(Pocket-lint) - JBL was one of the first companies to announce that it was going to be offering a smart display running Google's new system.
That was at the beginning of 2018, well before Google itself qualified the segment with its own Google Home Hub.
But when it comes to smart displays, age doesn't really matter, as the JBL Link View potentially qualifies for the original and best label.
- 332 x 152 x 100mm; 1.3kg
- Front-firing mesh covered speakers
- Volume, mute and privacy buttons
With relatively few smart displays available, the JBL Link View occupies a space it can dominate. The design is better than the Lenovo Smart Display, which is rather deep, so the JBL just takes up less space, is easier to place on a shelf or to the side of a worktop.
The Google Home Hub is altogether smaller - and while there's cute appeal Goog's device, it isn't as well placed to deliver room-filling music as the JBL Link View. That likely comes down to JBL's approach: it's a speaker company, so sound performance is a higher priority.
Compared to the Amazon Echo Show second-gen, the JBL Link View is the most natural rival. The JBL looks like a JBL speaker, so that broadly oval shape is rather more conventional, while the Echo Show manages to be a little more individual in its looks.
We wouldn't say the JBL Link View is wildly exciting to look at though: this is a form factor that needs its display in the centre and we're sure we'll see many premium takes on it in the future, to add a little more spice.
On the top of the Link View are rubberised volume controls and physical sliders for the privacy controls - used to shut off the microphone and to cover the front-facing camera, respectively. With privacy being a concern for many, knowing that there's a physical control for those elements that can't be digitally manipulated should be more reassuring.
Speaker quality and performance
- 2x 2-inch drivers, 2x 10W RMS
- Rear passive bass radiator
The JBL Link View is the best sounding smart display that we've seen to date. In the Google Assistant space, the JBL is easily better than the Google Home Hub and Lenovo devices, while it gives the Amazon Echo Show 2 a run for its money too.
Stereo front-firing speakers and a rear bass radiator give a blend of audio that JBL fans will recognise. There's no shying away from the bass - and that's one of the things that makes the Link View great for music. It's here that it's better than Amazon's offering, but that needs to be approached with caution: the bass can make some spoken voice a little muddy. Listening to radio interviews or podcasts with deep voices can see a delivery that's not as crisp and clean as the Amazon Echo Show.
Things are little strained at top volumes, but placed in a reasonable sized kitchen, the JBL Link View has no problem giving you a performance that's surprising for its size. Yes, you can take the Amazon Echo and expand the system, adding the Echo Sub to widen the skillset for the Alexa devices, but as an all-in device we'd choose the JBL every time for music.
There are no options to connect other devices physically, but as a Google device it naturally supports Google Cast and Spotify Connect, so it's easy to get content playing on the Link View whether it's audio or visual.
- 8-inch touch display
- 1280 x 800 pixels
The display is half the fun on these devices, opening the doors to a lot more interaction and engagement than you get from a standard smart speaker. Google Assistant - which we talk about below in more detail - is generally better laid out than Amazon's rival, keen to give you rich information.
The platform is also more open and as we've just mentioned Google Cast, it's worth expanding on what that means for video here. It will work with services that support Google Cast, like BBC iPlayer and YouTube, so you can find what you want on your phone and send it to the JBL Link View. The appeal of YouTube shouldn't be underestimated either, as it can be really useful to watch those tips and follow along to instructions.
Google will also give you the option to send search results to your smart display, so if you search for a recipe on your phone, you can send that to the display with a tap.
The display itself is HD, so it's not as glorious as the 10-inch Lenovo Smart Display and we think that the pairing of black surround with a display that doesn't get really black means that it can look a little cheap - because it only serves to highlight that the display doesn't dip to really inky deep blacks.
Still, at the price that JBL is asking you can't complain too much. But compared to phones, your iPad or your TV, the display on the JBL Link View isn't of the highest quality - and could look better with more sensitive design. We wouldn't sit down and watch a movie on it, but we've sent sports coverage to it so we can keep an eye and ear on the action while doing something else.
Google is the smartest assistant
- Google Assistant as a platform
- No manufacturer clutter
- Alwasy up-to-date
One of the great things about Google's smart display platform is that manufacturers don't mess with it. The Google Home Hub, Lenovo Smart Display and JBL Link View all offer the same software experience. It's Google Assistant, the same Google Assistant you'll get on your Android phone. That means that any updates happen to the platform instantly, rather than something that has to be run through hardware testing, so your JBL will be as up-to-date as a Google device.
Google Assistant is constantly evolving and while we still think that talking to Alexa is more natural (we dislike the "Ok Google" and "Hey Google" triggers), there's no doubting that it's the smarter platform. It just knows more, it extracts and taps into more information online, it often has the answers you want and the interface offers more.
While Alexa will provide responses, we like that Google logs what you're saying on the display so you know what it's heard.
Outside of Q&A interactions, the other side of a device like the JBL Link View is smart home control, letting you link and control many common systems via voice. You're not just buying an entertainment device, you're getting something that's a lot more skilled - and that adds to the appeal above and beyond a simple home speaker.
That might be viewing your connected cameras, turning on your lights or, if you're a Nest user, announcing who is at your door thanks to face detection. There's also a front camera on the JBL Link View, meaning it can be used for Google Duo video calling.
Every voice interaction of course hangs on it hearing your voice and we've found that the JBL isn't fazed when we're talking to it. Yes, if you also use an Android phone you might find it is triggered by the hotword too, and sometimes you'll get answers from both, but it's never been a huge problem for us.
Smart displays represent a bit more of an investment than your typical smart speaker, but they do offer greater functionality. Google Assistant does seem to be a step ahead of Alexa in terms of its understanding and natural intelligence - Siri isn't even in the same ballpark in reality - but we still find the "hey" or "ok" commands rather curt. For us, we actually enjoy the experience of Alexa more for that reason - it feels more conversational.
If sound is important to you then the JBL Link View is the best of the bunch so far; it offers great music performance with a heavier bass kick than rival devices. It's not as balanced when it comes to voice as the Amazon Echo Show, though, so the type of audio you listen to is a factor here.
Overall, the JBL Link View offers one of the best experiences around in the smart display sector. It's not pretty, but it is effective.
Alternatives to consider
Amazon Echo Show
The Amazon Echo Show offers a big screen experience with great sound to back it up. The design is slick and minimal with the speakers tucked behind the display. Alexa is the star of the show, offering connections to a wide range of other devices and serving up fun facts and information on command. It's not quite as smart, but it has a little more character than Google.
Google Home Hub
Google's own smart display is smaller, but wins points for cuteness. It offers the same software experience as the JBL Link View, but doesn't pack in the speaker power and doesn't have a front camera. If you're not looking for a music device, however, then the Google Home Hub is one of our favourite devices - it just looks great.