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Smart displays take on smart speakers
August 5, 2018, 12:03 pm

Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, or the Apple HomePod remain a good fit for most homes if you use them mainly to listen to music. But now some of the smart assistants that power these speakers have found their way into smart displays, a new form factor that brings about some exciting changes.

Whether you are tied up in Amazon or Google’s ecosystem of apps, smart displays let you do more hands-free than any smart speaker can. Boiled down, they are equipped to take on tasks usually reserved for your smartphone or tablet. In addition to listening to music, you can control your connected home tech, hop into a video call, or follow along with a recipe on the screen, to name a few examples.

Two models that have recently entered the market are the Amazon Echo Show and Lenovo Smart Display with Google Assistant.

Amazon Echo Show: This rather unassuming smart display features a seven-inch display and is tied in heavily with Amazon’s services. If you have experience with the Echo speaker, the Echo Show works in all of the same ways with its far-field microphones and Alexa integration. But it is a little more expressive, what with its touch-friendly display. Any and all info that you request pops up on its screen for you to see.

Despite this added layer of engagement, the Echo Show demands very little from the user. There is no app store, and setting it up does not involve shifting around home screen icons. It simply sits at the ready for your requests, though it can entertain by playing movies and TV from Prime Video, video clips from its partners, like CNN, as well as video chatting.

The Echo Show and the smaller, cheaper Echo Spot feature ‘Drop In’ video calling, which lets you hop into a video chat unannounced with a trusted contact. Before you get too alarmed, know that this has to be enabled by both users, but it essentially just allows either party to automatically open up a line of communication without syncing up a time and place. This function works between any Echo device, Fire tablets, as well as iOS and Android phone users who have the Alexa app installed.

If you want to give your phone a boost, the Echo Show is certainly louder and better-sounding. We found that it outperforms the Echo speakers. This smart display can play tunes from your phone via Bluetooth, however, the Echo Show’s audio cannot be piped through a different audio source, unlike the Echo Spot with its 3.5mm jack.

Lenovo Smart Display: This aptly but prosaically named Smart Display comes in two sizes: eight inches or 10 inches, with pricing set at $199 and $249, respectively. The Smart Display looks like a digital picture frame, though it is obviously way smarter than one.

This model runs Android Things, Google’s OS that is built specifically for Internet of Things devices and can likely control most of the connected tech that you have in your home.

While Google’s smart displays are somewhat short on groundbreaking features, there are some niceties here that might be tough to live without should you opt for Amazon’s Echo Show. First, a bigger screen. If you want to read recipes while you cook, it is going to be easier on the Lenovo displays.

The other big feature? YouTube. It is invaluable that Google Assistant can provide YouTube videos as a solution to your question. You can share Google Maps locations from the Smart Display to your phone, too. In situations like these, its strong ties with Google services feels rewarding. Though, it is also one of this product’s damning facets if you are not as heavily invested and right now, it is difficult to play video from other sources, like Netflix or Hulu, on the Smart Display.

In terms of video chatting, the Smart Display supports Google Duo video-chatting with the added bonus that the Lenovo Smart Display has a built-in hardware switch that covers the front facing camera for better privacy control.

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