JBL Link View has the smarts and the power for booming music

Editors’ note, Feb. 27 2019: Google rolled out a new home control screen for the JBL Link View last year and the landscape is getting more competitive with the Google Home Hub and the LG Xboom Smart Display hitting stores. This review has been updated accordingly. 

The JBL Link View has the best sound quality of all current smart displays equipped with Google Assistant. Smart displays are a relatively new category of smart home tech with several good options and no clear frontrunner. All of them combine the always listening help of a smart speaker with a simple touchscreen that shows you cooking instructions, the forecast, your calendar, pictures, videos and more.

Figuring out the right smart display for you is a bit like solving a math problem. Sort through the variables to find the ones that most align with what you want. If you want a display with Amazon’s assistant Alexa, that’s easy: go with the $230 Amazon Echo Show ($230 at Amazon). If you want one with the competitive Google Assistant, you have more choices to make.

The $150 Google Home Hub is the cutest and most affordable; it’s the best entry point especially if you don’t want a device with a camera. The Lenovo Smart Display ($250 for a model with a 10 inch screen or $200 for an eight-inch version) has the best screen and looks the most stylish. The $250 JBL Link View is your best option if you don’t mind a more utilitarian look and want a smart display with great sound quality. 

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 ($99 at Walmart) 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. 


Tyler Lizenby/CNET

You can order the JBL Link View now for $250 on the company’s site. JBL looks to be a little behind on shipping. The website estimates a couple of weeks between when you order and when your device will be delivered. 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. 


Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The JBL Link View also works well as a smart home control center. You can use it to command any of the 10,000 connected devices that now work with Google Assistant. Give a voice command and you’ll see additional onscreen sliders and buttons for most devices, 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.

Swipe down from the top of the screen, and you’ll see a control panel with shortcuts for common tasks like turning off the lights or broadcasting a message to other Google Assistant speakers. You can also pull up a room-by-room list of all of your devices through this screen and you can control each with a touch or with your voice. 

The panel is well organized, and a great reference point if you have a lot of devices and want an overview. If certain members of your family don’t want to remember the names of your rooms and smart devices for voice commands, the control panel allows them to intuitively access them and control them with a tap. 

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.

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