JBL Link View REVIEW – Bluetooth Speaker With A Smart Screen
JBL Link View REVIEW
PAT PILCHER shouts at JBL’s latest smart display Bluetooth speaker and falls off his chair when it answers him back.
Speaker giant JBL is taking on Amazon’s Alexa with the Link View speaker, which has a Google-powered smart display. The Link View packs an 8-inch screen, stereo speakers and a 5MP camera. Crucially, JBL’s implementation of the Google visual assistant is shiny, smart and slick. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Android is going to find it a joy to use.
As good as this all sounds, the big question is how does the Link View stack up against the competition? Lenovo’s smart display sports a larger 10-inch screen, while Google’s Home Hub is (in theory) cheaper – that is if you can find it at a parallel importer.
For some bizarre reason, Google can’t be arsed selling any of their hardware in NZ other than their wireless mesh routers and Chromecast wireless dongles. Last but by no means least is Amazon’s Echo Show which, while nowhere as smart as the Google assistant, offers wide compatibility with smart-home goodies.
What’s It Actually Like?
So, is it actually any good? From a design stance, the JBL Link is finished in a pleasing elliptical shape. Its left and right speakers have a fabric covering sitting either side of its screen. While this curvaceous design might not be everyone’s bag, I like that it isn’t yet another boring rectangular smart display or cylindrical smart speaker. JB has dared to be different, and depending on your personal tastes the results are quite pleasing. Your mileage may vary depending on your own preferences.
Looks aside, the Link View is first and foremost a speaker, which isn’t a huge surprise, given its parentage. Turn the Link View around and you’ll see a passive radiator complete with a JBL logo in the centre of its rear along with a power connector and micro USB port. A nice addition is a microphone privacy switch. On its top sits both volume buttons and controls for disabling the built-in 5-megapixel camera.
The Link View might not be massive, but it’s no shrinking violet either. At 33cm wide, it’s still sufficiently compact that it’ll sit on a shelf or bench. Its neutral grey and black design means it’ll blend into most home decors. Another point worth mentioning in this JBL Link View review is that the Link View is also splash-proof. This means that it’s ideal for use in the kitchen. Google Assistant makes for a useful kitchen timer and is a source of many recipes. Decent audio output (more on this later) also makes it brilliant for music playback, which is an essential part of cooking.
Its 8-inch HD LCD screen sports a resolution of 1280 x 800, which puts it in the ball-park with the Echo Show and Google Hub. Using my Google photo collection as a screen saver showcased its capabilities to good effect. Size-wise, the Link View’s screen is bigger than the Google Hub (which is around 7-inches). That said, the Amazon Echo Show’s display is larger at 10-inches. Off-angle viewing is okay, but colour integrity and contrast do suffer.
Being an LCD panel, it also doesn’t offer the inky blacks or super vivid colours of an OLED panel. Still, for a smart display, it’s probably all you’re likely to need. I was also impressed by its ability to dial brightness levels up or down in response to ambient light levels. Turning off the lights at night didn’t see the display becoming an annoying distraction either. Another nifty trick I stumbled upon while researching the Link View was being able to say, “Hey Google, turn off screen”, and watch in wonder as it did just that!
Google Assistant, like with most Android phones, recognised my Kiwi accent and seemed a tad smarter than Alexa in that it can understand conversational context. In practice, this means that voice interaction feels a whole lot more conversational and less stilted. One minor sticking point – which in all fairness applies to all smart speakers – is that attempt to tie you into their application and content ecosystems. While I was able to set up Spotify as my music service, my news updates came from Google News, video from YouTube and so on. Too bad if I wanted to catch an Amazon Prime video. That aside, Google’s assistant definitely impressed with its smarts.
There are a few other curious omissions too. With the Echo Show, I can access a web browser and change system settings/enter passwords using an on-screen keyboard. Not so with the Link View. If I wanted to tweak any settings, I had to dig out the Google Home app on my phone and take it from there (assuming my phone was in the same room and not flat). This arrangement isn’t intuitive and feels clunky when compared to the Echo Show.
The Link View does perform a few nifty tricks, however. One that proved surprisingly handy was that I could pair it to my phone. It then became a Bluetooth satellite speaker. It can also take advantage of Google’s Digital Wellbeing feature. This is good news for parents who are worried about what their kids might see or gain access to. With it, parents can easily set filters for restricting access to music and videos and third-party content that might be unsuitable for younger eyes.
Being from JBL, audio was front and centre. I found that sonically the Link View held its own for background music or podcasts from Spotify while I was cooking. Its volume could be cranked up to almost full with little distortion (don’t try this at home, kids!) All told, I found the sound was well rounded and balanced, especially when compared to other small speakers with smart displays.
The one fly in the sonic ointment, however, was that I couldn’t tweak EQ settings, which is a glaring gap in its sound capabilities. Thankfully, it wasn’t needed all that often, at least not during this JBL Link View review. Here’s hoping that a Google update fixes this soon.
JBL Link View Review: Summary
The Link View mostly impressed. Above all, the Google Assistant wins by being reasonably smart, which makes using it relatively pain-free. Combined with a decent screen and sound that feels like a step up from other smart display speakers and there’s a lot to like. While it isn’t perfect, it is an excellent choice for anyone who has embraced the Google ecosystem and is on the lookout for an attractive, smart display/speaker.