You might have heard the term “smart display” a lot lately. Smart displays are smart speakers featuring voice assistant technology like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, meaning you can ask for the weather and not only get the forecast read to you, but also displayed for you on the screen of your speaker.
The number of smart displays, which started with the Amazon Echo Show, has grown recently. These displays can play music, show recipes, catch you up on shows, video call your family, control all your smart devices, and much more—but they all have different strengths. If you are looking at smart displays as a gift, upgrade, or potential addition to your smart home, we can some help you pick one out. Here’s what’s currently available, what they’re like, and who they are for.
The Echo Show 2 is an immense improvement over the original Echo Show, sporting a large 10.1-inch display and a minimalistic design with two speakers, passive bass, and Dolby sound processing. In our review, we noted that the big jump in sound quality makes the Show 2 suitable for parties.
Like all Echo devices, the Show 2 uses Amazon’s Alexa to control smart devices, ask questions, catch up on the news, and make video calls. Alexa has excellent smart home compatibility with many different devices and easily connects with Amazon music and Prime Video (although Hulu and a variety of additional music services are also available). The device has a built-in Zigbee smart home hub as well. One important thing to note: The Echo Show cannot play YouTube videos due to an ongoing feud with Google, which owns YouTube.
For: People who love Alexa and the idea of watching (non YouTube) videos, shows, news and sports on their smart display. It can act as an excellent second TV in a den, kitchen, or other room of the house, with connections to both Prime Video and Hulu, among other video options. The 10.1-inch display is one of the largest around, and ideal for catching details, while the audio saw massive improvement for this generation. The Show 2 is probably the best smart display on the market right now. However, if you don’t really like this “second TV” idea, another, less expensive option may be the better choice.
Lenovo’s smart display, available in 7-inch and 10-inch display sizes, is a counter-friendly smart display that’s a great jack-of-all-trades, not really specializing in anything, but doing a good job at pretty much everything. It’s controlled by Google Assistant and, as we noted in our review, comes with a handy camera shut-off option if you want to ensure your privacy. It’s a great display for looking up recipes in the kitchen or checking your calendar with a voice command. It’s the best looking of the bunch with a bamboo backing, and you can buy the device with either an eight-inch or 10-inch screen.
For: Those who use Google Assistant and want an excellent smart display to use with it. Google Assistant has more video options than Alexa due to YouTube access, as well as plenty of scheduling, music (with strong audio), interactive searching, and video call options. It’s also one of the few displays that gives you two choices of display size, which is a great way to customize based on what you want.
Google’s Home hub is an alternative device if you prefer a Google Home control speaker that also has a 7-inch screen and an interesting pedestal-like design. It’s a smaller smart display than most, which makes it easier to perch on a shelf or nightstand, and it has unique shelf-friendly features like a direct connection to Google Photos and the ability to show your latest family photos with a simple settings shift.
However, in other ways the Home Hub is limited. Because Google did not include a camera on the model, it’s not suitable for full video chatting. Ostensibly, a camera wasn’t included for privacy reasons, so people could put the Hub in a bedroom without worrying, but other smart displays managed this with a simple “disable camera” feature. Also, the sound is a bit disappointing on this device.
We do like the simple smart home controls and the versatility of the device. Because it’s so small, it can easily fit anywhere.
For: People who want Google Assistant with a display, but are very protective of their privacy – and may be working with a lower budget. The Hub is one of the more affordable options, but you won’t be able to make video calls. If setting up the Hub in the bedroom is important to you, this should be your choice. If you’re looking for a bigger screen, the Lenovo Smart Display makes a much better Google Assistant device.
The Link View sports a rounded design, 8-inch display, and power 2-inch drivers for excellent speaker sound. It works with Google Assistant, providing access to all of Assistant’s knowledge, scheduling, music services, and YouTube videos. The display also has video call options, but like Lenovo JBL has included a privacy switch to turn the camera off.
For: People who are looking for a great-sounding Bluetooth smart speaker with a screen. Trust JBL to do well with audio: This smart display has the best sound of any option on our list, but it skimps a little on the display – which is great for casual uses and video calls, but a little lacking for video. The “shutter camera” capabilities will also appeal to those worried about privacy.
The Amazon Echo Spot is a round little device with a round little screen. Technically it has all the capabilities of an Echo Show, including the voice capabilities of Alexa and video calls, but that small screen limits how you can use it. It’s a nice little video phone in a pinch, and when you put up a clock face it serves as a great clock with alarms you can set via voice commands, and music you can play on demand. Its size also allows it to fit in areas other smart displays cannot. That being said, it doesn’t have much usability compared to alternatives.
For: People who want a fancy alarm clock that can show the weather, play music, give you the forecast, and take calls (but preferably not while you are still in bed).