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Smart displays have come a long way since the debut of Amazon’s first Echo Show in 2017. In fact, the category didn’t really take shape until about a year later when Google joined the fray with its own hardware line. Both companies basically dominate the smart display space right now, with each offering its own on-screen smart assistant.
It’s this screen that makes smart displays more useful than smart speakers. For example, not only can you read the current weather forecast by voice, but you can also check the five-day forecast. The same is true when you’re asking about a shopping list or calendar; it’s easier to see the entire list or your appointments for the day at a glance.
Plus, monitors offer other benefits that speakers don’t, like watching video or checking your webcam to see who’s at your front door. They’re especially handy in the kitchen, where you can use them for step-by-step cooking instructions. And, with a touchscreen, you can often navigate features and settings faster than with your voice.
Amazon vs Google
The first question you should ask is whether you’d rather join Amazon’s ecosystem or Google’s. If you have a lot of Google products in your home, like Nest thermostats or Nest cameras, a Google-powered model makes more sense. If you have an Amazon product, like a Fire TV Stick or Ring cam, Amazon is obviously a better choice. Of course, it’s perfectly acceptable to have products from competing companies in the same home, but be aware that they may not work together seamlessly.
In addition to this, both systems offer some unique features. For example, Google works best if you have an existing Google Account and use services like Calendar and Photos. In fact, we especially like the Google Smart Displays because they work well as digital photo frames. You can set it to automatically pull photos of friends and family from your Google Photos library, and the algorithm is smart enough to use what it thinks is the best photo – so there’s less chance of a photo being blurry or with your eyes half-closed. For example, Appear.
This may seem like a minor issue, but given that the display is in standby 90% of the time, it’s a welcome addition to a digital photo frame. All Google Smart Displays also support YouTube and YouTube TV, step-by-step cooking instructions, and all the usual Google Assistant benefits, such as weather reports. Like the assistant on your phone, it also has voice recognition, so only you can see your calendar appointments, not anyone else.
Amazon’s smart displays, on the other hand, are a little different. Instead of YouTube, they offer some alternative streaming options, including Amazon Prime, NBC, and Hulu. They also come with two browsers (Silk and Firefox) that you can use to search the web or watch YouTube videos—a convenient enough workaround given the lack of dedicated apps.
Step-by-step cooking instructions are also available on Amazon devices, thanks to partnerships with sources like SideChef and AllRecipes. In fact, cooking instructions sometimes include short video clips. But while you can use Amazon’s display as a digital photo frame, the process isn’t quite as intuitive as Google’s, and Amazon doesn’t have anything that rivals Google’s photo classification algorithm.
The best smart displays
Smart displays come in all shapes and sizes, and some are better suited to certain rooms in the home than others. So while we do have some favorite all-around options, we’ve also compiled a list of smart displays that fit specific use cases.
The best Google smart display: Google Nest Hub
We at Engadget tend to prefer the Google Smart Display, because with the ubiquity of Google services like Gmail, Calendar, and more, most people are probably already entrenched in the Google ecosystem. We also tend to find Google Assistant a little smarter than Alexa, especially when it comes to getting answers from the web. As mentioned, we also really liked the pairing with Google Photos and the Smart Photo Sorting algorithm.
Our favorite smart displays are Google’s newest Nest Hub.Its 7″ size is more suitable for more rooms, its understated design with soft fabric look blends perfectly into your existing home decor. It does everything we think most people want from a smart display, like YouTube videos, step-by-step cooking instructions, smart home controls, and the ability to check in on your Nest camera (if you have one).
In fact, it’s especially useful if you have a Nest Hub Nest Video Doorbell, because the camera view of who is at the front door will be displayed on the screen. Ambient light sensors help detect ambient light and color temperature and adjust the screen to match. Plus, if you want, it can help you track your sleep patterns if you keep it next to your bed.
Another feature of the Nest Hub is one that’s actually missing: it doesn’t have a camera. This gives it the extra layer of privacy that many people dream of, and it’s also better suited for personal spaces like bedrooms. Of course, you can also cover the camera with the shutter, but with the Nest Hub, you don’t have to remember to do so.
