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Google Home Hub: A smart speaker with a screen

Google Home Hub

This post was originally published in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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The Google Home Hub is a smart speaker with a screen. It looks like a small tablet with a thick base (where the speaker is). I had the opportunity to try one out from my friends over at Verizon. It is a great controller for your smart home just like the other Google devices: Google Home, Google Home Mini and Google Home Max; you would probably even compare it to Amazon’s Echo Show which is the Amazon Echo with a screen.

The device itself has a 7” touchscreen display with a light sensor and far-field microphones to pick up your voice from across the room. As I mentioned, the base is a full range speaker. It does not have a camera, so video calling can only go one way, but that also feels less obtrusive and Google was definitely looking out for our privacy on this one. On the back of the device is the power cable (it must be plugged in), volume buttons, and a mute control for the mic…for when you want privacy from your digital smart speaker.

The hub can do all of the normal digital assistant tasks like play music, track your shopping lists, share your calendar, do timers and alarms, etc.

Compared to my Google Home Mini, I like that there is a screen which visually shows information on the questions I ask such as the weather forecast or my calendar for the day; the hub still speaks a response, but also displays results on the screen for anything that you ask.

I chose to set it up in the kitchen as I generally like to use timers and it was recommended to use for cooking where you can see cooking examples from sources like YouTube. What I found I did not do was use it to control smart home features like lights and such as it was not in a central location for me to do so.

The coolest feature for me was that it operates as a digital picture frame when not in use and pulls in my photos from Google Photos. The light sensor gauges light and adjusts the brightness on the screen. I found that pictures looked fantastic with rich colors and great contrast.

The Home Hub also allows you to play YouTube TV, if you subscribe to the streaming service, and that makes it into a little TV you can watch on. I found it fun to put the news on in the kitchen while I was cooking, but with the screen at only 7 inches, I couldn’t see myself going out of my way to watch on the small screen.

With its Home View feature, you can see all of the devices that are connected to the hub in your smart home. This makes it easy to turn devices on and off both via voice and touch on the screen. However, as I mentioned for me, the voice control is in the wrong place and would need to be more central in my home.

At the current sale price of $129 (normally $149), the Google Home Hub is a fun device, but not a device I feel that I need to run out and buy. If I didn’t already have others hubs, I would definitely consider it in order to control all of the various smart devices in my home.

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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 www.gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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JBL Link 20: A smart speaker with more

This post was originally published in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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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.

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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 paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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