If you're trying to improve the quality of audio in your living room, then a decent soundbar is a great way to do so. In the past few years, a few soundbars have been released that go a step further though - offering both an improved audio experience and smart operating system, all rolled into one device. The latest of these is the JBL Link Bar.
The JBL Link Bar ups the audio quality of your home theater while also offering Android TV and even a Google Assistant smart speaker - all in one. But is the Link Bar worth it? I've been using the device for a few weeks now to find out.
The JBL Link Bar will sit on your entertainment center or TV stand, and because of that, you'll want it to look good. Thankfully, it does. The device comes in an all-black color-scheme, with a number of controls on the top and ports at the back.
When it comes to those controls, on the top of the device you'll get an input control, a Bluetooth button, volume controls, and a microphone mute switch. On the back, you'll find the ports, which include three HDMI inputs, an HDMI output, an optical input, an aux port, and an Ethernet port. It's a pretty decent selection of ports and means that you should be able to plug in all your devices, including any gaming consoles and other streaming devices you might have.
In general, the design of the device isn't bad. It comes with a fabric covering around the sides, with a plastic top, but it still looks pretty good and should look right at home among your other home theater devices.
It's important to consider the design of the remote, too, which is actually pretty well-designed and easy to use. There are a directional pad and controls for the Android TV software, along with volume controls and a quick-access button for Netflix. There's also a Google Assistant button, which is a nice touch; it allows you to communicate with Assistant at the touch of a button while you're using the remote.Read more: The best soundbars you can buy
Setting up the JBL Link Bar is pretty easy, but not necessarily as easy as some other Google Assistant devices. For example, unlike basic Google Assistant smart speakers, you can't just turn on the device and complete the sign-in process on your phone. Instead, you'll have to manually log in to your Google account on the device using the remote and type in your password. It's not hard to do, and there are on-screen instructions to guide you through the process.
Once you do sign in, you'll be able to use the device as a Google Assistant smart speaker as well as use Android TV. You'll also be logged in to YouTube and Google Play, which are important parts of Android TV, and that means that you can easily download and install your favorite streaming apps and services.
The best thing about the JBL Link Bar is that it's a streaming device, smart speaker, and soundbar all wrapped into one. That's good news for those who want to bring their living room experience to the next level without having to spend the cash on three separate devices.
Perhaps the main way that you'll use the Link Bar is as a streaming device, and it's not bad as a streaming device. The device has Android TV built right into it, allowing you to quickly install your favorite streaming apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and so on. Android TV, in general, is pretty easy to use, offering a row of apps at the top of the interface and content that you can quickly access below that. Google continues to refine Android TV, too, which is helpful. Unfortunately, the Link Bar does not support HDR just yet; however, some reports indicate that's coming.
Secondary to a streaming device, you'll use the Link Bar as a soundbar, and it's perhaps best at being a soundbar. The JBL Link Bar leverages JBL's experience in home audio, and it sounds pretty good. There's a relatively deep and powerful low end, along with crisp and detailed high frequencies that help deliver a relatively natural sound. There's a built-in equalizer, too, so if it sounds a little too bass-y, or needs a little more high end, in your room, you can tweak it.
Last but not least, the device also acts as a smart speaker, which means that you can still interact with Google Assistant through the device even when your TV is off. Like other Google Assistant devices, you can activate the assistant simply by saying "Hey Google," and then speaking your request. With Assistant you can find out information from the web, control smart home devices, and more.Read more: The best smart speaker you can buy
The JBL Link Bar is a capable soundbar, streaming device, and smart speaker, but it's not really the best at any of those things. If you're looking for a great-sounding soundbar and want a smart speaker built into it, then the Sonos Beam is worth considering instead, as it allows you to use either Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa.
The fact that the device doesn't currently support HDR is also a bit frustrating. We're hoping the device is updated with HDR support sooner rather than later.
Google Assistant on the Link Bar works well, but at times it can be a little slow to respond. That can make using Assistant a little frustrating, and happens both during Android TV use, and when using the device as a smart speaker.
The JBL Link Bar may not be the best streaming device, best smart speaker, or best soundbar, but if you want all those features, it's a whole lot cheaper than buying all three separately. Because of that, it's worth considering for those that want a super-smart device that offers good audio at an affordable price
That said, if you do want the best Android TV streaming device, it's worth considering the Nvidia Shield TV, while if you want an excellent smart soundbar, then the aforementioned Sonos Beam is the way to go.
Pros: Good sound quality, smart features, Android TV is getting better, Google Assistant
Cons: No HDR, Assistant can be slow at times