Best smart displays 2019: Top options from Google, Amazon and more

We round up the premier tablet-speaker hybrids

The best smart speakers with screens

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.

Read this: Everything to know about Google Smart Displays

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 Echo Show

Best smart displays 2019: Top options from Google, Amazon and more

$189.99, Amazon

The only smart display from Amazon that matters (sorry, Echo Spot) - and the only one with Alexa built-in, besides the Lenovo Smart Tab - has now 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.

the ambient verdict
Amazon Echo Show
The Echo Show is a big improvement on the last generation, now offering the power to be a central hub in the home. The speakers make it a strong music player in larger rooms and the screen is great for TV shows or video calls. However, Amazon still hasn't managed to marry Alexa and a screen in a coherent way. Alexa is still an audio- and voice-first assistant, and, as long as you remember that, your expectations of Echo Show will be realistic.​
PROS
  • Decent, bigger screen
  • It's still Alexa
  • Booming sound
CONS
  • Sparse skills
  • A bit buggy
  • Still a work in progress

Google Nest Hub

Best smart displays 2019: Top options from Google, Amazon and more

$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’s 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 ambient verdict
Google Nest Hub
Despite the odd decision to change names, it's hard not to love the Google Nest Hub. It's small – perhaps too small for some people – but it's the best looking of the Assistant Smart Displays so far. It's also a great showcase for what this category of smart speaker can do, particularly with that ambient EQ sensor – and for a fantastic price. But this is a young platform; the Nest Hub needs to do more. In time, it should come.
PROS
  • The best looking Smart Display
  • Decent sound
  • Excellent price
CONS
  • Display will be too small for some
  • Platform still young
  • No Zigbee/Z-Wave hub

JBL Link View

Best smart displays 2019: Top options from Google, Amazon and more

$249.95, Amazon | jbl.com

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.

the ambient verdict
JBL Link View
The JBL Link View is a visual smart speaker that focuses on great audio – and it certainly delivers in that department. It's a deep, rich, bass-heavy sound that makes music and movie trailer listening a treat. However, its bad viewing angles make for a less wonderful visual experience. Android Things is a good start on a visual Google Assistant, but it still feels undercooked and has a long way to go.
PROS
  • Great sound
  • Chromecast built-in
  • YouTube
CONS
  • Bad viewing angles
  • Bland design
  • Android Things undercooked

Lenovo Smart Clock

Best smart displays 2019: Top options from Google, Amazon and more

$79.99, lenovo.com

Amazon got there first with the Echo Spot but in our humble opinion, Lenovo's smart alarm clock is a better pick. With just a 4-inch display, there's less space to work with than the larger Google Smart Displays, and Lenovo has adapted with fewer features. For example, there's no Google Photos and no Home View, two of our favorite features of Google's other displays.

On the other hand, it's a less intrusive device, which is especially important for something you'll put on your bedside table. For that same reason, there's no built-in camera, another reason this might be more appealing than the Echo Spot.

While you don't get Home View, you can still use the Lenovo Clock to control your smart home, with Google Assistant at your beck and call. Or, a swipe down will reveal a shortcut to your morning Routine. Sound quality isn't bad - a 1.5-inch speaker with 3W output and two passive radiators - but this isn't really built for music.

the ambient verdict
Lenovo Smart Clock
The first Google Assistant smart alarm clock does exactly what it sets out to do, and that's both an achievement and a limitation. At the end of the day, this is still just an alarm clock that's designed to sit on your bedside table. And though there's a couple of neat design quirks - like tapping to stop the alarm and a USB charger for your phone - that will endear it to some, those with other Assistant-compatible devices may be left wanting more smart display features.
PROS
  • Excellent alarm clock
  • Neat design with no camera
  • Decent price
CONS
  • No Google Photos support
  • Limited features for some
  • Low-level sound quality

Lenovo Smart Display

Best smart displays 2019: Top options from Google, Amazon and more

$249.95, Amazon | jbl.com

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’s 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.

the ambient verdict
Lenovo Smart Display
The Lenovo Smart Display has the Echo Show beat, and unless you're completely out of Google's ecosystem, this is the better speaker. Android Things is young and needs time to develop, but the visual component already brings benefits to the Assistant experience. The era of Google's Smart Display is off to a promising start.
PROS
  • Assistant is nicely integrated
  • Well designed; good in a kitchen
  • Chromecast built in
CONS
  • Android Things is undercooked
  • Video services lacking
  • Mic sometimes misses commands

Facebook Portal

Best smart displays 2019: Top options from Google, Amazon and more

$199.99, Amazon | facebook.com

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’ll 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.

the ambient verdict
Facebook Portal
The Facebook Portal is a smart speaker that puts all its focus on video chatting. The result is a limited, but technologically impressive gadget that in some ways puts the Echo Show to shame. Facebook's tunnel vision may be to its detriment though, as the Portal is lacking in wider features.
PROS
  • Camera tech is ace
  • Good sound quality
  • Some nice social features
CONS
  • Limited features
  • Too expensive
  • Privacy concerns


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