If the mobile phone is the third screen after the TV and the computer, the fourth is the smart display, giving you a new perspective on life.
Google has opted not to sell its smart display, the Google Home Hub (although Noel Leeming appear to be parallel importing it), or any of its smart speakers in New Zealand. It’s an odd situation, given its voice assistant, Google Assistant, is already accessible here via millions of smartphones and tablets. But it’s given players like JBL an opportunity to take the lead with the only Google Assistant-powered smart display currently on the market here.
What exactly is a smart display?
A smart display builds an artificial intelligence voice assistant into a speaker device with a touch-capable screen. In the case of the JBL Link View, it’s built on Google’s Android Things software that's designed to present information on the screen based on your voice requests.
Ask: “Hey Google, what’s in my calendar?” And Google Assistant will read out your calendar entries for the day and also display them on the 8-inch touch screen for you to read. Play a tune on Spotify and the artist and song will appear on the screen. Ask for the weather forecast and it will display an infographic.
It adds a really useful element above and beyond smart speakers, which are designed to be driven primarily by your voice. The touchscreen gives you additional control, allowing you to tap on calendar entries for more information, skip songs, and pause videos without having to ask Google Assistant to do it for you.
Limited on video sources
The JBL Link View’s 8-inch screen isn’t big enough to comfortably watch a movie on, particularly as it’s likely to be on your kitchen bench, or in my case, the bedside table. But it supports HD video and the quality is reasonable. The go-to video source is YouTube which is integrated seamlessly; just ask Google Assistant to find a video and it will play it for you.
But there’s no support for the other major video platforms, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or Apple TV+, which limits the effectiveness of using the JBL Link View for video playback. Although it supports Chromecast, when you try and cast Netflix or Lightbox to it from your smartphone, you get a blank screen. Other apps, like Masterclass, the video-based tutorial service, stream just fine. This is Google limiting support for rival services in its software.
Where this smart display device really comes into its own is in the kitchen. It becomes a nifty chef’s assistant. Google has a recipes app, which will show and read you instructions accompanied by an instructive video. It will pause step by step so you can follow along at your own pace. The recipe selection isn’t tuned specifically to Kiwi tastes and available ingredients, but there are enough recipes to find something suitable.
When not active, the JBL Link View can be set to display your photos, the weather or time, or you can simply say “Hey Google, screen off”. A nice security feature allows you to slide a cover across to deactivate the camera above the screen and you can turn off the microphone with the touch of a button too.
Watch a promotional video of the JBL Link View:
Your gateway to video calling
Perhaps the smart display’s best, if least well-known feature, is its support of Google Duo, the video calling app.
Using your Google contacts list, you can call friends and family who have the Duo app installed on their phone, computer or another smart display. Group calling capability is supported in Duo, but not on the smart display at this point, though it could be with a software update.
Duo video calling has been a revelation to me – I hate holding a smartphone camera in selfie mode to have a video call with someone. Instead, with the JBL Link View, I can sit on the bed and call people, with the 5-megapixel camera capturing my image, and displaying the caller’s too. The interface is intuitive and the audio and video calling is as good as any of the major calling apps – Skype, Viber and FaceTime among them. However, it doesn’t support those other calling platforms or calls to landlines and mobile numbers.
JBL is primarily a speaker and soundbar maker so you’d expect the Link View to produce decent audio and it doesn’t disappoint on that front. While it doesn’t match the audio quality of the Amazon Echo Studio smart speaker, it is much smaller and for its size delivers excellent audio and that decent bass throb.
Like most smart assistant devices, you can use the JBL Link View to control compatible devices, like thermostats, LED lights and video cameras.
I have a Nest internet-connected video camera keeping an eye on the living room. From the bedroom, I can ask Google Assistant to show me the Nest camera video and it will pop up on the Link View screen. This would be ideal if you’ve sprung for a Nest camera on your front door or have external cameras to monitor your property.
The JBL Link View is great value for money, given its video capabilities. It works as a regular speaker for the kitchen, lounge or bedroom that can be fully controlled with your voice, but comes into its own for those moments when you want to check out a Youtube video or make a quick video call. For me, the screen has become another reference point for information to guide me through the day and lessens the need to reach for the smartphone.
Pros: Great audio quality, good voice control, security features, compact footprint, home network controls, Bluetooth-capable.
Cons: No third-party apps such as Netflix, can’t Chromecast major video streaming services to it, smallish screen, no music equalizer, no third-party calling app support.