The idea of the smart home controller is changing. If 2017 was all about the cylindrical smart speaker, it looks like 2018 will shift to home hubs with touchscreens alongside voice controls.
Google's new push is its Assistant powered 'smart displays' - terrible name - with four launch devices made by Lenovo, JBL, Sony and LG announced at CES 2018.
As well as having the voice activated Google Assistant built in, there's a touchscreen so you can watch YouTube videos, view photos via Google Photos and video call people using Google Duo. (You'll remember Google pulled YouTube support from the Echo Show - the first, kinda ugly, device of this kind - late in 2017, probably in preparation for this).
You can also manage smart home kit, get weather, traffic and calendar info and play music via the usual 'Hey, Google' and 'OK, Google' wake words. The Android Things team says they will also have Google Cast built-in which includes features like adding it to a multi-room Chromecast audio set up. The camera, for video calls, will come with a physical cover for privacy.
Think of it like a propped up, family tablet with great speakers that you leave in one place - that's precisely how Google and Amazon don't want you to think of these devices but hey, it's gonna happen.
The JBL Link View, pictured above, looks more speaker shaped in design than the rectangular Lenovo below. Specs wise, it has an 8-inch touchscreen, two 10W speakers and a 5MP camera on the front. It looks like both Sony and LG are waiting to reveal the smart displays they are working on till later in 2018.
Lenovo Smart Display
The Lenovo Smart Display (pictured) is the one we know most about so far. It comes in 8-inch ($199.99) and 10-inch display ($249.99) sizes, both full HD resolution with two 10W speakers. (Excuse me while I have yet more flashbacks to my Android tablet reviewing days).
And the voice controls work as they would on your phone. You can ask Assistant about bakeries in the area and the display will show you Google Maps, for instance. Or you could pull up a YouTube video of a recipe tutorial.
It looks very gadgety from the front but the stand comes in a 'soft grey' or 'natural bamboo' finish which helps the look - the Smart Display can be turned horizontal or portrait but they are not designed to be picked up and moved around. When nothing's happening it acts as a digital photo frame showing your Google Photos albums - if you like. With Bluetooth and Wi-Fi onboard, it's powered by Qualcomm's new Home Hub platform which we're sure we'll here a lot more about.
We'll keep you updated on any more Google Assistant smart display news. We can see the benefit for families though from an ambient, natural interfaces point of view, it would be a shame to return to our reliance on screens so early in this cycle of innovation in how we interact with our smart home and the internet.
Source: Google Blog
Which do you prefer - voice only speakers or screentastic smart display hub? Let us know in the comments.