A smart display gives a virtual assistant more to work with than a smart speaker

A smart display gives a virtual assistant more to work with than a smart speaker

Smart displays, those cousins of voice-controlled smart speakers with full touchscreen displays, are great devices for managing your smart home, displaying useful bits of information throughout the day, or even playing music or video.

Like a smart speaker, a smart display is primarily voice-controlled, so you can bark commands at it from across a room. But unlike a smart speaker, a smart display can display information such as upcoming appointments, weather, in-progress timers, the current time, a grocery list, recipes, and more without you having to utter a single command. They can also be used as a modern, cloud-connected digital photo frame, allowing you to see all of those memories you’ve captured over the years that are currently trapped on your smartphone. Some models also come with built-in cameras that can be used for video calling to other smart displays or even phones.

A good smart display has all of the capabilities of a smart speaker, including good-sounding speakers of its own for listening to music or watching video. They are available in a variety of prices and sizes, and depending on where you want to put the display in your home, you might prefer a smaller model over one that has a larger screen and louder speakers. But if you’re looking for an all-around smart display to use in your kitchen or living room, you’ll want one with a screen that’s easy to see from across the room and speakers that can fill the space with clear, pleasant sound.

The best smart display for most people: Amazon Echo Show 8

Amazon Echo Show 8. Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

The Echo Show 8 is the middle child in Amazon’s lineup of Alexa-powered smart displays. It has a bright 8-inch touchscreen, two powerful speakers that can put out a surprising level of volume, a built-in camera with a privacy shutter, and four microphones to hear voice commands. It doesn’t take up a ton of space on a counter, mantle, or bookshelf, but it can easily be seen or controlled from across a room.

The Show 8 has access to all of the same Alexa abilities as Amazon’s Echo speakers, but it includes a number of unique things that take advantage of its built-in display. You can see timers on the screen without having to ask for them, recipes are displayed with step-by-step instructions and video tutorials, grocery lists are shown right on the screen, and the Show will cycle through upcoming calendar appointments, weather reports, and news headlines whenever it’s idle. The screen can also be used to pull up feeds from video doorbells and security cameras or to make video calls through Amazon’s Alexa calling service to other Echo Show devices or smartphones. The built-in privacy shutter allows you to block the camera’s view if you don’t want to make video calls or want to use it in a bedroom.

Since the display is a full touchscreen, you can also interact with the Echo Show 8 without having to use your voice at all, including canceling timers, controlling smart home devices, or scrolling through photos stored in Amazon Photos or Facebook albums. But the Show 8 is not designed to be an iPad-like tablet, and its interactivity is limited to simple functions.

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Amazon’s Echo Show 8 hits the sweet spot for smart displays

Like Echo speakers, the Show 8 can play audio and music from a variety of sources, including Spotify, Audible, Pocket Casts, Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Sirius XM. It can also play video from Amazon’s Prime Video and Hulu. But it doesn’t have an easy way to play YouTube video (you have to go through the device’s built-in web browser, a very clumsy process), nor does it have the ability to play Netflix. The Show 8 isn’t alone in the latter. For some reason, no smart display on the market can play Netflix video, which is unfortunate. Those limitations make the Show 8 a poor replacement for a TV, but it is very capable for listening to music.

Our review of Amazon Echo Show 8

Verge Score 8 out of 10

Good Stuff

Great room-filling sound Bright, sharp display Access to all of the same Alexa abilities as other Echo devices Camera can be blocked with built-in privacy shutter

Bad Stuff

Works best with Amazon’s services for photos, music, and video Watching YouTube on it is a pain, and you can’t access Netflix at all Recipe functions are still not very useful Buy for $129.99 from Amazon Buy for $129.99 from B&H Photo Video Buy for $129.99 from Best Buy

Finally, the Show 8 has a good value: it’s often not much more than $30 over Amazon’s standard Echo speakers, and it’s frequently on sale for less. It has the best bang for your buck of any smart display you can buy, thanks to its spacious screen, loud speakers, and variety of capabilities.

A Google-powered alternative with better photo features: Google Nest Hub

Google Nest Hub. Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

Along with Amazon, Google has its own smart displays that are powered by the Google Assistant. If you are fully invested in Google’s ecosystem or own a lot of Nest products already, they might make a better option for you than the Echo Show. (The Echo Show 8 can display Google Calendar appointments and video feeds from Nest cameras, but it’s not as deeply integrated as Google’s smart displays.)

The best option in Google’s lineup is the Nest Hub (formerly called the Google Home Hub). A 7-inch smart display, the Nest Hub is a little smaller than the Echo Show 8 and fits more comfortably on a nightstand. Its killer feature is a screen that automatically adjusts itself for the lighting in your room, so it almost looks like photos are printed on paper instead of being displayed on a screen. Combine that with Google Photos’ excellent automatic backups and smart albums that can automatically update the Nest Hub with new images whenever you take them, and you have perhaps the best digital photo frame experience you can get.

