What is the JBL Link View?
The Google Assistant didn’t have a smart display device until recently, with the launch of the Google Home Hub. Now, Google is accelerating the pace, offering a range of third-party smart displays to take on the Amazon Echo Show, including the JBL Link View.
With JBL’s heritage, the Link View is designed to be as much a powerful music system as it is a smart display, offering something different to the far more simple Home Hub or Lenovo Smart Display 10″.
JBL Link View – Design and build quality
The lozenge-shaped Link View looks every bit the large high-end Bluetooth speaker that I’d expect from JBL (332 x 152 x 100mm). What sets this device apart from a bog-standard Bluetooth speaker, however, is the 8-inch display on the front. It’s a touch larger than the 7-inch display in the Google Home Hub, but smaller than the one that features on the Lenovo Smart Display.
With the material cover on the side speakers, the JBL Link View looks smart from the front, while its matte-black exterior is plain and unobtrusive. Overall, the JBL Link View is a neat bit of kit but it lacks the style touches of the Google Home Hub.
On top of the speaker sit dedicated volume controls (you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen and use the touch controls, if you prefer) and a slider that mutes the microphone if you don’t want Google to respond.
There’s also a 5-megapixel front-facing camera, although this also has a slider switch that both disables it in software and puts a physical shutter in front for privacy.
JBL Link View – Features
The advantage of using the Google Assistant is that the JBL Link View offers all of the same features as other smart displays powered by the assistant. My guide to the Google Assistant covers this in more detail (and is updated to contain new features as they’re released), although I’ll go over the basics here.
At its most basic, the JBL Link View can read information from your email, give you calendar updates and display photos from your Google Photos account – provided you’re using a free Gmail account, rather than a paid-for G Suite account. Quite why Google hasn’t got its act together to support paid-for accounts is a mystery – and a constant frustration.
The homescreen is the same as you’d see on any other Google Assistant smart display. You can view the current weather in your location, and you scroll right to view suggestions in lists of three. Suggestions depend on the services you have connected to your account but include news headlines, YouTube videos, Spotify tracks and suggested Google Assistant actions, such as using a timer.
Google’s real advantage over Amazon Alexa devices is its integration with its own excellent search tools. Ask for directions, for example, and you can view the map on-screen, and they’re sent to your phone, too.
Search results from Google are displayed with accompanying pictures and illustrations. The results are far more accurate from this device than on the Echo. The Google Assistant remains easier to talk to, too, understanding context and conversational English better than Alexa, which requires a more rigid use of language.
YouTube support provides a way to watch videos on the fly, with the screen displaying touch controls for managing playback. However, it’s disappointing that there’s no option to watch Netflix or stream Google Play Video shows to it, particularly since the Echo Show lets you watch your Amazon Prime Video content.
You can play music using Spotify, Deezer, Google Play Music or YouTube Music. Speakers can be grouped, although if you want to play different tracks in different rooms then you’ll need to upgrade to a YouTube Music Family Account.
The JBL Link View is useful in the kitchen for accessing recipes. Search results are accurate, bringing up tonnes of recipe options. And, since launch, the system has improved to largely show UK recipes, rather than those with American measurements.
You can make calls, too, using either Google’s free voice call service (UK landlines and mobile numbers) or Google Duo if you want to make internet voice or video calls.
The touch controls are generally handy (you can swipe back from any screen to go to the homepage, for example), but the interface remains a little clunky. For example, you can’t dismiss a paused YouTube video on the homescreen; you have to wait for it to time out before it disappears. In addition, the interface is a little jerkier on the JBL Link View than it is on the Google Home Hub.
JBL Link View – Smart Home
Smart home control is a great way to use the JBL Link View. You can swipe down from the top of the screen and pick the type of device you want to interact with using Home View, such as turning on your lights or controlling your smart thermostat. You can also view cameras.
Use your voice instead and the Link View shows on-screen controls for that device, too. For example, you can turn on your kitchen lights, then use the on-screen controls to set them to the brightness level you prefer.
With the likes of Philips Hue bulbs, you can control the colour, too. I found that the Google Assistant has better control of thermostats than on the Echo Show. For example, I could control my Honeywell Evohome thermostats using Home View touch controls, which those same controls in Alexa can’t do.
If you have a Nest Hello doorbell, then you’ll receive a notification on your JBL Link View and can even answer the call from the unit without having to reach for your phone.
Device support has improved, although Amazon Alexa still has the slight edge.
JBL Link View – Sound quality
The JBL Link View is designed to be a high-quality speaker, with two 51mm full-range drivers and a small subwoofer at the rear. The combination is a potent one and on a par with the Amazon Echo Show.
Powerful and clean audio come from the Link View and it can cope with most types of music well. Listening to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”, you can hear fingers sliding on the strings and the subtleties of the track. Switching to the “Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back and the bass pushes through, adding that urgency and punch to audio.
Push the volume too high and the speaker distorts a little, with the audio becoming a little bit harsh. Keep the volume at 8 or below and you’re on good ground, able to fill a decent-sized room with music.
The one downside is that there are no EQ controls, so you can’t adjust the audio to sound the way you want it; something that the Amazon Echo Show offers.
JBL Link View – Video quality
The 8-inch 1280 x 800 display is good enough for its intended purpose, but a larger Full HD model would have been welcome. Picture quality is detailed, although the screen looks a touch washed out, with blacks verging on grey.
Viewing angles are decent, with you able to see the screen clearly whether you’re looking at from the side or looming above it. An ambient light sensor adjusts brightness automatically, so that it’s visible in all conditions.
Overall, the colour reproduction and image quality of the Google Home Hub are better than on the JBL Link View.
Why buy the JBL Link View?
If you’re after a smart display with quality audio, then the JBL Link view could well be the speaker for you. At its current price, it also offers excellent value. There are some annoyances, however.
A higher-resolution larger display would have been nice, as would Netflix support. The latter is more down to Google, but having the option to watch some content outside of YouTube on a display such as this makes much sense. Ditto the lack of support for G Suite accounts.
If sound quality isn’t of particular importance, the cheaper Google Home Hub offers all the same features in a smaller package with a better-quality screen.
All that said, for a device that can do everything from offering up recipes to controlling your smart home and playing high-quality music, it’s hard to find something better than the JBL Link View at this price.
A powerful smart display, the JBL Link View is great value and a brilliant choice if you want to listen to music.