JBL Link View
- Great JBL sound
- Useful screen
- Google Assistant
- Easily mutable camera and microphone
- Smart Home integration
- Hard to fault
It was only half way through 2018 that smart speakers entered the Blog of Dad house, yet quickly they became an integral part of our daily lives. For the toddler, being able to ask Alexa for her favourite music was a revelation. We have tried several Alexa-enabled speakers over the past few months, but what about the alternatives? Specifically, what about speakers that use Google Assistant? Even better… what about a smart speaker with a large screen in the middle?
Disclosure: JBL provided Blog of Dad with the JBL Link View for the purpose of review. All thoughts expressed about the Link View are my own, based on my experiences with the device.
JBL Link View
The JBL Link View is Google Assistant-based smart speaker with a large 8 inch screen built in to the centre of it. It also includes a 5mp front facing camera and has Chromecast and wireless Bluetooth streaming built in. The Link View is splash proof (IPX4), making it ideal to be positioned in the kitchen.
The Link View is an oval shape. It is quite large for a smart speaker, of course that size is necessary to accommodate the screen and quality JBL speakers. It looks great and is reasonably unobtrusive for its size, although the bright screen does naturally catch the eye.
As with all smart speakers, the first question I ask is “does it sound good?” All the bells and whistles in the world count for naught if the device is incapable of producing quality sound. Yes, even for a device with a screen, the primary purpose is listening. To be frank, I expected big things from the Link View – anything sporting a JBL logo has a mighty reputation to live up to.
And live up to the JBL standard it does! The sound produced by the JBL Link View is crisp and clear. It is more than capable of filling the entire downstairs of my townhouse with glorious sounding music.
That’s because, despite the rather large screen sitting in the middle of it, the JBL Link View is first and foremost a speaker. It packs two 51mm full-range drivers which can deliver your music clear and loud. JBL have a wealth of expertise when it comes to creating great sounding speakers, and that knowledge is very much on show with the Link View.
If you are used to using a voice-activated speaker, you may be asking the question, “why put a screen on a smart speaker?” Surely the ability to speak voice commands is enough?
That was what I thought… right up until I used the JBL Link View.
When I began using the Link View, I had that feeling of you don’t know what you’re missing until you have it. I never felt the need to have a screen on my smart speaker, until I had a screen on my smart speaker. Then I wondered how I had lived without it all that time (…approximately six months…).
The screen on the JBL Link View can serve many purposes. Surprisingly my favourite of those is to display stunning images while it isn’t doing anything else. Almost daily a new picture of somewhere beautiful captures my attention and I spend a few seconds admiring the view. That regular little experience is of no consequence, but I enjoy it very much.
The screen also serves some extremely practical purposes. It integrates with my Google calendar to provide handy notifications that are easy to see. Reminders of appointments and important dates are regularly flashing up on the screen. Of course, these notifications also appear on my Android phone, but for some reason on the Link View I pay more attention. I don’t know why that is, but it happens.
The visual Google Assistant interface is fairly straightforward. It is a closed system, which means that you can’t add apps like you can with an Android tablet. Instead, Google have created an easy to use helper, that is especially useful in the kitchen. The Link View can be used to look up recipes and follow step-by-step instructions. The inclusion of pictures is surprisingly useful, especially when tackling tricky dishes that you have never made before.
The screen can be used to catch up on news – great for busy parents who like to stay connected with world events, while also preparing enough breakfast to feed a small army. It can also be used for those simple, but extremely useful things – like checking the weather before dressing the toddler, or finding out random fun facts.
Finally, the screen can be used to access YouTube directly from the Link View, and also for Chromecast. I was able to stream Plex content from my WD My Cloud Home Duo, over my phone and to the Link View perfectly. These features are great for listening to music while cooking, and also for entertaining a toddler who is bored of cooking.
You can ask Google to turn off the screen. It will go black, but still display the clock. The JBL Link View also does this automatically when I switch off the lights.
Content and the Google Home App
You use the Google Home app to set up the JBL Link View, and connect it with any services you like to use. Naturally, Google Home defaults to using YouTube for pulling up content, but you can also link it to the usual contenders such as Spotify.
I quite like the YouTube integration. I can ask for specific songs to be played without the need for a premium account – something that always bugged me with Alexa-enabled speakers. Once the song has finished, YouTube automatically plays songs from a similar genre. I find myself listening to songs that I quite like, but that I wouldn’t normally remember to search for.
You can also ask the JBL Link View to play a genre of songs. It’s fair to say that Play Christmas songs was a phrase that was regularly thrown at our Link View over the past month.
Video content is also served up Via YouTube, although with Chrome casting built in, you can stream just about whatever you like to the device. I found that Plex worked well.
One of the attractions of smart speakers is their potential as controls for smart home devices. While I haven’t yet ventured far down that path, I believe the day is quickly coming where smart home devices will be sufficiently advanced and practical enough to be a valuable part of any home.
While being able to turn the lights on and off with your voice is great, the addition of a screen for control seems very useful, if not ultimately far more practical. While I do enjoy having the option of shouting at my appliances to get them to do my bidding, I don’t want to have to do that all the time. A visual display also lends its self to greater insight into the smart devices. As someone who values data, I find that a great asset to have.
As I said, I can’t yet comment on the actual experience of controlling smart home devices via the JBL Link View, but I’m very excited by the prospect.
The elephant in the room. Whenever I talk with people about smart speakers, the conversation always finds its way to the issue of security and personal data. While the convenience of a smart speaker is brilliant, many people worry about a device that is always listening. With The Link View, there is also a camera for Google Duo video calling, so there is an added layer of privacy concern.
Thankfully, most good smart speaker manufacturers have built in protections to enable you to decide when the device is listening.
The JBL Link View seems to be particularly security conscious. A physical switch is used to move a plastic cover over the camera. The cover is red, so you can easily see at a glance if the camera is covered or not. I highly recommend keeping that cover in place permanently, unless you using the camera for a specific purpose. But then again, I’m the kind of guy who puts tape over their laptop’s webcam.
The JBL Link View also has a switch for muting the microphone. Again, as a person who is fairly security-conscious, I tend to keep the device muted unless I am specifically using it. That does slightly impact the futuristic, completely hands-free, whole-internet-worth-of-information-at-my-beck-and-call nature of the device, but that is a (very minor) trade-off that I am willing to make, in order to be completely comfortable with the device in my kitchen. It is the same for every smart speaker in my house and, frankly, if there isn’t an easy way to mute the microphone (and camera), then it ‘aint staying in my house.
The JBL Link View has taken over as the primary smart speaker in my house. The Link View sounds excellent, operates within the Google ecosystem (perfect for Android phone users) and has the advantage of the great 8 inch display built right into the middle of it. I use it on a daily basis for listening to music and checking the weather and my calendar. And I love the amazing landscapes that cycle across the screen while the Link View has nothing better to do! All things considered, the JBL Link View is an impressive unit that is hard to fault.