Google's announcement of its Home Hub will bring the idea of a screen-equipped smart speaker to the forefront of Australian consumers’ minds heading into Christmas.
But it is not alone. JBL/Harman previewed its JBL Link View at IFA in Berlin back in September, and we reckon it looked at least equally impressive.
And Amazon has just made the Echo Show officially available here in Australia, joining the Echo Spot, with its small circular screen.
The Link View is also a Google Voice Assistant smart speaker, and from what we heard in demos in Berlin, its sound is particularly impressive. We've not yet heard the Google Home Hub, but on previous form the JBL is likely to have it beat for sonics.
As we’ve also seen from previous releases, however, Google can create its own advantages from its market position. So while both Google-equipped ‘speakers’ can play YouTube videos, Google is giving purchasers six months of free access to YouTube Premium, so YouTube Music and general YouTube can be enjoyed without any ads breaking in and requiring a screen press (or shout) to be dismissed.
By contrast Amazon’s screen-equipped Echo Show models don’t do YouTube at all. You can watch subscription Prime Video and "video Flash Briefings from Sky News Australia, Fox Sports and more".
The smarts otherwise seem pretty evenly divided between the two Google-equipped devices, given that the JBL Link View also has a Chromecast inside for audio streaming (neither device has a video Chromecast, however). Both will be able to link with Google-compatible smart home devices. Both respond to the same built-in Google Voice Assistant.
The Amazon device uses Alexa, of course, which puts it in a different eco-system entirely. But Alexa's market leadership in the US has seen it adopted by a good many smart-home companies and recently audio companies too - it can be used to control HEOS devices from Denon and Marantz, for example, and recent Yamaha products too.
The JBL has a slightly larger screen than the Home Hub, specified as eight-inch compared to Google Home Hub’s seven-incher.
Amazon’s Echo Show (second gen) has a tablet-sized 10-inch display, while the Echo Spot screen is a 64mm-diameter circle.
The camera angle
And another JBL bonus is that there’s a 5MP front-facing camera on the Link View. That allows you to make Google Duo video calls, which may make separated families very happy, though you can’t Skype or, of course, Facetime, so everyone will need to get with the Google program. The Echo Show has a camera, enabling calls to the Alexa app or another Echo device with a screen. But it seems Google’s Home Hub is camera-free.
That differentiator seems to govern the price differential. Both Amazon and JBL are hitting the market at $349 — and we gather JBL has brought that down significantly from its original estimate, perhaps to match Amazon and get closer to Google's Home Hub, which will sell in Australia at an attractive $219.
Better for sound?
We have heard the JBL Link View playing music, and were impressed; we have not yet heard the others. But we’d take a punt on the JBL being superior sonically to the Google device, given this has been the case for all comparative smart speaker releases so far, and the fact that the Google Home Hub seems to be mono. We haven’t thought much of Amazon’s speaker quality in tested devices to date, but the Echo Show does have twin 2-inch drivers and a passive radiator, which is a radiator more than JBL's Link View. The Echo Spot rather less so, with a single 1.4-inch mono speaker.
The Amazon Echo Show is available now (through Amazon.com.au): details here.
The Google Home Hub is now on pre-order, available from October 23rd: details here.
JBL Link View is due to launch in Australia in November; not yet listed on the JBL Australia site you can see details on JBL's US site here.