COOL TIPS COMPARISON: Smart Displays On Display

It’s not enough to have a personal assistant or even a smart speaker. Suddenly, we have smart displays to consider.  Amazon, Google, JBL and Lenovo are offering devices that combine a tablet with a speaker.  Is it worthbuying?  We think so.  Here’s why the Lenovo Smart Display is currently the best value in a smart display.

The Echo Show, the Google Hub, the JBL Link and the Lenovo Smart Display are only four of many smart displays that we expect to enter the market in 2018-2019.   They are largely kitchen devices, designed to help people with recipes, phone calls, inventory restocking and other kitchen-ey kinds of things.   Yes, that’s right.  We are entering the Age of Kitch. But these devices aren’t excessively garish as much as they are amazingly helpful  aids.

Google, Amazon and assorted other tech companies believe that these displays are the future ubiquitous appliance for every kitchen.  They are right.  These new video personal assistants offer abilities everyone will want in their kitchen, along with that microwave and, um, dishes.

But they are more than just a kitchen appliance.  We foresee their usefulness as a desk device, like that phone used to be. And for those who enjoy a leisure soak in the bath, the smart display may be the perfect bathroom fixture (presumably with the camera turned off).  Of the four smart displays currently on the market, the Lenovo offers the biggest bang for your buck.  Currently available for $199 at Costco, it is the divine pairing of two highly innovative companies:  electronics by Lenovo and intelligence by Google.

The Lenovo Smart Display Is The One to Beat

We tested the Lenovo Smart Display, which is imbued with the Google Assistant IQ along with a very decent speaker and a 10″ touch screen.  It screams!   It features the always-on Google Assistant that you can activate with a voice command, as well as a built-in display that gives Google a bit more flexibility to respond to your commands.  Lenovo’s Smart Display is very fashionable . Its white front-facing speaker grill features an streamlined, angled bamboo backing that wouldn’t look out of place in any modern decor scheme.  Set up is easy; you will use the Google Home app to complete this process.  Once integrated into the Google Home app, it’ll function as the gateway to your smart home control devices.

The 10-inch model — which we prefer —  is encased in a white trim with a bamboo texture on the back. It can sit either horizontally or vertically, depending on your preference. It has a volume button, a mic on/off switch, and a camera on/off switch for those who are concerned about maintaining their privacy. The 10-inch screen comes with a full high definition (1,920 x 1,200) that makes videos look clear and almost tablet-like beautiful.  The software on the Lenovo Smart Display has Google Assistant built into it.   So this device operates much like the Google Home or Google Max, except for that it has an excellent 10″ touchscreen.

One reason that early adopters are using this display in their kitchen is that Google has created an outstanding recipe interface and has partnered with recipe sites such as Allrecipes, Food Network, Tasty, and The Kitchn.  Just ask for a recipe and the display will show you a step-by-step preparation video or list of instructions.  You can launch the recipe with “OK Google, start cooking” or tapping a “Start cooking” button on the bottom of the screen.  Voice control, screen scrolling, and button tapping are all available while you’re cooking so that you can cook at your own pace. Or you can skip straight to the instructions that walk you through the cooking process.

We especially like the fact that it serves as a streaming device. You can ask Google to stream videos from YouTube or any other channel to which you are subscribed. The audio quality seems to be better than that offered by Google’s Home Hub and according to Digital Trends, appears to match the Echo Show’s sound. Suffice to say that the sound is adequate, but if you choose to listen to music, it may be worth pairing with some smart speakers (generally available for $100 or less) or Bluetooth-enabled speakers.

Not a Perfect Device…….Yet

Are there drawbacks?  Sure. The Lenovo Smart Display was just released this past summer and some functionalities will be added in the coming months. For example. it currently doesn’t support multi-room audio. But Google indicates that it will make that function available in the near future. Similarly, the ability to add to speaker groups (and then show music info of what’s playing) is limited.  So you can’t include a smart display as part of a speaker group.  But it is expected to get this functionality in the near term.  Some other shortcomings:

* It doesn’t offer Google’s recently implemented continued conversation.

* It can’t stream from Google Fiber.

* Basic search questions also seemed to be a bit hit or miss. In general, the rule seems to be that if it’s something you’d get a card for while searching on a desktop, Google can respond to it on the smart display.

* You can only change default music provider for this device compared to audio devices only.

        * Phone calls are only available using the Google Duo app.   This limitation isn’t found on the Google Hub.

* It doesn’t work in portrait mode (except when making a Duo video call).

The good news is that Google is aware of these limitations and has indicated that it will be offering updates in the near future to  fix these shortcomings.   As of today’s publication, Google states that the multi-room audio, Home View connectivity and Digital Wellbeing functions have already been added.

Alternative Devices on the Market

So why are we recommending the Lenovo Smart Display? For the money, it offers the best screen, best design and Google functionality. We also like that it offers a camera (missing in the Google Hub) and the larger screen.  A 7″ or 8″ screen diminishes its usefulness for video streaming or recipe reading. We think the additional $50 sought by Lenovo over the $149 Google Home Hub is money well spent.

The JBL Link View is currently also priced at $199 at Amazon and other stores. While it may offer slightly better sound,  the smallish screen and uninspiring design doesn’t justify its premium price.   Plus, you can’t cast content onto the JBL device, as you can with Lenovo’s Smart Display.   As for Amazon’s Echo Show……it’s designed for selling product, not for intelligence.  Sorry Amazon, but if you are claiming to sell smart devices please make them smart.

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