Kevin Hunt: Review: Panasonic's SC-NP10 wireless speaker

Panasonic's SC-NP10 is a nonexclusionary wireless speaker system for tablets.

Group hug, Apple and Android owners.

This is not a conventional speaker dock because it doesn't have a dock. The tablets rest, vertically or horizontally, against a pop-up backrest on a circular plastic island surrounded by an illuminated electric-blue moat. Otherwise, the SC-NP10 (less than 11 inches wide, 3 high and 8 deep) resembles a bedside clock radio without the clock.

Despite the Apple-Android attraction — and the SC-NP10 works with any Bluetooth-compatible device, not just tablets — Panasonic has priced this dockless dock, at $199.99, dangerously close to bigger, better-sounding conventional speaker docks. (The Fluance FiSDK500, recently as low as $99.99 but lacking Bluetooth, remains a favorite. Information:

Price aside, the SC-NP10 is attractive for its compact size that suits a desktop, countertop or nightstand, its Apple-Android-Bluetooth versatility and its surprisingly robust sound from two tiny drivers enhanced by a 3-inch woofer.

Though the SC-NP10 has a 3.5-millimeter input for a wired connection, Panasonic built this speaker for Bluetooth. For Android users with a device equipped with Near Field Communications (see box), Bluetooth pairing should require no more than a single tap of the device against the NFC icon adjacent to the SC-NP10's tablet backrest.

Because it relies so much on a Bluetooth connection, the SC-NP10 takes only minutes to set up. The controls are minimal, with buttons for on-off, volume and Bluetooth pairing.

A control labeled "D.Surround" will surely confuse. Pressing it once lights up the indicator, enabling the Direct-Dialog Surround mode for enhancing dialog clarity when watching a movie. Pressing and holding the button, meanwhile, prompts the indicator to blink once, signaling "Surround Expansive Effect" has been activated.

Direct-Dialog adds clarity, but dialog seems slightly recessed with some added reverberation. At close range, you'll hear added immediacy because the drivers on the front panel, behind a silver grille, are angled upward 12 degrees toward the listener.

Surround Expansive acts like an old-fashioned loudness feature that boosts the bass and upper frequencies at low volume to better match midrange levels. It creates a bigger, wider soundfield but, depending on the material, adds too much bass. For the crash scene in "Flight," though, the added bass — even the distortion — was welcome.

With a tablet resting upright on the SC-NP10, this looks like an everyday speaker dock. No dock, however, also means no automatic battery charging. Watching a movie in landscape mode (horizontal), though, frees the tablet's connector.

So while watching "Tombstone" on YouTube, I could charge my iPad using one of the SC-NP10's two charge-only USB ports on the back panel.

As the dock dies, Bluetooth rules with wireless speakers. The SC-NP10 isn't portable, nor is it a speaker dock. I'm not sure exactly what to call this whatchamacallit, but I do know that $199.99 is a lot more than I'd be willing to pay for it.

What: Panasonic SC-NP10 Wireless Speaker System

Price: $199.99,

Good: No dock, so it doesn't exclude Android devices. Good sound for its size. One-touch NFC pairing.

Not so good: Expensive, distortion at higher volumes.

What's NFC?

What it stands for: Near Field Communications

What it can do: Pair two NFC-enabled devices with a single tap of, say, the smartphone against the NFC icon on a wireless speaker.

How it works: An NFC-enabled smartphone uses a chip that sends out a wireless link over short ranges using little power. The NFC-equipped Panasonic SC-NP10 first needs setting up using the company's Music Stream app. After the setup, tapping any NFC-enabled device against the NFC icon on the SC-NP10 pairs the two devices instantly. I paired a Samsung Galaxy S4 Active with a UE Boom Bluetooth speaker without any prep work, but not until discovering that only by tapping the back of the phone to the speaker resulted in successful pairing.

Why it's not more widely known: It's an Android-only feature. Apple is expected to adopt the technology with the iPhone 5s, due in September.

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