You wouldn’t think there’s much difference between Google Assistant speakers, but there is. Some are better at interpreting your commands than others. Some have better overall sound. The JBL Link 20, and its little brother the Link 10, are great examples of simply aiming for the happy spot in between.
So, the Link 20 and the Link 10. Have I heard better portable speakers before? Yes, but not many. Have I used Google Assistant speakers with better voice recognition before? Again, yes but not many. Don’t get me wrong, they tick all the right boxes, they do absolutely everything you expect a Google Assistant speaker to do. There isn’t anything they do especially badly, but if there’s a design philosophy at work here it’s “polite to a fault.” It would be nice to feel like there was some personality behind them. They look fine, they sound fine, but are in every other respect a bit unremarkable.
Both the Link 20 and Link 10 resemble JBL’s popular Charge 4 speakers, black cylindrical drums that are happy to blend into any space you care to put them in. Work desk? No problem. Kitchen shelf? I’m just fine up here, bud. Bedside table? Pretend I’m not even here. Professional enough for the office and just casual enough for the home, they’ll look fine no matter where you put them and you’ll forget they’re there, which is entirely the point.
They also have a sound and feature arrangement quite similar to the Charge 4. Big volume, big bass, big battery life. You have to really crank them to find any distortion and, bass aside, the overall EQ sounds like its fairly flat. This is not a criticism — flat is good, flat is fine, flat lets your music sound good regardless of genre or the space you’ve got the speaker in.
The Google Assistant component is also fine, though I did find it struggled to hear me at longer distances or over music playing at a higher volume. If you haven’t used a Google Assistant speaker before, this complaint might sound a bit unfair, but Sony’s cheaper LF-S50G speaker doesn’t suffer these problems at all. It can hear me over tunes at full volume, I could ask it a question from another room and it could hear me. The JBL Link can’t quite get there. The closer you get, the less these problems appear but I did find I still had to speak quite clearly and at a raised volume for best results. When it could hear me clearly, there was never a problem with it delivering what I asked for.
The good news between the Link 20 and the Link 10 is that you don’t really lose much model-to-model. There’s nothing the Link 20 does that the Link 10 doesn’t also do, and their sound quality is quite comparable. The benefit of the Link 10, at around a third the size of the Link 20, is that you save a bit of extra desk space without sacrificing audio or battery life. Speaking of which, you’ll get about 10 hours of music playback time out of the internal battery in both models which is quite something given how loud they can get.
In the Link 20 and the Link 10, JBL have a solid, workman-like speaker. It doesn’t do anything its competitors aren’t also doing and it won’t blow your mind in terms of sound quality but if what you’re after is a straight-forward, easy-to-setup, easy-to-use Google Assistant speaker, these are the ones to go for.
Score: 7.5 out of 10
Highlights: Solid sound; Solid design; Solid battery
Lowlights: Lacking in personality
Manufacturer: JBL Harman
Price: Link 20: $299.95 AUD, Link 10: $229.95 AUD
Reviewed using loaned retail units provided by the manufacturer.