The JBL Link 20 is a durable smart speaker that can play music for around 10 hours without being plugged in. It uses the Google voice assistant, which is our favorite for searching the web and playing music with streaming services. The audio doesn’t sound as great as other third-party smart speakers we reviewed, like the Sonos One and Sony LF-S50G. The portable, battery operated design is great for taking your smart speaker around the house without plugging it in and waiting for it to connect to Wi-Fi.
This smart speaker suffers a bit from identity confusion. The fact that it is portable and waterproof is great, but you can’t use any of the voice commands if you take it camping or to the beach because you won’t have access to Wi-Fi. Without Wi-Fi, the JBL Link 20 is an expensive Bluetooth speaker. The primary advantage isn’t taking this portable smart speaker camping – it’s the ability to take it from room to room in your house without waiting for it to boot up.
One of the major shortcomings during our testing process was the noticeably slow processor. It led to frequent pauses during music playback and the slowest startup time. The slow processing could be due to running on a battery rather than an outlet power source. The other battery-powered speaker we tested, the UE Megablast, had the same issues.
The JBL Link 20 has a helpful selection of physical controls and indicator lights. On the top panel there are buttons to control the volume, pause and play music, connect to a Bluetooth device and activate the Google assistant. There’s also a button on the back panel that mutes the microphone.
As for indicator lights, the front panel has four dots that alert you when Google is listening. They also double as a volume indicator. At the bottom of the speaker is a Wi-Fi indicator that lets you know if you’re connected and how strong the signal is, which is particularly helpful on a portable speaker. Below the mute button on the back panel is the battery meter to alert you when you’ve reached the end of the 10-hour lifespan.
The JBL Link 20 doesn’t sound as nice as similarly priced speakers we tested, but its portable and durable design could fulfill some unique needs. The Google voice assistant is our favorite for answering questions and streaming music, and the physical controls and indicators are among the best we tested.