Smart speakers began a voice-controlled revolution, but don't be fooled: the screen is far from dead. Speakers with displays are the new trend, and they're only getting better.
Coming in all shapes and sizes - ranging from the glorified docked tablet to the retro television set - speakers with screens are the ideal gadget to place in your kitchen or hallway. Why? Well, while they're equally competent as their screen-less counterparts in handling voice commands, you'll also be able to view a feed from your security camera, watch instructional cooking videos or make video calls to friends. Plus, there are those times (like getting movie showtimes or the week's weather forecast) where visual information is just... better.
This is all well and good, obviously, but every smart display offers slightly different specialties - and some are naturally better than others. That's why we're here to give you a snapshot view of the very best on offer in 2019. And, to be clear, we're including all smart speakers with screens in this list, not just those from the Google Smart Displays family.
Amazon's flagship smart display - and the one that started it all - has been given a serious upgrade over the original generation. Gone is the boxy, plastic design, and in its place comes a refined Show with a fabric exterior and improved smart home powers.
Like the Echo Plus, the Show is now able to act as a smart home controller, with the built-in Zigbee chip letting it connect to other devices (such as lights, plugs and cameras) aligned with the wireless protocol - all without the need to plug in yet another hub.
The experience still isn't totally fluid, and trying to figure out which skills are designed to work with the Show is still a hassle, but this is a great device to make the 'main' hub of your smart home. Sound is respectable, the 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 screen dazzles and, at the end of the day, this is still Alexa running the show.
- Decent, bigger screen
- It's still Alexa
- Booming sound
- Sparse skills
- A bit buggy
- Still a work in progress
$129 | google.com
Rest in peace, Google Home Hub. Yes, with Google recently taking the opportunity to rebrand Nest, it also (confusingly) decided to rename its Google Home Hub to 'Google Nest Hub'.
Aside from the name change, the flagship of Google's Smart Display line is no different now than before; it's small, cheap and essentially just a tablet stuck to speaker to help offer better sound. And it has proven very successful so far, as well as acing our testing.
The 7-inch, 1024 x 600 resolution screen is sharp enough for the all the basic tasks you'll be performing with it, such as listening to Spotify, perusing YouTube and checking the weather - and smart home control through the Home View is a cinch, even if it isn't quite as strong as the Zigbee-enabled Echo Show.
There's no camera here, either - the only smart display to omit a front-facing snapper. That sensor you can see above the screen is an ambient EQ light sensor, something that adjusts the screen‚Äôs vibrancy to match the light of the room its in. The sound is comparable to the Home Mini, only with more bass - you'll have to look elsewhere if you want something with sonic heft of the Google Home Max. Or explore the Nest Home Max, the bigger sibling of Nest Hub that also features a camera.
- The best looking Smart Display
- Decent sound
- Excellent price
- Display will be too small for some
- Platform still young
- No Zigbee/Z-Wave hub
One of the first Google-powered Smart Displays to launch, the JBL Link View looks strikingly similar to a TV from the 60s - only, y'know, with a bigger emphasis on sound, with two speakers either side and a passive radiator sitting at the back.
And really, it's the booming sound and built-in Chromecast support that are the high points of the Link View, since the 8-inch screen is tough to view at different angles and unimpressive in resolution when compared to rivals.
If you're looking for the best smart display for sound, and you just want the display part as an added bonus, the Link View has to be a consideration.
- Great sound
- Chromecast built-in
- Bad viewing angles
- Bland design
- Android Things undercooked
The Echo Show 5 is a great alternative if you find the regular Echo Show too large or unsightly. It also just nudges out the Lenovo Smart Clock, its Google-powered counterpart. The Show 5 is impressively compact with a 5.5-inch screen (that's actually 1.5 inches larger than Lenovo's) and speakers that are surprisingly good for the size. In fact, this easily knocks the Echo Spot off our nightstand, functioning as the superior smart alarm clock.
But one of our favorite new features lets you swipe in from the right to open your smart home controls, meaning you can quickly switch on smart lighting groups, view cameras etc all quickly and easily from the display.
Google's Nest Hub has it beat as a photo frame, owing to the Big G's superior AI and larger frame, but you can still have your albums scroll across the screen. The size makes it less useful than the full-sized show for watching videos too, and visual skills are still lak
- Small and discreet
- On screen controls
- Better sound than Echo Spot
- No Zigbee
- Too small for entertainment
- Visual skills still sparse
The unimaginatively named Lenovo Smart Display is yet another member of Google's family, though it offers quite a different experience to the rest. Coming in either an 8-inch or 10-inch display, this is one design - complete with the wooden chassis at the back - that looks perfect next to your kettle or slow cooker. Thanks to the 1280 x 800 resolution (8-inch model) / 1920 x 1200 (10-inch model), this is the best smart display to look at, and, really, it's not even close.
Android Things, the platform Google Assistant is running from, is just as it is on other devices, and that means you're getting a nice-but-not-perfect way to control your home. It's definitely stronger than Alexa's screen equivalent, even in its first go-around, but smart home control through the Home View often adds little over what you could get from just simply talking it out.
Just reviewed: Lenovo Smart Clock verdict
Also, as you can probably tell from that single grill-strip on the left side of the speaker, sound quality isn't that great. It‚Äôs a 10W speaker with two passive tweeters, so you can speak to Assistant without trouble most of the time, but it's lacking as a music player. Buy this one for the nifty smart home control, which should surely get better over time, and the sterling design.
- Assistant is nicely integrated
- Well designed; good in a kitchen
- Chromecast built in
- Android Things is undercooked
- Video services lacking
- Mic sometimes misses commands
Despite being somewhat of a bizarre release, coming just after Facebook was implicated in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the Portal is a solid smart display.
There are two versions of it, the standard model shown above - which looks a lot like the Echo Show - and the $349 Portal Plus, a 15.6-inch monster that pretty much looks like a PC, rather than a smart speaker. The bigger variant can be rotated and put into portrait for aiding video calls through Messenger.
And that's the headline feature of the Portal; this is primarily a video chat speaker. Whichever one you pick, you‚Äôll get the same impressive 12-megapixel camera, 140-degree field of view and up to 8x digital zoom. The sound across both is impressive.
However, despite the clever integrations with Facebook's social platforms and some nice specs, this is ultimately an expensive and limited smart display with, in the current climate surrounding the company, understandable privacy concerns. If you're cool with bringing a Facebook camera into your home, though, and you're a consistent user of video calls, this definitely has something to offer.
- Camera tech is ace
- Good sound quality
- Some nice social features
- Limited features
- Too expensive
- Privacy concerns