Turtle Shell speakers bring Bluetooth-enabled weather-resistant music to bikes, strollers and more
The speakers in the image above are Outdoor Technology's Turtle Shell. Expected to retail for $150, the product is currently in Kickstarter at an early-backer price of $99. To date, it's over a third of the way towards funding, with just under two weeks left to go.
The idea is this: the speakers mount using standard camera threading. They fit on any tripod or on the mounting accessory, which you see just under the speaker itself. Pricing on the mount is still unclear. It does not appear to be bundled with the $99 pledge, but it is with higher pledges.
The product is Bluetooth-enabled and weather-resistant, making it an appropriate accompaniment for bikes, camping, strollers, etc. Just recognize it is a boom box and you'll be entertaining the neighborhood as well as yourself, depending on how much you boost the volume.
TUAW received an early review unit, allowing me to test it out in real-world conditions. I had a bit of trouble mounting it in the recommended position until I wrapped my handlebar with some padding. I have an especially small handlebar tube, so this is something I've had to do for my other accessories as well.
As you can see, I've normally got quite a bit of stuff on my handlebars -- lights, computer, front pack -- and the Turtle Shell dwarfs them all. (The red bit you see is a velcro extender, allowing my pack to stay attached during testing. The Turtle Shell goes where the bar bag normally attaches.)
The first thing I noticed is how heavy an accessory it is, officially weighing in at 11.5 oz. The mount adds another 3.5 oz, for a total of just under a pound, which is a lot to stick on your handlebar. Outdoor Technology recommends placing the speaker on the side with your dominant hand, somewhere near the stem to reduce any weight issues and make riding easier. The unit measures slightly under four inches by six inches along the plane.
Once the speaker charged (see the USB cable coming out of its bottom), I took it out for a spin. It synced easily to my iPhone 4S after I switched it on and pressed-and-held a button. And to be clear, I never noticed the weight while biking, and my bike's handling remained completely unaffected. Once mounted, it totally was a non-issue.
I put it through the audio-books-along-a-busy-road test I normally use to test output quality. I found that at maximum volume, that music remained audible (perhaps not their lyrics, but at least the lower frequency beats) but that audio books suffered significantly in terms of intelligibility. This is much the same as I've found with any bike-mounted speaker system.
The speakers worked far better indoors and at the park -- although they did earn me a hairy eyeball or two at the latter location. The system is non-directional, so audio goes out in all directions. This is, perhaps, not the unit to buy for trail riding if you're shy.
Upon returning home, I disconnected the unit to charge it, a task which probably isn't as easy as it could be. It would probably have been easier to wheel my bike to an outlet, and plug in the charger between trips. The provided cord isn't huge but it is plenty long enough for leaning a bike against a wall for charging.
All in all, it's a pretty decent system and I liked it. I couldn't help but compare it to the much lighter and friendlier FreeWheelin unit I tested last week, which retails at the same $150 the Turtle Shell will sell for. The Turtle Shell felt much hardier and robust, however. You won't want to have your FreeWheelin on your helmet during rain. (I wouldn't want to be out biking at all during downpours.)
If you have multiple people in your audience, i.e. at a camp site or when you're using a stroller, the Turtle Shell will also better meet your needs. For biking, I lean towards the FreeWheelin solution.
For me, the Turtle Shell worked best as a portable speaker. I tested it in the kitchen and it provided completely acceptable sound within Bluetooth distances. For outdoors use, I could easily see this at a campground. It feels really durable and probably would stand up to a lot of knocking around -- plus there's that advertised moisture guard.
Mostly though, I think this would be a great product for parents with strollers, offering a hard-to-knock-away speaker system for a small family group.
In summary, it's a durable, mountable, hardy Bluetooth speaker system with reasonable quality audio. There's a lot going for it and I think many of our readers could find it a useful solution for their outdoor music needs.
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