A decent speaker and smart display combination might not have been top of many shopping lists before, but the Link View could be the showstopping addition to your automated home that you didn’t realize you were without. As I’ll explain in this review, it fuses quality sound with the power of Google Assistant and a second screen to make the best example of the new platform so far…
Clearly designed to be one of the main focal points within a room, the JBL Link View looks like a hybrid of quality speaker and tablet — which doesn’t detract from the overall look and feel. There are two felt mesh covered speakers up front that provide clear stereo sound, with a bass reflex section round back that helps fill out your music listening experience.
The overall pill shape and angled face of the speaker make it easier to operate and see clearly when stood up. One downside is that it can reflect light quite easily, making the screen harder to see and read in brightly lit rooms.
To be honest there is a lot of plastic here and there which doesn’t quite match up to that price tag — although it is a nice sturdy speaker. The power cable neatly hides round the back for less clutter. JBL knows how to make a speaker look and sound good, so it’s no surprise that the JBL Link View looks and feels much better than Lenovo’s own Smart Display system — albeit with a simple aesthetic of a screen in between two speakers.
It’s important to understand that whilst the display is a touchscreen, it’s not a tablet per se and I would have to say that the JBL Link View is — in my opinion — speaker first, Smart Display second. Much of that is due to the quality of the sound — more on that later — but the limited touchscreen capabilities makes this more apparent. There’s absolutely no ability to install apps as everything must be integrated into the Assistant to work.
There’s a camera included for video calling — only via Google Duo — and the quality is reasonable considering JBL have never made camera hardware before. If you are worried about your privacy, then there’s a switch to cover the camera and — like the Home devices — a switch to mute the always listening microphone.
If you’re heavily invested in the Google Assistant system, or already use a slew of Google Home devices then you’ll get to grips with the specially designed version of Android Things for smart displays. The material design helps box off areas and sections, making it uncluttered and easy to use.
As we mentioned in our review of the Lenovo Smart Display, certain features make this form factor a slight upgrade over a standard Home speaker. Being able to see your commands on the display is nice as you’re able to better work out if Google Assistant has understood you. I’ve had little issues with this even with a heavy Yorkshire accent. That extends to the identification of tracks, videos and radio stations — just glance at the display and get all the information you need.
Disappointingly you aren’t able to ask your Smart Display to stream directly from Netflix. Instead, you’re limited to YouTube or YouTube TV should that be available in your region — but you can cast to the display using your other smart devices. It’s not perfect, but it does work well and adds another output display for Chromecasting, which is a welcome workaround.
The JBL Link View is supposed to be controlled via your voice, with little physical interaction beyond simple swipes, taps and pinching to zoom. Overall it’s smooth, responds well to requests and generally fills a small gap that my Home Mini is unable to offer thanks to the ability to put videos and information on screen.
When you’re not using it, the display will show any upcoming calendar events, local weather and any other key information at a glance. I’ve found that aspect much more useful than the news briefing feature found on the standard Home speakers for what it’s worth.
This is one area where JBL — as audio experts — are expected to shine and the Link View duly delivers. Although I’m unable to compare directly to the Google Home Max, this is easily the best sounding smart speaker I have had the pleasure of using. The bass is crisp and I’ve been told that his speaker stacks ups closely to the JBL Link 20 in terms of overall sound profile.
I listen to a wide array of music, with bassy tracks being a prominent feature on many of my playlists, and I’ve found it surpasses any speaker I’ve owned in the past. It doesn’t quite match the quality found on a Sonos device, but it’s crystal clear and hits the mark more often than not. That being said, if you don’t care too much for heavy bass or tracks that are unpinned by bassy undertones, then it’s not likely to be perfect for you.
One disappointing aspect is that at the moment there is no way to tweak the sound via an equalizer, meaning you can’t yet adjust the sound to fit your own ear. I personally really hope that this is in the pipeline soon. As it stands, the JBL Link View offers the best sound of any Google Smart Display device currently available.
The value in having a smart display wasn’t abundantly clear to me as someone who already uses a Google Home Mini device. But — much like Ben with his Lenovo Smart Display and hundreds of other reviewers — where I found it works best is in the kitchen environment. Visual cues are excellent when following recipes and I found that whilst cooking watching video content kept me entertained when managing everyday food prep. Having a touchscreen also helped massively, as unlike the Home and Home Mini, you can backtrack at your own leisure — which is awesome for longer recipes that need just a little more attention to detail.
Overall I’d say that the JBL Link View does a great job of balancing speaker and smart display without many compromises in either camp. Google Assistant makes this more than just a speaker and the quality brought in by JBL helps make this more than just an Assistant powered display. Whilst the Amazon Echo Show ships at less than half the price, it lacks the key integration with YouTube or Google Services to make it a real challenger to any Google-powered Smart Display. Until that changes, then I’d bank on Google winning the Smart Display war.
Where to get the JBL Link View
The JBL Link View is priced at $249.99 and set to be released in the coming weeks — we’ll update with further direct product links once available.