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JBL’s smart display combines Google smarts with good sound

Posted by | Android, Assistant, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, JBL, smart speaker, Speaker, TC | No Comments

If you’re looking for a smart display that’s powered by the Google Assistant, you now have two choices: the Lenovo Smart Display and the JBL Link View. Lenovo was first out of the gate with its surprisingly stylish gadget, but it also left room for improvement. JBL, given its heritage as an audio company, is putting the emphasis on sound quality, with stereo speakers and a surprising amount of bass.

In terms of the overall design, the Link View isn’t going to win any prizes, but its pill shape definitely isn’t ugly either. JBL makes the Link View in any color you like, as long as that’s black. It’ll likely fit in with your home decor, though.

The Link View has an 8-inch high-definition touchscreen that is more than crisp enough for the maps, photos and YouTube videos you’ll play on it. In using it for the last two weeks, the screen turned out to be a bit of a fingerprint magnet, but you’d expect that given that I put it on the kitchen counter and regularly used it to entertain myself while waiting for the water to boil.

At the end of the day, you’re not going to spend $250 on a nice speaker with a built-in tablet. What matters most here is whether the visual side of the Google Assistant works for you. I find that it adds an extra dimension to the audio responses, no matter whether that’s weather reports, a map of my daily commute (which can change depending on traffic) or a video news report. Google’s interface for these devices is simple and clear, with large buttons and clearly presented information. And maybe that’s no surprise. These smart speakers are the ideal surface for its Material Design language, after all.

As a demo, Google likes to talk about how these gadgets can help you while cooking, with step-by-step recipes and videos. I find that this is a nice demo indeed, and thought that it would help me get a bit more creative with trying new recipes. In reality, though, I never have the ingredients I need to cook what Google suggests. If you are a better meal planner than I am, your mileage will likely vary.

What I find surprisingly useful is the display’s integration of Google Duo. I’m aware that the Allo/Duo combo is a bit of a flop, but the display does make you want to use Duo because you can easily have a video chat while just doing your thing in the kitchen. If you set up multiple users, the display can even receive calls for all of them. And don’t worry, there is a physical slider you can use to shut down the camera whenever you want.

The Link View also made me appreciate Google’s Assistant routines more (and my colleague Lucas Matney found the same when he tried out the Lenovo Smart Display). And it’s just a bit easier to look at the weather graphics instead of having the Assistant rattle off the temperature for the next couple of days.

Maybe the biggest letdown, though (and this isn’t JBL’s, fault but a feature Google needs to enable) is that you can’t add a smart display to your Google Assistant groups. That means you can’t use it as part of your all-house Google Home audio system, for example. It’s an odd omission for sure, given the Link View’s focus on sound, but my understanding is that the same holds true for the Lenovo Smart Display. If this is a deal breaker for you, then I’d hold off on buying a Google Assistant smart display for the time being.

You can, however, use the display as a Chromecast receiver to play music from your phone or watch videos. While you are not using it, the display can show the current time or simply go to blank.

Another thing that doesn’t work on smart displays yet is Google’s continued “conversation feature,” which lets you add a second command without having to say “OK, Google” again. For now, the smart displays only work in English, too.

When I first heard about these smart displays, I wasn’t sure if they were going to be useful. Turns out, they are. I do live in the Google Assistant ecosystem, though, and I’ve got a few Google Homes set up around my house. If you’re looking to expand your Assistant setup, then the Link View is a nice addition — and if you’re just getting started (or only need one Assistant-enabled speaker/display), then opting for a smart display over a smart speaker may just be the way to go, assuming you can stomach the extra cost.

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The JBL Eon One Pro is a powered sound system for speakers and performers

Posted by | audio engineering, Bluetooth, electrical engineering, Gadgets, in-car entertainment, JBL, mobile device, rca, Speaker, subwoofer, TC | No Comments

As a speaker I often find myself mumbling into a microphone with little thought about the sound system powering it. While most PAs are massive affairs requiring a soundboard operator and lots of wiring, I’ve also had to hoot into portable PAs, a practice I rarely relish. But who was I to judge the quality of a portable PA system? When JBL asked me to review their new $1,299 JBL Eon One Pro I decided to send it to a real professional, my childhood friend Rick Barr, who helped me tag-team on the review.

The most important reason that Rick liked the Eon One Pro was the built-in battery. Everything else, he said, was icing on the cake.

Rick is a professional musician, performing shows every weekend, and some weeknights, in a wide variety of venues. His go-to PA is the Bose L1 Model II with the B2 bass unit. It’s a beast in terms of sound quality and immersion, doesn’t take up much floor space, and really soars when used in outdoor environments.

We immediately recognized that a smaller, more portable unit could be extremely useful. He had just recently performed at a new outdoor event that wasn’t well-equipped with power and he had to come up with a makeshift solution. It worked, but the idea of being able to “cut the cord” to avoid all that was certainly appealing.

JBL says you can get up to six hours of battery life from the extended-life lithium-ion. In our tests, he was able to make it through three-hour shows without a problem. Charging it is as simple as plugging in the AC cord to the back. So, in short, we were pleased with the battery performance. Still, going cordless is all well and good, but it’s really the sound that matters. So, let’s take a look at what this unit can do.

The Eon One Pro weighs 37.5 pounds, and it’s all very compact. The 8” subwoofer is right up front, and you fit the 118 dB speaker array directly on top. This, and the two optional spacers, fit nicely in the back of the unit. The overall design of the Eon Pro really is nice. The spacers essentially increase the range of the speaker, so their usefulness is really dependent on your environment.

