The smallest in JBL’s latest line of Link smart speakers, the JBL Link 10 is a portable speaker that lets you take the convenience of Google Home along when you are away from home.
Just earlier this year, the Google Home was officially launched in Singapore. I got my hands on one, and it has become a rather useful convenience. I was slated to travel back-to-back to two overseas destinations, so I was rather excited to take my Google Home experience along – in the form of the JBL Link 10.
Its closest sibling with two 8-watt speakers, the non-Assistant JBL Flip 3 comes in at SGD149 (USD99). The JBL Link 10 comes in at SGD219 (USD150), meaning you pay quite a premium for the slight benefit of having Google Assistant on your beck and call.
With its two far-field microphones on board, I found the speaker to be very responsive to the various trigger phrases for the Assistant. However, it was at times more convenient to pick up and unlock my phone to access the Assistant. A large screen also presents data in a more accessible way: my phone was simply better at displaying and helping me visualise information on weather, schedules and routes.
The JBL Link 10 is portable: identical in girth to the JBL Charge, but slightly shorter at 169mm (compared to 213mm). However, I doubt you would be eager to lug it along on your next overseas trip, as I had found out the hard way. It takes up a little too much luggage real estate in return for its usefulness in terms of volume, sound quality and the Google Assistant feature.
It might be perfect for a local, small poolside gathering or for a private barbecue or outdoor dining situation, but not advisable for anything that requires a suitcase or a passport.
On my trips, I found that the Link 10 could easily fill up a large hotel room (more like a suite, I was lucky), though I felt it lacked the body and oomph otherwise found on other speakers like the Ultimate Ears Wonderboom (SGD149/USD99), which is shorter, smaller yet slightly stouter.
The JBL Link 10 enjoys JBL’s signature clarity and excellent sound quality. However, I would have preferred a more enjoyable and fun sound that other outdoor users would have appreciated anyway.
Perennial poolside favourites like Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines and Iggy Azalea’s Fancy sounded great with the Flip 10’s excellent rendition of the rapid attacks in these upbeat pieces. But the beefy, obnoxious bass that we expect (or even enjoy) was rather muted. My educated guess would be that the larger JBL Link 20, or even the JBL Link 300 and Link 500 would provide a more robust listening experience with their more powerful speaker cones.
With more mellow and laid-back pieces, however, the JBL Link 10 shone. Songs with a larger vocal presence (and lower emphasis on percussion and bass) like Avicii’s Wake Me Up and Milky Chance’s Cocoon had excellent presence with the JBL Link 10’s sizeable volume. For an intimate outdoor dinner, you might consider seminal jazz pieces like The Girl From Ipanema by Stan Getz or tracks by Madeline Peyroux. Slower, more intimate sounds were well rendered on the speaker.
Controls are a bit of a compromise. Volume is controlled with via two buttons on the top panel, on either side of the one that activates the Google Assistant located dead centre on the panel. On the top and bottom of it resides the Bluetooth and play/pause controls. However, we lack the track controls normally found on other speakers – though skipping and replaying tracks (or playing literally almost any track) is possible through vocal prompts via Google Assistant.
On the rear, we find the power button, with an option to mute the onboard mic underneath: useful if you’re worried about spies or happen to constantly trigger the Assistant by accident. All buttons glow a pleasant white when the speaker is on, with a four-LED array up top indicating the volume level or if the Assistant is listening to/processing a command. The mute button and four led indicators turn orange when muted. A Wi-Fi icon blinks in the absence of a recognised network and glows solid when connected: which means Google Assistant is available and active.
This means the otherwise round speaker should be meant to be oriented with the volume/Assistant and Wi-Fi indicators facing forward. No issue there: it helped me find the controls easily in the pitch darkness of my hotel room.
All buttons are hidden under the soft-touch, satin-finished rubber surface. The Google Assistant trigger, however, stood out from the black unit with its colourful design and white background. It was a proper pushbutton. Its design felt sufficiently waterproof (it is IPX7 certified), and I used it by the bathtub with no qualms.
The USB cable plugs into the bottom edge on the back of the device. It’s a micro USB port, but USB C has yet to see good conversion rates, yet. It lacks a 3.5mm port for desperate, last-ditch attempts to get the party started when Bluetooth is not working.
At 5h, battery life on the JBL Link 10 is much, much lower than other speakers in its class. The UE Wonderboom has a battery life of 10 hours, representative of the industry average, where the more premium Bose Soundlink Mini has a battery life of 12 hours.
I found myself having to deal with a dead speaker on two occasions within a week of using it. My Nude Audio M, which I have used for years now, boasts a battery life of 20 hours and I often travel without having to charge it for the entire trip.
I always carry a 20,000mAh portable charger with me so I never have to deal with battery issues. But not everyone does, and this is a real limitation if you’re looking for a speaker that can last the night.
Who’s this speaker for, then?
It’s not a cheap speaker, especially considering the very limited battery life and weak sound. It seems like most of the cost is diverted to the addition of the Google Assistant on board.
So, is it worth it?
Well, that depends. It does make for some convenience, especially if you’re having a shellfish feast or some sort of gluttony that prevents you from mucking about with physical buttons or smartphone screens. That might make the JBL Link 10 (and 20) pretty useful to accomplish tasks like switching up the playlist (“OK Google, play me some Tibetan death metal”), or to set a timer for the perfect roast (“OK Google, set a timer for 20 minutes”).
If you’re an exceptionally terrible host, you could even get the Google Assistant to help host a trivia game. And if you feel the part (or just want to lay the verse from one of Eminem’s songs) you could get Assistant to lay down a beat for you.
It’s not the cheapest, strongest or longest lasting speaker, but it’s got Google’s smarts on board, and is well-built like any JBL product, with waterproofing to boot.
The JBL Link 10, along with the rest of the JBL Link family, is available at all major retailers in black and in white. It retails at an MSRP of SGD219.