In the final few years of the last decade, digital assistants penetrated our homes in the form of smart speakers and smart displays. A smart speaker allows you to manage connected devices hands-free and listen to your favorite tunes while also getting help organizing your day. With a smart display, you get the same functionality with the inbuilt bonus of a color touchscreen. From flashing up your photos when the device is idle to allowing you to watch movie clips, music videos and place video calls, smart displays are highly versatile. Primarily voice-controlled, your smart display is a command center and entertainment device rolled into one so which ones are worth your time? We’ll help you out today in our brief guide aimed at beginners unsure of which smart display to choose. We’ll kick off with Amazon’s bench of models before checking out offerings from Google and Lenovo. Buckle up and see which one makes the best fit for your connected home…
First to market with smart speakers and smart displays, the Echo Show range is a vehicle for Alexa and the go-to choice.
Launched in mid-2017, the original iteration of Echo Show had a 7-inch screen to garnish search with a visual layer. Now into its second generation and boasting an inflated 10-inch display, this iconic smart display remains a valid purchase in 2020. Smart displays are not intended to be fully-featured tablets. As such, Echo Show acts to bring out the best in Alexa. You’ll also benefit from watching your favorite music videos and other content in full HD. As with all smart displays, Echo Show comes into its own when it comes to home automation. You won’t need a third-party hub to take charge of compatible Zigbee devices hands-free. The speaker is much more robust than you’ll find on Echo so you can listen to your playlists with more purpose. Hands-free messaging is convenient. The large screen renders video calls a cinch with Skype. The main drawbacks with Alexa are a heavy bias toward Amazon services, no physical shutter to block the camera and underwhelming screen skills. Overall, Echo Show is a wise addition to any smart home and functions as an entertainment and control hub.
If you like the idea of a smart display but you’ve got limited space to accommodate another new device, why not consider the scaled-down Echo Show 5? You’ll get a 5.5-inch screen with overall dimensions a slight 5.8 x 3.4 x 2.9 inches. Whether you want Echo Show in the bedroom or on a crowded living room shelf, you won’t need much space. Audio is boisterous considering the compact footprint. The full-range speaker gives you lively sound across all frequencies. You can crank up the volume without too much impact on sound quality. The camera comes with a physical shutter to address privacy concerns. You can use this to enjoy hands-free calls between Echo devices or to anyone with the Alexa app. As a further nod to your privacy, your voice is only streamed to the cloud when Echo Show 5 recognizes the wake word. For a compact and highly affordable entry-point to digital assistants and smart displays, Echo Show 5 is one of our personal favorites.
Falling in between these pair of smart displays, Echo Show 8 has an 8-inch HD screen and a pair of powerful speakers. In many ways, this is the best all-rounder giving you ample screen real estate in a compact unit. Measuring up at 8 x 5.4 x 3.9 inches, Echo Show manages to pack in 4 mics along with those 2 neodymium speakers to deliver a robust package. Expect the same performance as you’ll get across the Echo range with the screen acting as a nice counterpoint to Alexa. You can also get timers on screen, useful when you’re cooking. When you call up recipes, you’ll benefit from video tutorials along with detailed walkthroughs. You can even see what you need to pop on your shopping list on-screen. Grab video feeds from your security cameras or video doorbell on Echo Show 8’s screen and or make video calls hands-free. There’s no support for Netflix and you’ll find YouTube a very awkward experience. You’re forced to use the inbuilt browser. Things are clunky to say the least. So, if you’re looking for a screen large enough to enjoy music videos, a serviceable speaker, and a method of smart home control in one, check out Echo Show 8.
Echo Spot is a rare beast… A discontinued product we still think makes perfect sense if you act quickly while stocks remain. The smallest smart display on the market, the 2.5-inch screen is not fit for watching a movie but serves a turn when you need a visual prompt. The key selling point of Echo Spot is the fact such a tiny unit puts you in hands-free control of your connected home. This model is ideal for bedroom use as it won’t dominate your dresser. While the soundscape is lacking, you can hook Echo Spot up to third-party speakers if you’re looking for superior audio. If you’re looking for a low-key smart display with a diminutive footprint, buy Echo Spot while you’ve still got the chance.
If you prefer using Google Assistant, the mighty G has a couple of proprietary smart displays well worth your consideration.
If you prefer Google Assistant to Alexa, you can pick up a couple of Google smart displays bringing your favorite AI-fueled virtual butler home. Previously called Google Home Hub, the original name was poorly conceived. This device has none of the features you’d expect from a smart home hub. What you get instead is a rebranded smart display called Google Nest Hub. If you’re already heavily invested into Google’s ecosystem, this device makes perfect sense. While Echo Show can flash up appointments Google Calendar or a video feed from your Nest camera, integration is not as strong. Slightly smaller than Echo Show 8 with a 7-inch screen, Nest Hub is small enough to fit on a nightstand or dresser. Marketed as a digital art frame, you can display all your latest and favorite Google Photos. The screen self-optimizes to lighting conditions bringing out the very best in picture quality. The lack of a camera prevents you from placing video calls. On the plus side, no camera means no concerns about privacy either. Where Nest Hub falls down is in terms of sound quality. The driver simply can’t compete with the dual-speakers on Echo Show 8. If music is your first love, consider shifting allegiance to Amazon. For a capable all-rounder giving you complete control of your connected home with Google Assistant, Nest Hub is a solid choice.
