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JBL Link 20 review: A voice-activated portable speaker that truly impresses

Just a few months ago, anyone who wanted a smart home assistant needed to choose between Google Home, Amazon Echo and Apple HomePod. Now, you might not need any of them.

Like Amazon, Google has made its voice-activated technology available for third-party integration. This means tech companies have the opportunity to develop a variety of smart home products powered by Google Assistant.

Today, we take a look at the JBL Link 20, the mid-range device in the company’s series of Google Home-integrated Bluetooth speakers. The full range includes the Link 10, the Link 20, the Link 300 and the Link 500.

I’ve enlisted the help of my colleague Josh Elliot, weekend editor at The Roar, so I’ll be combining our collective thoughts here.

First, let’s zip through the Link 20’s features and specifications.

Features

  • Built-in Google Assistant with hands-free voice control
  • Compatible with Google Home app on Android and iOS
  • Wireless Bluetooth streaming
  • 10 hours of playtime
  • Waterproof to an IPX7 rating
  • Fabric material and rubber housing construction
  • Built-in Chromecast
  • Multi-room playback with other Chromecast-enabled speakers
  • 24 bit/96kHz high-quality sound

Nerdy stuff

  • 2.4/5GHz Wi-Fi connection network support
  • Supported audio formats: HE-AAC, LC-AAC, MP3, Vorbis, WAV (LPCM), FLAC, Opus
  • Dimensions: (Dia x H) 93mm x 210mm
  • Weight: 950 g
  • Battery type: Lithium-ion Polymer (3.7V, 6000mAh)
  • Battery charge time: 4.5 hours @5V 2.3A
  • Music play time: Up to 10 hours (varies by volume level and content)

Design

At a glance, the design of the JBL Link 20 is not dissimilar to the JBL Flip and the UE Boom. Its cylindrical shape and rugged-but-slick material and rubber housing is comfortably familiar, indicating that JBL is happy to stick with what works.

At 950 g, the Link 20 isn’t the lightest speaker on the market. It’s more than manageable in your backpack if you don’t carry too much, but if it’s crammed in with a laptop, camera or anything else with a bit of weight, it can get a little leaden. The weight isn’t a surprise, though, given it stands taller and wider than its little brother in the Link 10.

Overall, the Link 20 is a classy looking speaker. You can put it on your desk, table, cabinet or anywhere else without worrying about aesthetics. Our only criticism is that it’s a little bigger and heavier than we’d like, but this complaint is pretty much irrelevant: if you want something smaller and lighter (albeit with slightly lesser sound quality), the Link 10 is perfect for the job.

Bonus points to JBL for making the Link 20 waterproof without sacrificing the overall look and feel of the speaker. The company says you can actually submerge it in water for up to 30 mins, though we’re not sure why you’d want to. For us, this feature has more practical advantages: you can use it in the shower without worrying about steam, and you don’t need to freak out if it gets left out in the rain for a little while.

Sound quality

For what it is, the Link 20 delivers superb sound quality. It would be irresponsible and ultimately futile to compare it to a hi-fi stereo system or any professional setup because that’s simply not what the product is for.

You can pump the volume to a significant level without distortion, and there’s plenty of bass for a device of its size. It sounds better than a Google Home, although it might be rivalled by the Apple HomePod, a product marketed for its audio quality.

For a portable Bluetooth speaker, we have zero complaints in the sound department.

Google Assistant integration

Our favourite part. The Link 20 is a decent speaker as it is, but throw in Google Assistant and you have some pretty cool features at your disposal.

Thankfully, voice-activated assistants have come a long way since the early days of Siri and company. Google Assistant is easy to link to your smartphone using the Google Home app for iOS or Android, and it doesn’t take long to figure out how to make the most of it.

Once you get the hang of controlling your music, it’s pretty easy to start using your calendar, shopping lists and other tools via your Link 20. The voice match technology is impressive, with the speaker almost never confusing which voice is linked to which account.

Sure, there are still some hiccups – for instance, you might have to repeat yourself from time to time – but these are far outweighed by the benefits.

Final thoughts

The most intriguing feature of the JBL Link 20 is, obviously, its ability to combine the advantages of a stay-at-home, voice-activated smart speaker with the versatility of a simple, stylish and portable Bluetooth speaker.

Visually, it’s an appealing, modern device that will look good in your home without sacrificing utility.

The ultimate beauty of the Link series is the choice given to consumers. Want something that sounds great but prioritises convenience and portability? The Link 10 is the way to go. After a stay-at-home device that delivers premium sound quality? Opt for a Link 300 or 500. Think you might like something in between? The Link 20 is the perfect compromise.

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