Smart Speaker of the Year

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The smart speaker market has just grad­u­ated to in­clude screens — Google’s Home Hub and the Ama­zon Echo Show have both ar­rived... but nei­ther com­pany has a good record when it comes to sound qual­ity. JBL, on the other hand, is a loud­speaker com­pany that has got smart, sell­ing frankly as­tound­ing num­bers of its wire­less speak­ers, then be­ing very quick to im­ple­ment Google Voice As­sis­tant into its Link smart speaker range, and now bring­ing this touch-screen Link View to market in Aus­tralia at a re­mark­able price of just $349 (and as we write, avail­able for $80 be­low that).

It is a use­ful thing? Hell, yes. It has an au­dio Chrome­cast inside, so it works within the Google Home app, streams Spo­tify, and groups with other rooms. It has Blue­tooth as well. Slightly dis­ap­point­ingly it doesn’t work as a video Chrome­cast, but the 8-inch touch­screen can ac­cess YouTube, Google-com­pat­i­ble se­cu­rity cams, and Google-stored pho­tos and videos. There’s a 5-megapixel cam­era which you can use for mak­ing calls us­ing Google Duo (though not Skype or Facetime).

And it can play mu­sic. Now usu­ally we sug­gest that if you use a Google Home or Home Mini, you set its de­fault mu­sic out­put to some­thing else — a Chrome­cast plugged into your hi-fi, say, or di­rect to an An­droid TV with an at­tached sound sys­tem. But JBL’s Link speak­ers achieve far bet­ter stand­alone sound, and the Link View is no ex­cep­tion, its stereo speak­ers fir­ing for­ward to de­liver a solid sound at desk­top dis­tances from YouTube or Spo­tify; bass went down to the 40s of hertz with some peaks and dips up to 100Hz (a loud 75Hz test tone had it shuf­fling across the bench­top), and it hit full strength from per­haps 140Hz. We couldn’t find a Blue­tooth but­ton, so were im­pressed that say­ing ‘Hey Google, en­ter Blue­tooth pair­ing mode’ was un­der­stood and im­ple­mented, for easy di­rect stream­ing.

Is a screen bet­ter? We dis­cuss that on p10 this is­sue; there are pros and cons. But if your an­swer is yes, then the JBL Link View is one cool and ef­fec­tive early ex­am­ple of the new breed.

More info:

“It’s a smart Google Voice-equipped speaker with a screen and cam­era. But its cru­cial dif­fer­ence is the qual­ity of its sound.”

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