We’ve become accustomed to the smart speaker and having digital assistants in our homes - the numbers prove that - but what if Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa could do more than just tell us stuff. What if these AI helpers could show us stuff as well.
That’s the premise behind the next wave of smart home products coming to market. We expect smart displays, the natural evolution of the smart speaker, to become widely adopted in 2019. If you are sold on the idea of owning a smart display but don’t know which one to buy, check out this list of the best available today.
Amazon Echo Show
Smart displays have not quite gone mainstream yet but Amazon is already on the second generation of its Echo Show product. The smart display is not the cheapest, but it does feature one of the best displays out there. With a 10.1-inch HD screen, the Echo Show is one of the larger smart displays available today. There are also two 10W speakers with Dolby processing in there to make sure that the audio experience matches the visual one.
As this is an Amazon product, Alexa is running the Show. You can call up recipe videos in the kitchen, watch your favorite Prime Video shows and listen to music on Spotify or Apple Music. There’s also Audible integration for audiobooks. The Echo Show makes for an ideal Skype tool thanks to its built-in camera too.
If you don’t want to stump up the cash for the Echo Show and don’t necessarily need a 10-inch display, you can always opt for the Echo Spot for a saving of around 100 bucks. It only features a 2.5-inch display, however, and the speakers are nowhere near as good as on the Show. It’s more of a smart speaker with a watch display, rather than a proper alternative to the Echo Show.
Google Home Hub
Unveiled at the Made by Google event in October last year, the Google Home Hub is Mountain View’s answer to the Echo Show. The two big players in smart speaker technology are now tussling on in the smart display market too.
The big strength is Google Home Hub is the company’s expertise in voice-assistant AI. The big G was not first to market with its smart display, but it made a big impact when it finally turned up. Of course, you get all that expected Google integration of Search, Maps, YouTube, Calendar, Photos and so on, so if you are already invested heavily in this ecosystem, you don’t need to look any further than this for your smart display.
The Google Home app has been updated to be a kind of one-stop shop for all of your smart home needs and brings all of your speakers, Nest products and the Home Hub together rather nicely. There also a Live Albums feature that will create slideshows based on your voice commands. You can say something like, "Hey Google, show me my photos from Paris", and instantly show your friends and family your vacation snaps. Pretty cool.
There’s no camera on the Google Home Hub, which means there’s no video calling. For some, this is a negative. For those more resistant to putting cameras connected to big tech servers in their home, the Google Home Hub provides a more privacy-conscious consumer option.
Lenovo Smart Display
The Lenovo Smart Display has been a bit of a hit in the US, but it took its time to cross the Atlantic to the UK and Europe. This is a third-party Google product that brings all of that Google Home and Assistant stuff without having to buy the Made by Google device. It does cost quite a bit more than Google’s own smart display, however.
The Lenovo Smart Display comes in two sizes. There an 8-inch version as well as a larger, 10-inch variant that is very close in terms of display size to the Echo Show. Smart Displays make more sense when the screen if big enough to watch a YouTube video or even a TV show, so you’ll want to opt for the 10-inch if you’ve got the cash.
The speakers are also particularly good on this model, with plenty of bass for when you’re listening to music. Like the Echo Show, there is a camera on the Lenovo Smart Display. That means you can video call your friends using Google Duo, if you can find a friend that is using it! Still, this is a great choice for customers who like Google Home Hub, but are disappointed by the lack of camera and video calling features.
Portal from Facebook
If privacy is quite low on your list of concerns, you might want to consider the Portal smart speaker line by Facebook. However, the screen sizes on offer here are really generous. The regular Portal has a 10.1-inch 720p display like the Echo Show, whilst the Portal Plus comes in at 15.6-inches and has a resolution of 1080p. The larger screen on the Plus variant also rotates so you can have it in portrait or landscape.
The camera is also impressive compared to the competition. Both the Portal and Portal Plus feature 12-megapixel cameras (compared to a 5-megapixel on the Echo Show) with a 140-degree field of view and AI technology that can identify faces and automatically zoom in on them, regardless of where users move around in the room.
The Facebook hardware the one to go for if video calling is what you want to do with your smart display. Facebook says that there is a kill switch for the camera too, although how much of an attempt this is gain lost trust from consumers, we don’t really know.
The Facebook Portal starts at $199 in the US. The Portal Plus costs $349. Both can be bought directly from Facebook. No European release information has been announced yet.
One to wait for: Xiaomi XiaoAI Touchscreen Speaker
If you’re kind of on the fence about getting a smart display or simply don’t want to spend a fortune on one, then it could be worth waiting for an upcoming product from the increasingly successful Chinese manufacturer, Xiaomi.
The XiaoAI Touchscreen Speaker is reminiscent of Google’s Home Hub and uses its own AI voice assistant known a XiaoAI, which we have seen in the brand’s smartphones in China. In Europe, Xiaomi smartphones use Google Assistant, and we expect this smart display to do the same.
The display is only 4-inches but it makes for a rather handsome customizable digital clock. You can also play videos and music from the speaker and it integrates with other smart home gadgets.
We don’t know when, or even if, this will come to the US and European markets but if it does you can guarantee Xiaomi will undercut all of its competition on price. We’ll keep our eyes and ears open on this one.
Do you have a smart display recommendation for us? Let us know which product you prefer in the comments section below.