One of the great things about both the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa voice-assistant platforms is that they're both open. It's easy for third-party companies to make compatible smart home devices that work with both of them. In fact, companies can also make their own smart speakers to compete directly with those manufactured by Google and Amazon.
One of the latest companies to take up the Google Assistant smart speaker mantle is JBL, which released a new line of voice-enabled speakers in late 2017 under its new Link sub-brand. The Link 300 ($250, £200, AU$350) competes with such products as the Alexa-enabledand the Siri-powered . It may not look quite as sleek as those speakers, but it is attractively designed and seems well built. It does share some similarities to ($150, £90 or about AU$160), an affordable Chromecast speaker we liked that lacks the voice-control option.
The Link line also features a combination of two fully waterproof battery-powered portable speakers -- the JBL Link 10 ($150 at Dell Home) and Link 20 ($200 at ABT Electronics) -- as well as two AC-only models, the Link 300 ($160 at Walmart) and Link 500. The upcoming , meanwhile, is one of a new wave of Google Assistant devices with a screen built into it.
In addition to using Google Assistant for its voice commands, all Link speakers are equipped with Google Chromecast ($24 at eBay), which enables them to join up not only with other Link speakers but any Chromecast-based audio device to create a multiroom audio setup over a Wi-Fi network. (All Android apps and many iOS apps can send audio to Chromecast speakers at the touch of a button.) The speakers are also equipped with Bluetooth, which offers universal compatibility.
While you can debate which speaker sounds best, particularly for the money, there's no doubt that the Link 300 sounds impressive for its relatively small size. It hangs tough against the competition, with a wide soundstage and deep bass. In fact I liked it more than the Link 500 ($400 at Dell Home), which has more bass but gets a little too boomy for my taste.
Setting up the speaker is relatively simple. You use the Google Home ($99 at Walmart) app on iOS and Android devices to log into the speaker with a direct Wi-Fi connection. Then you log onto your chosen network to get the speaker on it. You can then give it a label for a particular room and link it with other Chromecast-enabled speakers if you have them.
The Link 300 has two microphones at the top along with some physical buttons, including volume controls. You can access Google Assistant by pressing the middle button on top of the speaker and issue commands without having to say "Hey Google" or "OK Google" first.