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REVIEW: Harman Kardon Neo – Good Sound, But Why The Strap?

Harman Kardon’s portable Neo Bluetooth speaker has arrived in Australia, featuring speakerphone capability and a carry strap – but is it worth the $170 asking price?

Measuring 110 x 110 x 34.1mm and weighing in at 251g, the Neo features one three-watt speaker and IPX7 waterproofing. It also includes a strap for portability (more on that later) and a built-in microphone for speakerphone function. Its battery can keep it going for ten hours, and it was no trouble at all to set up – just pair it to your phone and you’re good to go.

The sound quality is good for its size, if nothing to write home about. It’s clear and not tinny, packs the requisite amount of punch at higher volumes, and though the bass isn’t spectacular, you don’t expect a portable Bluetooth speaker to blow your socks off in any case. I have noticed a bit of speaker hiss when it’s not playing audio, though – it’s faint, but it’s there.

One interesting feature of the Neo is its speakerphone capability – useful perhaps for meetings where your own phone’s speaker won’t do the job. We tested it out and the call quality was clear as a bell on both ends, though if you take a step or two away from it you’ll start sounding pretty faint to your conversation partner.

Interface-wise, the device has five buttons: one for power, one for Bluetooth, a volume rocker, and a play/pause button. The bottom edge has a jack for USB-C charging, as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack – which helps if you have one of those annoying newfangled phones that ditched them for some reason.

The design of the speaker is elegant and classy – built from matte metal, the rounded rectangular shape has an understated minimalism about it. A simple text logo in bronze goes well with the colour scheme, at least of the one I looked at (we got the grey, but it’s available in other colours as well). The back is textured black plastic, with four rubber feet that make it easy to set down on a surface and expect it won’t go anywhere in a hurry.

But here we come to my biggest bugbear about this speaker: the strap on the top edge. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice strap – sturdy, made from what feels like good-quality material, with a robust snap clasp – but why is it there? Who is this for, exactly? It has left me scratching my head as to possible use cases: promotional material shows it hanging off the strap of a hiker’s backpack, and I suppose it could be used to play music while out on the trail – but why not just use headphones or earbuds instead?

Is it for joggers, maybe? Because I can’t think of a way to make yourself less popular to everyone around you than to be blaring your personal greatest hits playlist on repeat as you run past them. Plus, having this thing hanging by a single strap on the exterior of a backpack is just begging for it to be yanked right off by the first enterprising thief to notice it.

OK, but why?

Overall, the Harman Kardon Neo is a nice-looking speaker, easy to use, with good battery life and decent sound quality. The speakerphone function could prove a useful addition, but the non-removable (!) strap at the top seems to me like a solution in search of a problem.

The Harman Kardon Neo is available at Officeworks for $168 and online at the Harman website for $169.95 in blue or grey.

Pros:

  • Good sound quality
  • Classy minimalist design
  • Speakerphone capability
  • 10 hours of battery life
  • IPX7 waterproofing
  • Easy to set up and use

Cons:

  • Some speaker hiss
  • Non-removable carrying strap

RATING: 8/10

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