Supersize things with Nest Hub Max stepping up to a 10-inch screen comparable with that of Echo Show. If you’re looking to display your pictures and you’re a Google Photos user, Hub Max renders them exquisitely. Unlike Alexa-enabled devices, Nest Hub Max returns a personalized experience based on who is looking at the screen. Smart home control is robust and Nest Hub Max has a camera you can use for either video calling or home security. As you’d expect considering the screen size, overall dimensions make this smart display a solid choice for the living room or the kitchen. If you’re looking for a bedroom device, you might consider Nest Hub. It doesn’t have a camera so you won’t have any security concerns. It’s also much more suited to use on a nightstand. OK… How about if you fancy a break from the big two and none of these displays fit your needs? Well, you should give due consideration to Lenovo who make some highly capable smart displays packing Google Assistant.
The Best of the Rest
Also packing Google Assistant onboard, Lenovo has multiple smart displays that merit further investigation when you’re on the buying trail.
The first of a trio of smart displays from Lenovo that play nice with Google Nest kit is Smart Display 7. The sleekest of the Lenovo displays, design nevertheless polarizes opinion. Many feel this is not such a looker as Nest Hub but design is subjective. If you’re sold on the looks, what’s so good about Smart Display 7? Running on Android Things, you can kickstart your day using Google Assistant for help with your commute, the weather report, and the news. The 5-watt speaker is punchy enough to bring your playlists to life. What’s even better is navigating your media without lifting a finger or getting up off the couch. A physical shutter to cover the camera and a button to mute the microphone keeps your privacy uppermost.
The raking asymmetric design of Smart Display 8 is not to everyone’s taste. The same could be said for the unwavering wake words, “Hey, Google” but what about the benefits? The slightly more substantial screen real estate might not be intended for watching full-length movies but ensures music videos are more than watchable. Unlike Smart Display 7, the display is HD for added crispness and clarity. The display comes in especially handy in the kitchen. Multiple use cases from timers to guided recipes to help with your shopping list make Smart Display 8 a neat kitchen companion. Smart home device management couldn’t be much easier. Use Google Assistant to control all compatible devices with a series of voice commands. The dual mics mean you shouldn’t have too much problem making your virtual butler understood even if the room is crowded and busy.
The beefiest Lenovo, Smart Display 10 goes head-to-head with Echo Show and Google Nest Hub Max in the battle of the big boys. Watching your streamed media is a more pleasurable experience when viewed on this 10-inch screen. These benefits also extend to video calling. If you spend a lot of time chatting with friends and family online, the calling experience is first-rate. Unfortunately, the size doesn’t translate to show-stopping audio. Sound is decent but hardly room-filling. Smart Display 10 certainly won’t be replacing your primary listening device any time soon. As you’d expect, this smart display delivers roundly when it comes to smart home control. Ditch the remote and stop fiddling around with apps. Just bark, “Hey, Google” followed by whatever you want your virtual butler to do. What can you do if all these Lenovo smart displays seem a bit too large for your liking? Well, why not road test Lenovo Smart Clock?
Measuring just 4.5 x 3.1 x 3.1 inches, Smart Clock will slot just about anywhere. Despite such a small footprint, you can easily read the clock across the room thanks to a 4-inch screen. You’ll get the trademark raked Lenovo design that you’ll either love or hate. We’re fans here at Smarthome but we know plenty of people who dislike that skewed aesthetic. It’s what inside that counts, though. Google Assistant comes onboard so you’ll get a solid control center for your smart home if you’re a fan of voice control. Sound quality is unlikely to blow you away. That said, you’re probably not going to be using Smart Clock as primary listening device. For the occasional burst of song, the speaker is fit for purpose but that’s about as far as we’ll go. You won’t get the same self-optimizing display you get on Nest Hub and there’s pretty limited interaction available on-screen. For a small bedroom device for the purposes of basic smart home control, Smart Clock is well worth a look. For most other use cases, it comes up short.
If you’re looking to mix things up for 2020, you might be tempted by one of the Lenovo displays we looked at today. If you’re content to stick with the usual suspects, you can now easily determine which Echo Show or Google Nest Hub would make the neatest fit for you. Don’t forget to bookmark our blog for reviews of the best tech along with plenty of how-to guides and, of course, all the latest smart home news. If you’re tempted by any of the smart displays on our list today, why not sign up for our email newsletter first? Not only will you get more great content direct to your inbox, we’ll give you 20% off your first order here at Smarthome.