Earlier this year the Lenovo Smart Display became the first Google Assistant-powered smart display. Our colleagues at Android Authority had a lot of positive things to say about the display but noted that audio quality wasn’t it’s strong suit. That’s where the JBL Link View comes in, delivering an audio experience that’s more on par with (or even above) typical smart speakers.
Without further ado, let’s jump into our JBL Link View review.
JBL Link View – who’s it for?
- Those that care about sound, but also want a display. The JBL Link View looks and sounds a lot like a smart speaker that just happens to have a had a display jabbed into its center. This is the kind of device for someone who is looking for a smart speaker but also wouldn’t mind some of the extra benefits that a display has to offer. If sound quality isn’t as important to you, you might want to take a look at the Lenovo Smart Display.
- The Google Assistant camp. If you already have an Amazon Echo or another Alexa device, you’re better off getting an Amazon Echo Show. Some folks do mix virtual assistant ecosystems but it can make controlling your smart home a bit more complicated.
- Those that are looking for a kitchen companion. We’ll get to this a bit further in the review, but the JBL Link View is the perfect device to place in your kitchen thanks to recipe integration, the ability to watch shows while you cook, and more. Granted it’s still more than usable in other rooms, but you can tell smart displays were really built with the kitchen in mind.
A design that’s clearly about sound
When it comes to aesthetics, the Lenovo Smart Display and JBL Link View are dramatically different from one another. The Lenovo Smart Display feels like the main focus is, well, the display. Its modern aesthetics make it feel more futuristic, minimal and help keep the focus on the screen. Meanwhile, the JBL Link View is pretty reminiscent of the company’s traditional speakers, such as the JBL Link series. That means the sound is a key priority here, just like with smart speakers. That’s not to say the display isn’t an important part of the experience, it just isn’t as center as it is on the Lenovo Smart Display.
It's all 'bout that bass, 'bout that bass
Some are going to find this approach a bit ugly or odd, but I personally dig it.
The JBL Link View is sort of shaped like an egg and is encased in a black mostly plastic shell. In the center of the oval boombox is an 8-inch display. Above the display, you’ll find a camera that serves just one function at the moment: making video calls with Google Duo. We’d love to see support for other video clients in the future, but in testing, it worked well if you don’t mind utilizing Duo.
Another obvious use case for the camera would have been selfies, video gifs, and similar semi-gimmicky features. In some ways, we’re glad Google kept things basic and focused on perfecting what’s there before giving us the kitchen sink. Still, the camera feels underutilized at the moment.
On each side of the display is a mesh 10-watt speaker that provides clear stereo sound, and around back you’ll find a passive radiator that’s all about that bass. The upper portion of the rear also contains a camera shutter for privacy, volume controls, and a mute switch.
Yes, the JBL Link View is the best sounding smart display so far
Most reviewers note the Lenovo’s Smart Display has sound quality that’s loud and good enough for basic uses. Of course, it’s not going to replace a smart speaker when it comes to audio. This is a totally different story for the JBL Link View, which I significantly preferred over my Google Home’s speaker — especially when it came to bass heavy tracks.
The JBL Link View outperforms the Google Home and Home Mini. It’s louder, it has noticeably better bass and just feels like a more premium audio experience. You simply can’t compare the Lenovo Smart Display’s speakers to the JBL Link View. That’s a good thing though, as it means that Google Smart Displays don’t just feel like cookie-cutter replicas of one another.
Now not everything about the JBL Link View’s audio experience is perfect.
This feels like a smart speaker that just happens to also have a display
Sadly, there are no equalizer features on the JBL Link View which feels like a pretty significant omission. The good news is that the default audio experience is well optimized and pleasing for most users, but if bass isn’t your thing — you might find the JBL Link View doesn’t quite meet what you’re looking for.
Even more tragic, the JBL Link View doesn’t support audio grouping! This is one of the advantages of the Google Home, and hopefully, something that Google eventually brings to the JBL Link View. In fact, there are a few things Google Home can do that a smart display can’t, including continued conversations and more. Read more about the differences between a smart display and smart speaker here.
