I initially had trouble imagining how the $250 JBL Link View would live up to my experience with the Lenovo Smart Display. Both products are part of what will eventually be a quartet of Google Assistant-equipped devices that feature both a touchscreen and an always-listening smart speaker. Lenovo’s Display, which hit store shelves a couple of weeks ago, impressed me with its looks and overall ease-of-use. JBL has the burden of entering the market second with the exact same software — and thus the same core features and user experience. Even as far as hardware, Lenovo has a bigger screen for the same price and a more elegant design.
Both devices are designed to mimic the Amazon Echo Show ($130 at Amazon.com) — the first major smart speaker with a screen. You command all of these devices with your voice just like you would a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo ($85 at Amazon.com) or Google Home ($129 at Walmart). The screen then shows you additional info when you ask about the weather, search for local restaurants, check your calendar and more. You can also use the screen to watch videos and make video calls.
Like the Lenovo Smart Display, the JBL Link View is a great cooking tool thanks to the deft way it lets you navigate through recipes with voice commands. Google Assistant in general makes better use of its touchscreen than Alexa, so I prefer both Google devices to the Amazon Echo Show. Picking between the Lenovo Smart Display and the JBL Link View is trickier. I still prefer the Lenovo Smart Display as I usually just listen to music in the background and like the design better. If you want the same set of features along with speakers that can rock, the JBL Link View is the better choice for you.
A new category of tech
The JBL Link View has a touchscreen, but it’s not a tablet. It has speakers and a microphone, but it’s not just a smart speaker. It shows visual information after you ask a question, but your phone can do that with the same Google Assistant. Like the Lenovo Smart Display and the Amazon Echo Show before it, the JBL Link View has a lot to prove merely to justify its existence as yet another screen looking for a place in your home.
While it’s true that you can’t use the JBL Link View for composing an email or downloading apps like you can with a phone or a tablet, the Google Assistant experience sits front and center to elegant effect. The Link View runs Android Things, a trimmed down version of Google’s Android mobile operating system meant for simple smart home devices.
Unlike a phone or a tablet, you’ll primarily use your voice to control the JBL Link View, and you’re meant to engage with the screen from a medium distance. Search for a restaurant, and the display will show a couple of results along with pics of each that you can see from across the room. You can then scroll through the choices with your voice or with a touch.
Like the Lenovo Smart Display, the JBL Link View is cheaper than our favorite phones or tablets. It also has more finely tuned microphones for commanding it from afar and better speakers.
You set up the JBL Link View using the Google Home app. You can customize the ambient screen using the app — pick from personal photos, stock photos and a clock. You can enable personalized results, set up voice match and give the Link View your address via the app.
If you’re worried about privacy, the Link View has a switch to mute the microphone, and a physical shutter that covers the camera. Otherwise, it only records what you say after you say the wake words “Hey Google” or “OK Google.” Since it integrates with services such as Google Calendar, you might see personalized info on the home screen, but you can turn that feature off in the app if that makes you uncomfortable.
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You can slide a physical shutter in front of the camera.
You can preorder the JBL Link View now for $250 on the company’s site, and the company says it will ship Sept. 13th. It’s not yet available overseas, but the US price converts to roughly £200 and AU$350.
See what a smart display can do
Once you’re up and running with the JBL Link View, you no longer need your phone as an intermediary. You can talk directly to the screen, and it will respond to commands via the Google Assistant. You can search the web, control your smart home, play music, add something to your shopping list, play a game and more.
You can also get started with a tap on the ambient screen, and the Link View will show you a snapshot of your day and the local weather. Scroll over for music and video recommendations and suggestions of other commands.
The screen shows YouTube videos in HD. You can also browse your personal photos and make a video call using Google Duo. I wish Google allowed you to use other video chat software — even the company’s own Hangouts would be nice — but that’s a minor gripe.
The quality of video calls will of course depend on your signal quality. Our test calls were smooth and clear if not perfectly crisp. If the recipient doesn’t have Google Duo, you can always make a normal voice call: Google’s Assistant will recognize your voice and search your contact list for the phone number. The recipient will even see that it’s you calling, even though you are on the speaker.
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Make a video call with the JBL Link View and Google Duo.
The JBL Link View also works well as a smart home control center. You can use it to command any of the 5,000 connected devices that now work with Google Assistant. Security devices such as locks don’t offer additional on-screen controls yet, but most of the rest of the compatible smart home devices do, including thermostats, lights and smart switches. For instance, turn on your Philips Hue lights with a voice command and you’ll see a control panel allowing you to adjust the brightness with a swipe or change the color. You can even pull up the feed of your Nest Cam.
Right now, you can also watch videos from streaming services such as YouTube TV, HBO Now, CBS All Access, Google Play Movies as well as certain news videos on the Link View, but not Netflix yet. You can’t even cast Netflix to the display using your phone, but you can use it as a Bluetooth speaker.
Whether you’re watching videos or searching the web, you can always swipe up for quick settings like volume control and brightness, or swipe right on the screen to go back to the previous page. In general, using the JBL Link View is intuitive and the touchscreen is responsive.