Runner-up: Google Nest Hub Max
If you love Google but miss the camera for video calls, or you just prefer a bigger screen, consider Google Nest Hub Max.10 inches instead of 7 inches, it is more suitable for watching videos on YouTube and YouTube TV. It’s especially useful in the kitchen, where it acts as a sort of portable TV where you can see more step-by-step cooking instructions at a glance. A bigger display also means a bigger frame, which you might prefer.
As mentioned, the Nest Hub Max adds a camera. It doesn’t have a physical shutter, which is a problem, but you can close it with an electronic switch. You can use the camera for video calls through Google’s Duo service and Zoom, and it can also be used as a Nest Cam to help you keep an eye on the house while you’re away. Another benefit of the camera is the addition of Face Match facial recognition for authentication, which we found to be slightly more accurate than just using Voice Match.
Last but not least, the Nest Hub Max’s camera adds a unique gesture feature that lets you play and pause media simply by placing your hand on the screen. It’s not entirely necessary, but it can be useful if you’re in a loud environment and just want the music to stop without yelling at everyone. Or you have messy hands while cooking and don’t want to mess with the monitor.
Best Amazon smart display: Amazon Echo Show 8
Our favorite Amazon smart displays are Second-generation Echo Show 8. Its 8-inch screen is just right; it doesn’t take up as much space as the Echo Show 10, but it’s also better for watching videos than the tiny Echo Show 5. Like other Amazon smart displays, it has a built-in camera, but has a physical camera cover to help alleviate privacy concerns.
So if you want the option of using your smart display for video calls, the Echo Show 8 is a compelling option. Not only is the camera quality excellent, but the Show 8 has the ability to automatically frame and follow your movements during video calls. This is useful if you want to move around while chatting, or if you have noisy kids and pets at home and you want to keep them involved in the conversation. You can use the Echo Show 8 to make calls between other Echo Show displays or via Skype or Zoom.
Like other smart displays, the Echo Show 8 can also be used as a digital photo frame for getting the news, checking the weather and controlling smart home devices. If you want to use your smart display to play music, we also really liked the sound quality of the Echo Show 8 for its deep bass and rich tone.
Runner-up: Amazon Echo Show 5
Only 5.5 inches wide, Echo Show 5 It’s one of the smallest smart displays on the market, so it sits nicely on a desk or nightstand. In fact, one of the reasons we love the Echo Show 5 so much is that it doubles as a great smart alarm clock. It has an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the screen’s brightness; a tap-snooze feature so you can snooze a few extra minutes with your eyes closed on top of it; plus a sunrise alarm, which slowly lights up the screen, lightly Wake you up lightly.
The Echo Show 5 does have a camera, which can be unsettling if you’re privacy-conscious — especially if it’s supposed to sit beside your bed. Still, it does have a physical camera cover to help ease any fears.
best smart clock
Maybe smart displays don’t appeal to you because you don’t care about watching videos on them. But maybe the idea of a smarter alarm clock like the Echo Show 5 intrigues you.In this case I would recommend 4 inches Lenovo Smart Clock 2it’s not a full-fledged smart display since you can’t play any video on it, but it does use Google’s Smart Display technology so you can use it to control your smart home as well as check on your Nest Cams.
We also like it because it has no camera and is perfect for your nightstand. It has all the features we want from a smart alarm clock, such as an ambient light sensor, tap to snooze function, and a sunrise alarm.Plus, the latest version doubles as a night light – you can swipe down on the display to enable it – and you get Optional wireless charging base let it be.
If the Smart Clock 2 is too advanced for you, Lenovo does offer a simpler version called Smart Clock EssentialsIt’s not a smart display at all — it’s actually more of a smart speaker with a clock — but it does perform many of the same functions as the Smart Clock 2.
Lenovo sells the Smart Clock Essential in two different versions: one with Google Assistant and one with Powered by AlexaThe one with Google Assistant has a built-in night light, an extra USB port for charging devices, and a mic mute button. The one with Alexa, on the other hand, is compatible with an optional docking station that can be used with accessories like a wireless charging pad or an ambient light dock (it comes in the shape of a sea lion or squid) that acts as a night light.