The best smart displays you can buy

by mcdix

Our editorial team, independent of our parent company, has selected all products recommended by Engadget. Some of our stories contain affiliate links. We may earn an affiliate commission if you buy something through one of these links. Smart displays have evolved since the initial debut of Amazon’s first Echo Show in 2017. The category came into its own when Google went head-to-head with its line of hardware about a year later. Now both companies dominate the smart screen landscape, each offering its take on a smart assistant with a screen.

That screen makes smart screens so much more useful than smart speakers. For example, you can also see a five-day forecast instead of just having a voice read the current weather forecast. The same applies if you ask about your shopping list or plan; it’s easier to see the entire list or your day’s appointments at a glance. Plus, monitors offer other benefits that speakers can’t, such as watching videos or checking your webcam to see who’s at your front door. They are especially useful in the kitchen, where you can use them for step-by-step cooking instructions. And thanks to touchscreens, you can often navigate through functions and settings much faster than with your voice.

smart displays

Amazon vs. Google

The first question is whether you’d rather be in Amazon’s or Google’s ecosystem. If you have a lot of Google products at home, like Nest thermostats or Nest cams, a Google-powered model makes more sense. If you have Amazon products like a Fire TV stick or a Ring cam, Amazon would be a better choice. Of course, it’s perfectly acceptable to have effects from competing companies in the same house but realize that they may not work together seamlessly.

Apart from that, the two systems also offer some unique features. For example, Google works best if you have an existing Google account and use services like Calendar and Photos. We especially like Google smart displays because they work well as digital photo frames. You can set it up to automatically pull photos of friends and family from your Google Photos library, and the algorithm is smart enough to use what it thinks are the best photos. So there is less chance of blurry pictures or images of your eyes half-closed showing up, for example.

It may seem minor, but since the screen is on standby 90 percent of the time, its secondary function as a digital photo frame is very welcome. 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. As with Assistant on the phone, it also has voice recognition, so only you can see your calendar events and not others.

Amazon’s smart displays, on the other hand, are slightly different. Instead of YouTube, they offer alternative video streaming options, including Amazon Prime, NBC, and Hulu. They also come with two browsers (Silk and Firefox), which you can use to search the web or watch YouTube videos – a handy solution given the lack of a dedicated app.

Amazon devices also offer step-by-step cooking instructions, thanks to collaborations with resources such as SideChef and AllRecipes. The cooking instructions sometimes include short video clips. But while you can use Amazon’s displays as digital photo frames, the process isn’t as intuitive as Google’s, and Amazon has nothing quite like Google’s photo sorting algorithm.

The best smart screens

Smart displays come in all shapes and sizes, and some are better suited to certain rooms in the home than others. So while we have some favorite all-around picks, we’ve also compiled a list of smart displays suitable for specific use cases.

The best smart Google display: Google Nest Hub

We at Engadget tend to prefer smart Google displays as most people are probably already anchored in the Google ecosystem due to the ubiquity of Google services like Gmail, Calendar, etc. We also tend to find Google Assistant a bit smarter than Alexa, especially at getting answers from the web. We also like the Google Photos link and smart photo sorting algorithm. Our favorite smart display overall is Google’s latest Nest Hub. It does everything we think most people would want in a smart display, including YouTube videos, step-by-step cooking instructions, smart home controls, and the ability to check in to your Nest cams if you have one. The 7-inch size fits better in more rooms, and the discreet design and the soft fabric exterior blend nicely into your existing interior.

The Nest Hub is especially useful if you have a Nest video doorbell because the camera image of who is at the door appears on the screen. An ambient light sensor helps detect the light and color temperature of the environment and adjusts the screen accordingly. And if you choose, it can help you track your sleep patterns if placed beside your bed. Another feature of the Nest Hub is its lack: it doesn’t have a camera. That gives it that extra layer of privacy that many people crave, and it’s also much more suitable for personal spaces like the bedroom. Of course, you can also cover a camera with a shutter, but with the Nest Hub, you don’t have to think about that.

