This post was originally published in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.
This month I am looking at a smart speaker sent to me by Verizon Wireless.
The JBL Link 20 is a portable smart speaker with Google Assistant built in. It functions like a Google Home or Amazon Echo with the voice assistant providing the ability to answer questions, control smart devices and, of course, play music.
It is a portable, rechargeable speaker and can be used outside of the home. But it must be connected to a wireless network to get the smart capabilities to work. It is very similar to the discontinued Amazon Echo Tap, which also was portable and built to be moved around.
The JBL Link 20 was very easy to set up with the Google Home app, which is available for Android and iOS (Apple). The app guides you through the quick process of getting logged on to your wireless network and ready to begin answering questions and using its smart features.
The JBL speaker is about the size of a wine bottle and has a robust, full sound thanks to its 360 degree speaker. It comes in black and white. There are volume and play controls on top of the device, as well as a top button to press to activate the Google Assistant manually, but all of those features can be controlled via voice from across the room.
You can also control it from your Android phone, which recognizes when music is playing through the speaker and allows you to control playback functions. I was unable to test this feature with iOS.
Built-in Bluetooth allows the speaker to be connected to a smartphone for streaming music directly from the phone. I could see this being useful for music you may only have on your mobile device or for when the speaker is off of Wi-Fi, but generally online streaming from the Link 20 is easier and allows you to quickly get a playlist going by just asking for it.
When paired with speakers that have Google’s Chromecast ability (which the Link 20 has), it can be used for multi-room playback. You can have music streaming the same song throughout your home. You can create zones for music to only play on specific speakers in your home or based on specific rooms.
According to JBL, the Link 20 offers 10 hours of playtime. I also tested that it can be used while plugged in — which is nice in case you let the battery run out.
Waterproofing (IPX7) allows the device to handle water and dust without damage, and it provides confidence to use it outdoors. Even just taking it out to your backyard, it is nice to know that the device is safe from the elements and accidental spills.
The JBL Link 20’s list price is $199. This is a bit high for a smart speaker, but you do have to look at the fact that this is made by JBL and had stronger sound than a basic smart speaker.
It is a fun device with good sound, but I don’t really see the appeal of moving this around the home or taking it with me for a picnic or tailgating. Perhaps that is why the Amazon Echo Tap was discontinued.
However, I did find myself recommending the JBL Link 20 to a client who would be using the smart speaker in different rooms through the house. So it really comes down to preference and style of use.
Paul Burnstein is a tech handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.