The practical benefit of a smart speaker with a display
First, what makes the JBL Link View (and all Smart Displays) different from a smart speaker?
- A smart display runs on a scaled-down first of Android, called Android Things.
- Smart displays currently don’t support audio grouping, continued conversations, and could be left out of a few other Google Home features in the future.
- Smart displays run all the same commands but have the added benefit of visual elements when asking about the weather, directions, and more.
- A smart display can play video thanks to the included display.
Okay, so the drawbacks are pretty obvious. One, Google apparently refuses to bring some features to the smart displays (at least for now). Two, they are going to be more expensive.
As for the benefits? First, it can do everything that Google Home and other Assistant-based speakers can do – except for the few features Google intentionally left out. Then there’s things that it can do that wouldn’t be possible without in a display:
The addition of visual cues. When playing music you get a visual player that you can pause, rewind, etc. The same goes for controling smart home accessories, getting weather details, and the list goes on. This is even more useful when it comes to Smart Home use, as it makes it easy to smart light brightness and more, with just touch.
Video support. YouTube can be easily launched right from the touchscreen or via voice. There is also casting support for Hulu, HBO, Showtime, CBS All Access, Spotify, Pandora, and likely more. This all works well and feels similar to how it would on any mobile device. Oddly, we can verify that one service that doesn’t work is Netflix. Considering there are quite a few 3rd party services that are supported, this could be a licensing issue that the two companies are still working out. Here’s to hoping the problem will be fixed sooner than later.
It’s great for cooking. You can pick out recipes from a scrolling list and once you’re ready, Google walks you through step-by-step. The display also presents useful visual cues such as a small list of ingredients to the right. And of course, you can always use your voice to ask it questions like unit conversions and ingredients if you’re too far away to see the list. In fact, you can also multi-task in the kitchen by setting timers, watching videos or listening to music, all while also being guided through a recipe.
If you’d rather watch videos on your phone, tablet, or computer, video support might not be the end of the world. Same goes for cooking. Still, there’s no way to get around how much easier it is to have one device that does all of this seamlessly with touch or voice. The added visual cues also make familiar Google Assistant commands that much more fun.
A functional yet imperfect display
The 8-inch touchscreen display offers a 1,200 x 800 HD resolution. This is the same as the Lenovo Smart Display, at least on paper. While I have only played with the Lenovo Smart Display briefly, I can say the JBL Link View didn’t look quite as sharp. While it’s far from ugly, the colors are a bit duller and slightly washed out.
To clarify, you’re not going to hate the display here, as JBL’s display is certainly far from poor. We just have to give credit to Lenovo for delivering a slightly better quality display.
The display isn't as good as the Lenovo Smart Display - but it's close
There are also fewer size options. You get an 8-inch display and an overall footprint that’s similar to the 10-inch Lenovo Smart Display. And that’s it for choice. So if you want a bigger, brighter, crisper display you might want to turn your attention to the Lenovo Smart Display. If you just want a functional display that maybe isn’t “the industry best”, the JBL Link View still offers decent viewing angles and brightness that can get the job done.
Personally, I’d take the JBL Link View because I care more about audio and the visual cues, than watching movies in the most crisp conditions. Also, the quality differences are that massive. Your thoughts may differ, of course.
Should you actually buy the JBL Link View?
Yes. Even if you don’t use the display all the time, the JBL Link View has excellent audio performance and I think you’ll find some of the visual cues are hard to live without once you get used to them. If you are looking for a great smart speaker that also benefits from a display, there’s no better option on the market right now. Yes, some features are missing compared to the Google Home, but that’s going to be true of all smart displays.
- Lenovo Smart Display is a display first, speaker second
- JBL Link View is a smart speaker first, display second
For those that aren’t sold on an ecosystem, it’s also worth mentioning the Amazon Echo Show. At $130, the Show is the cheapest smart display on the market. That said, the Amazon Alexa-based device has fewer features and arguably less impressive sound (at least in my humble opinion).
The JBL Link View is $249, which is similar to what you’ll find from Lenovo. At this price, it’s a bit over double of what you’ll pay for the Google Home. Again, if you think you’ll use the display or want an audio upgrade, it’s absolutely worth the premium.