Runner Up: Google Nest Hub Max

If you love Google but you’re missing a camera for video calls or prefer a bigger screen, consider the Google Nest Hub Max. At 10 inches instead of seven, it works better for watching videos from YouTube and TV. It’s especially useful in the kitchen, where it acts like a portable television and lets you see more step-by-step cooking instructions at a glance. The bigger screen also means a bigger picture frame, which you may prefer.

As mentioned, the Nest Hub Max adds a camera to the mix. It doesn’t have a physical shutter, which is a concern, but you can shut it off with an electronic switch. You can use the camera for video calls with Google’s Duo service and Zoom, and it can also act as a Nest Cam to keep an eye on your home when you’re away. Another advantage of the camera is the addition of Face Match facial recognition for authentication purposes, which we found slightly more accurate than just using Voice Match.

Last, the Nest Hub Max’s camera adds a unique gesture feature that lets you play and pause media simply by holding your hand to the screen. It’s not entirely necessary, but it’s potentially useful if you’re in a noisy environment and want the music to stop without yelling all over everyone. Or maybe you have messy hands while cooking and don’t want to get the display dirty.

Buy Nest Hub Max at Walmart – $170

The Best Amazon Smart Display: Amazon Echo Show 8


Our favorite Amazon smart display is the second-generation Echo Show 8. The 8-inch screen is just right; it doesn’t take up as much space as the Echo Show 10, but it’s also more suitable for watching videos than the tiny Echo Show 5. Like other Amazon smart displays, it has a built-in camera, but there’s a physical camera coverage to eliminate privacy concerns.

As such, the Echo Show 8 is an attractive choice if you want to use your smart display for video calls. The camera quality is fantastic, and the Show 8 also has a feature that automatically frames your face and tracks your movements during video calls. It’s useful if you need to move around while chatting or have unruly children and pets in the house and want to involve them in the conversation. You can use the Echo Show 8 to make calls between other Echo Show displays or via Skype or Zoom.

Like the other smart displays, the Echo Show 8 also works as a digital photo frame and can be used to keep up with the news, check the weather, and control smart home devices. If you like to use your smart display to play music, we also really like the audio quality of the Echo Show 8 for its deep bass and rich tone.

Buy Echo Show 8 at Amazon – $130

Runner-Up: Amazon Echo Show 5

Nicole Lee / Engadget

At just 5.5 inches wide, the Echo Show 5 is one of the smallest smart displays on the market and will work well on a desk or bedside table. One of the reasons we like 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 brightness, a tap-to-snooze function so you can slap on top for a few extra minutes of your eyes closed, plus a sunrise alarm that slowly lights up the screen to wake you up gently. The Echo Show 5 does have a camera, which might make you a little nauseous if you’re privacy conscious, especially if it’s supposed to sit next to your bed. Still, it has a physical camera cover, which can alleviate your fears.

Buy Echo Show 5 at Amazon – $85


The best smart clocks

Maybe a smart display doesn’t appeal to you because you don’t feel like watching videos. But perhaps the idea of ​​a smarter alarm clock like the Echo Show 5 intrigues you. In that case, I’d recommend the 4-inch Lenovo Smart Clock 2, which isn’t a full-fledged smart display because you can’t play videos on it, but it does use Google’s smart display technology, so you can use it to control your smart home and view your Nest Cams. We also like it because it lacks a camera, making it perfect for your nightstand. It has all the features we want in a smart alarm clock, such as an ambient light sensor, a tap-to-snooze function, and a sunrise alarm. Plus, the latest version can double as a night light – you can swipe down the screen to turn it on – and get an optional wireless charging pad.

If the Smart Clock 2 is too advanced for you, Lenovo offers an even simpler version, the Smart Clock Essential. It’s not a smart display – it’s more like a smart speaker with a clock, but it performs many of the same functions as the Smart Clock 2. Lenovo sells the Smart Clock Essential in two versions: one has Google Assistant, while Alexa powers the other. The one with Google Assistant has a built-in night light, an extra USB port for charging devices, and a mute mic button. On the other hand, the Alexa-enabled one 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 can work as a nightlight.

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