The 7-channel mixer features 2 Hi-Z inputs, 4 combo ¼” / XLR inputs, a 3.5mm jack, and an RCA input. Each of the 4 combo inputs has controls for volume, treble, bass, and reverb. This allows for very basic mixing, but if you prefer to have more options, it is easy enough to plug in an external mixer and run through that. In our tests, we used the on-board controls.

You can also stream from a mobile device via Bluetooth, or connect directly via USB. Rick connected via his cell phone using Bluetooth and found the overall sound to be extremely good. There is also phantom power for condenser mics and an XLR Pass Thru to other systems, as well as RCA output jacks for a monitor.

So, on to the show. The first venue Rick played in was your typical bar, with a medium-sized square room, wood floors, and a decent crowd. He was able to get set up in just 10 minutes, compared to 20 for my Bose. It took some extra time to adjust levels and once he started playing, just a little more tinkering got him where he needed to be. He did notice that he had to turn the volume up for his Sennheiser 935 mic quite a bit in order to match the guitar level, which leads to an interesting omission: lack of level meters. There are none, so you need to rely solely on your ears to get the right mix.

The speaker did a fine job of filling the room, while the subwoofer provided some nice depth to the overall sound. Rick had some friends out who sat just six feet in front of the speaker who said they weren’t overwhelmed by the volume and others will able to hear the music very clearly outside of the room.

The speaker covers 100 x 50 degrees, and while testing this at his shows, Rick stood slightly behind and to the side. This worked well enough, though in a noisy environment, having a monitor speaker might be helpful. He could hear the music pretty well, but it seems you’d want to be at least 90 degrees on either side, if not a little forward.

The second show we took the Eon One out to was another small bar, fairly narrow but long. It was completely different from the other bar in terms of dimensions, and a really good test of how far the speaker could project. Again, folks sitting up front were just fine with the volume, while people in the back, some 50-60 feet away, could hear it as well (and reported that it sounded very nice).

“I’d played at this venue before but this time, the electrical outlet wasn’t working. The girl at the bar didn’t know how to turn it on. This is something that rarely happens, but if I’d had my Bose or any other kind of amp, I would have been hosed. I hadn’t planned on testing the battery again but in this instance, it saved me,” Rick said.

Given that most offices purchase something like this at some point for broadcasting at meetings or meetups it makes sense to get something that works well for a gigging musician. Rick’s requirements – that this thing be reliable and sound great – is in line with the average desk jockey’s and the built in battery can save the day when it comes to situations where power is unavailable.

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JBL’s $250 Google Assistant smart display is now available for pre-order

Posted by | Android, artificial intelligence, chromecast, computing, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, hardware, JBL, lenovo, LG, TC | No Comments

It’s been a week since Lenovo’s Google Assistant-powered smart display went on sale. Slowly but surely, its competitors are launching their versions, too. Today, JBL announced that its $249.95 JBL Link View is now available for pre-order, with an expected ship date of September 3, 2018.

JBL went for a slightly different design than Lenovo (and the upcoming LG WK9), but in terms of functionality, these devices are pretty much the same. The Link View features an 8-inch HD screen; unlike Lenovo’s Smart Display, JBL is not making a larger 10-inch version. It’s got two 10W speakers and the usual support for Bluetooth, as well as Google’s Chromecast protocol.

JBL says the unit is splash proof (IPX4), so you can safely use it to watch YouTube recipe videos in your kitchen. It also offers a 5MP front-facing camera for your video chats and a privacy switch that lets you shut off the camera and microphone.

JBL, Lenovo and LG all announced their Google Assistant smart displays at CES earlier this. Lenovo was the first to actually ship a product, and both the hardware as well as Google’s software received a positive reception. There’s no word on when LG’s WK9 will hit the market.

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Google launches smart displays with JBL, Lenovo, LG and Sony

Posted by | artificial intelligence, CES 2018, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, Google Assistant at CES 2018, google home, hardware, JBL, lenovo, smart display, Sony, TC | No Comments

 We’ve been waiting for Google to bring its Assistant to devices with a screen. After all, voice assistants are great — until you need some visual information to go with their answers. But Google is not launching a Google Home with a screen. Instead, the company today announced it is working with JBL, Lenovo, LG and Sony to launch new smart displays later this year. Read More

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The JBL Reflect Aware is the first of a new crop of Lightning-only headphones

Posted by | audio engineering, earbuds, electrical engineering, electronics, Gadgets, headphones, iPhone, JBL, TC | No Comments

img_0538 As we hurtle noiselessly into a dystopian future, headphone makers have already started offering Lightning-only earbuds, something that should give early adopters some solace but might be a hard sell for folks with a shoebox full of tangled traditional earbuds. But the future is here and JBL Reflect Aware is the first active-noise canceling soldier in the battle against the headphone jack.… Read More

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JBL’s Charge 3 waterproof speakers are big on battery and bass

Posted by | charge 3, Gadgets, hardware, JBL, jbl speakers, waterproof | No Comments

JBL Charge 3 I do the same thing every time I get a waterproof device – I take it home, fill up the sink and dunk it. It’s a strangely cathartic, a sort of gadget baptism, and nicely refreshing for someone who spends so much of his time cautiously handling expensive hardware devices. The only thing that beats it are those companies with rugged gadgets that demand you bang them with a hammer.… Read More

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