/a | Power: 4W

Reasons to Buy

Alexa voice-control

Decent sound and video

Nicely put together

The Echo Show 5 is the latest in a long and fast-moving line of Amazon products intended to get us all invested in its virtual assistant, Alexa. Where much of the Alexa-enabled kit out there is audio based, concentrated on the Bluetooth speaker market in particular, the Echo Show 5 embraces both sound and video in its abilities to communicate. So, as well as playing music or reading out information, you can access video content on the 5.5in LCD touchscreen. There’s also a camera for video calls.  

The Echo Show 5 is a diminutive device, and as such cannot possibly offer the scale of sound that some specialist wireless speakers can. But then it offers so much more ability and functionality than a run-of-the-mill Bluetooth speaker. For what it is, we find the sound perfectly acceptable. It runs fairly warm, sonically, which helps voices on radio and the like, and makes for a comfortable listening experience. There are better speakers out there but this is much more than that. It opens up the world of the digital assistant to a whole new audience for both audio and video; and if that’s what you’re after, this is about as good as you’ll get. 

Read the full review: Amazon Echo Show 5

17. Dali Katch

This Dali Bluetooth speaker ticks all our boxes.


Dimensions (hwd): 13.8 x 26.9 x 4.7cm | Connectivity: aptX Bluetooth, 3.5mm | Battery life: 24hr | Power: 50W

Reasons to Buy

Powerful, full-bodied sound

Great dynamics and timing

Long battery life

If you’re after a premium portable speaker, there’s every chance that the Dali Katch will blow your cashmere socks off. Dali, better known for its traditional hi-fi speakers, has managed to extract a sound that is quite simply incredible for something of the Katch’s stature.

Two tweeters and a pair of aluminium woofers, driven by a Class-D amplifier, make for a total power output of 50W – not to mention an impressive amount of detail and a nice dose of velvety low-end. 

The speaker boasts buttons for power, volume and pairing, which is made easier with the option of NFC. There are also two EQ presets: one for freestanding play and one for positioning on a shelf. And let’s not forget the excellent battery life: just two hours of charge will get you around 24 hours of music playback via Bluetooth.

The Katch isn’t cheap, but you do get what you pay for – a weighty, dynamic sound that defies this speaker’s dimensions.

Read the full review: Dali Katch

18. Ultimate Ears Megablast

A lively, entertaining Bluetooth speaker with plenty going for it.


Connectivity: Bluetooth and wi-fi | Power: Battery | Inputs: N/A | Battery life: 16hrs | Dimensions (hwd): 23.7 x 8.8 x 8.8cm | Weight: 1.19kg

Reasons to Buy

Dynamic, detailed sound

Enthusiastic, punchy rhythms

Precise, taut basslines

Reasons to Avoid

Presentation is slightly lean

Not fully featured just yet

The powerful UE Megablast takes the performance of a portable Bluetooth speaker at this price to a new level. If you’re looking for thumping bass, well, let’s just say you’ve come to the right place.

Design-wise, the Megablast is waterproof (IP67 rated), so it will survive being dunked in the pool or exposed to a sudden downpour. Battery life is 16 hours, which is pretty respectable given that it has Alexa voice smarts built-in.

Say the wake word ‘Alexa’ and a white LED strip on top of the Megablast glows in recognition. Features include voice-controlled music playback over wi-fi, through Amazon Music Unlimited and TuneIn radio, plus support for the likes of  Spotify, Deezer and Amazon Music. There’s no 3.5mm audio jack, though.

A combination of pounding bass and enthusiastic sense of rhythm make for a hugely enjoyable performance. It might not be the most pocketable speaker around, but few rivals can match the Megablast for bass quality. An absolute treat. 

Read the full review: UE Megablast

(Image credit: Sonos)

19. Sonos Roam

A pleasing Bluetooth speaker with a full-bodied sound.


Connectivity: Bluetooth, wi-fi, AirPlay 2 | Power: Battery | Inputs: USB-C | Battery life: 10hrs | Dimensions (hwd): 16.8 x 6.2 x 6cm | Weight: 430g

Reasons to Buy

Full-bodied sound

Lots of features


Reasons to Avoid

Clarity not exceptional

Average timing and dynamics

Want a Sonos speaker you can drop in a backpack? Meet the Sonos Roam, the multi-room titan’s first truly portable battery-powered speaker (the 2019 Sonos Move is technically portable but weighs a hefty 3kg to the Roam’s 430g).

The Roam works perfectly well as a standalone Bluetooth speaker but it’s also designed to be immersed in the company’s burgeoning multi-room ecosystem. Features includes support for AirPlay 2, voice controls and Sonos’ Trueplay tech, which uses the built-in mic to tune bass and treble to suit your surroundings.

Headed to the beach or the pool? You’ll be pleased to note the IP67 rating, which gives it complete water and dust resistance. The built-in battery offers a pretty decent 10 hours playback and support for Qi wireless charging. 

Sound is confident, bold and better than you might expect from an outdoor/party speaker at this price. Other Bluetooth speakers offer a more expressive and detailed sound but if you’re invested in the world of Sonos, the Roam is a smart buy.

Read the full review: Sonos Roam

20. JBL Go 2

Impressive sound from an impressively small and portable package.


Dimensions: HxWxD (cm): 7.1 x 8.6 x 3.2 | Power: 3W | Features: IPX7 waterproof, Bluetooth V4.1 | Connections: micro-USB | Finishes: 12

Reasons to Buy

Tidy design

Balanced sound

Decent bass

Reasons to Avoid

Battery life could be better

The budget JBL Go 2 might be the perfect holiday accessory. It’s a tiny speaker, no bigger than a bar of soap, which makes it small enough to slip into your pocket. There are 12 colours in the range, including the retro-fabulously pearlescent yellow model pictured above.

The Go 2 has a full waterproof IPX7 rating, so it won’t matter if you drop it in the pool by mistake. Features are thin on the ground, but you go get an aux input, plus a noise-cancelling speakerphone and built-in mic for handsfree calls. There’s no wi-fi, though, and the battery life is a little disappointing: 2.5 hours of charging returns a maximum playing time of just five hours.

Despite an output of just 3W, the Go 2 punches above its weight when it comes to sound. For the money, it’s a lively, balanced and cohesive performer. If you’re the sort of person who likes to travel light, we think this is up there with the best Bluetooth speakers of its type.

Read the full review: JBL Go 2

21. Bose SoundLink Mini II

This Bose portable speaker is a decent option for the money.


Dimensions: HxWxD (cm): 5.1 x 18 x 5.8 | Features: Bluetooth V3.0 | Connections: 3.5mm stereo, micro-USB

Reasons to Buy

Full-bodied sound

Weighty bass


Reasons to Avoid

Lows lack precision and agility

If you’re after a portable speaker that doesn’t scrimp on bass weight, the SoundLink Mini II could be just the ticket. The small but hefty design pumps out a big, bassy sound that will get you dancing by the pool.

Bose has kept features to a bare minimum; there are buttons for power, pairing (you can link two devices at a time and switch between them) and volume. You also get an aux input and a USB input for charging. Battery life is 10 hours – pretty good for a speaker of this size.

The big attraction here is the sound quality. While lots of portable speakers offer fuller bass, it’s often boomy or distorted. That’s certainly not the case with the SoundLink Mini II, which sounds taut and expressive. Vocals are exceedingly rich and instruments are given space to breathe. In fact, the sound is as good as anything we’ve heard at this price and stature. Other speakers are better value for money, but this high-quality Bose speaker is still a fantastic buy. 

Read the full review: Bose SoundLink Mini II

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