The Nest Hub lacks a camera, so it can’t be used for video calling. But the bigger sacrifice is with its speaker, which is much less powerful and doesn’t sound nearly as good as the Echo Show 8’s dual-speaker system. The 7-inch screen is also noticeably smaller, which makes it harder to see from across a room and less comfortable to watch video on. But if you watch a lot of YouTube or are a YouTube TV customer, the Nest Hub does a much better job of displaying those services than Amazon’s options. You can also easily cast video content from a variety of apps on your phone (excluding Netflix) to the Nest Hub display, which you can’t do with an Echo Show.

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Google Home Hub review: the best digital photo frame

Otherwise, the Nest Hub functions very similarly to the Echo Show. It can be used to control smart home devices, display upcoming appointments, step-by-step recipes, or voice-controlled timers and alarms. Google Assistant is generally better at answering random fact-based questions than Alexa, but for everyday tasks, they are very similar. One thing that Amazon does much better is manage a shared grocery list, so if you’re planning to put a smart display in your kitchen, the Echo Show is a better choice.

Our review of Google Nest Hub

Verge Score 8 out of 10

Good Stuff

Gorgeous display with automatic dimming and color adjustment Compact size that can be comfortably placed in many spots throughout the home Comprehensive smart home controls that can be accessed via voice or touch Google Photos integration makes it the best digital photo frame ever made

Bad Stuff

Small display size might be a deterrent Speaker quality is weak Can’t stream Netflix Have to say “Google” every time you want to talk to the thing Buy for $129.00 from Walmart Buy for $129.00 from B&H Photo Buy for $129.00 from Google

The Nest Hub’s sticker price is the same as the Echo Show 8, but it’s on sale or discounted so frequently that you can usually find it for well under $100. At that price, the Nest Hub is an ideal option for a smart alarm clock or digital photo frame in a bedroom or other living space.

Other options:

While the Echo Show 8 and Nest Hub are ideal middle-sized options for most people, Amazon and Google have larger and smaller smart display options powered by their respective voice assistants. If you’re looking for a smart alarm clock that doesn’t dominate your nightstand, the Echo Show 5 or Lenovo Smart Clock are shrunken-down versions of the Show 8 and Nest Hub, with fewer features and smaller footprints. If you want an even larger screen, the Echo Show and Nest Hub Max both have 10-inch displays and louder speakers. But they are considerably more expensive and don’t necessarily provide that much better of an experience to justify their costs.

Our review of Google Nest Hub Max

Verge Score 8 out of 10

Good Stuff

Beautiful screen for displaying photos Camera can be used for both video calling and home security purposes Extensive smart home controls Personalized information based on who’s looking at the screen

Bad Stuff

Sound quality doesn’t match Amazon’s Echo Show Can’t play Netflix No physical shutter for the camera Home screen could be better utilized to display more information Doesn’t support G Suite accounts or shared calendars Buy for $229.00 from Google Buy for $229.00 from Walmart Buy for $229.99 from Best Buy

Our review of Amazon Echo Show (2018)

Verge Score 7.5 out of 10

Good Stuff

Great sound quality Big screen is much nicer to look at Pleasing design Easy-to-use and capable software

Bad Stuff

Still largely limited to Amazon services No hardware shutter to block the camera Screen-based skills are still lacking YouTube experience is laughably bad Buy for $229.99 from Amazon Buy for $229.99 from B&H Photo Buy for $229.99 from Best Buy

Our review of Amazon Echo Show 5

Verge Score 8.5 out of 10

Good Stuff

Compact design Bright, colorful touchscreen Loud, full-sounding speaker Convenient alarm functions Ability to block the camera with physical shutter

Bad Stuff

Limited video capabilities No support for YouTube Not as cute as discontinued Echo Spot Buy for $89.99 from Amazon Buy for $79.99 from B&H Photo Video Buy for $89.99 from Best Buy

Our review of Lenovo Smart Clock

Verge Score 6.5 out of 10

Good Stuff

Very small footprint, but still easy to read the screen from across the room Loud, customizable alarm sound Has all of the Google Assistant features available

Bad Stuff

Can’t do much with the screen (no video, limited touch interaction) Sound quality is merely average, not great Display doesn’t automatically adjust colors like the Nest Hub Buy for $49.99 from Lenovo Buy for $49.99 from Best Buy

Our review of Lenovo Smart Display 10

Verge Score 7 out of 10

Good Stuff

Works great with Google’s ecosystem Well-designed software

Bad Stuff

Mediocre sound quality Tied heavily to Google services ”Hey Google” wake word still annoying as ever Buy for $149.99 from Lenovo Buy for $229.00 from Walmart

Our review of Lenovo Smart Display 8

Verge Score 6.5 out of 10

Good Stuff

Works great with Google’s ecosystem Well-designed software

Bad Stuff

Mediocre sound quality Tied heavily to Google services ”Hey Google” wake word still annoying as ever Odd asymmetric design Buy for $99.99 from Lenovo Buy for $99.99 from Best Buy

Our review of Lenovo Smart Display 7

Verge Score 7.5 out of 10

Good Stuff

Works great with Google ecosystem Smaller footprint than other Lenovo options Nicer design than other Lenovo smart displays Physical camera shutter

Bad Stuff

Doesn’t sound as good as Echo Show 8 Doesn’t look as nice as Nest Hub Buy for $99.99 from Lenovo Buy for $99.00 from B&H

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