The best smart displays for 2019

Want a home command center? These are the best smart displays for 2019

The smart home team at Digital Trends has spent more than 2,200 hours testing smart speakers, smart displays, and smart home hubs. Our pick for the best smart display is the Google Nest Hub Max, which has a well-designed interface, built-in features that enhance the user experience, and a 10-inch HD display screen.

Further reading

If the Nest Hub Max isn’t what you’re looking for, we also included our picks for the best Amazon Echo smart display, the smart display with the best design, the best smart display for your bedroom, the best budget smart display, the best-sounding smart display, and the best smart display that can replace your alarm clock.

At a glance

The best: Google Nest Hub Max

Nest Hub Max
John Velasco/Digital Trends

Why we picked the Google Nest Hub Max: 

Sure, the Nest Hub Max has a larger screen than the original Nest Hub, but it also offers a lot more features and functionality in addition to its brilliant HD screen. It has a 6.5 MP camera with auto-framing, so you can make video calls and the camera will even follow you as you move around the room.

Face match technology allows for a more personalized experience. When the Hub recognizes your face, it can show you content specific to you (video messages, reminders, and upcoming calendar events, etc.). Up to six users can save a face match profile. The Nest Hub Max also allows for quick gesture control, so you can use hand gestures to control certain functions (like pausing or playing a music track).

The Hub Max has a Nest Cam built-in. You can use the Nest Cam to check on your home while you’re away, although some of the more advanced features require a Nest Aware subscription.

Who’s it for: Those who want a feature-rich display that serves as multiple functions. The Nest Hub Max is a versatile device that does it all… well almost. It doesn’t have a built-in Zigbee Hub, so if that’s important to you, you might want to consider a different option like the Echo Show 2.

Read our Google Nest Hub Max review

The best Amazon Echo smart display: Echo Show 2nd Generation

Amazon Echo Show 2 Review
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

Why we picked the Echo Show 2:

The Echo Show 2 sports a large 10.1-inch display and a minimalistic design with two speakers, passive bass, and Dolby sound processing. In our review, we noted that the big jump in sound quality over the first-gen show makes the Show 2 suitable for parties.

Like all Echo devices, the Show 2 uses Amazon’s Alexa to control smart devices, ask questions, catch up on the news, and make video calls. Alexa has excellent smart home compatibility with many different devices and easily connects with Amazon Music and Prime Video (although Hulu and a variety of additional music services are also available). The device has a built-in Zigbee smart home hub as well.

Who’s it for: People who love Alexa and the idea of watching videos, shows, news, and sports on their smart display. It can act as an excellent second TV in a den, kitchen, or other room of the house, with connections to both Prime Video and Hulu, among other video options. The 10.1-inch display is ideal for catching details, while the audio saw massive improvement for this generation. However, if you don’t really like this “second TV” idea, another, less expensive option may be the better choice.

Read our full Echo Show 2 review

The best design: Lenovo Smart Display

lenovo smart display review version 1538777491 952
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why we picked the Lenovo Smart Display:

Lenovo’s smart display is a counter-friendly smart display that’s a great jack-of-all-trades, not really specializing in anything, but doing a good job at pretty much everything. It’s controlled by Google Assistant and, as we noted in our review, comes with a handy camera shut-off option if you want to ensure your privacy.

It’s a great display for looking up recipes in the kitchen or checking your calendar with a voice command. It’s the best looking of the bunch with a bamboo backing, and you can buy the device with either an 8-inch or 10-inch screen.

Who’s it for: Those who use Google Assistant and want an excellent smart display to use with it. Google Assistant has more video options than Alexa due to easy YouTube access, as well as plenty of scheduling, music (with strong audio), interactive searching, and video call options. It’s also one of the few displays that gives you two choices of display size, which is a great way to customize based on what you want.

Read our full Lenovo Smart Display review

The best for your bedroom: Google Nest Hub

walmart bundles google nest hub and smart light starter kit

Why we picked the Google Nest Hub:

Google’s Nest hub is an alternative device if you prefer a Google Home-controlled speaker that also has a 7-inch screen and an interesting pedestal-like design. It’s a smaller smart display than most, which makes it easier to perch on a shelf or nightstand, and it has unique shelf-friendly features like a direct connection to Google Photos and the ability to show your latest family photos with a simple settings shift.

However, in other ways the Nest Hub is limited. Because Google did not include a camera on the model, it’s not suitable for full video chatting. Ostensibly, a camera wasn’t included for privacy reasons, so people could put the Hub in a bedroom without worrying, but other smart displays managed this with a simple “disable camera” feature. Also, the sound is a bit disappointing on this device.

We do like the simple smart home controls and the versatility of the device. Because it’s so small, it can easily fit anywhere.

Who’s it for: People who want Google Assistant with a display, but are very protective of their privacy – and may be working with a lower budget. The Hub is one of the more affordable options, but you won’t be able to make video calls. If setting up the Hub in the bedroom is important to you, this should be your choice. If you’re looking for a bigger screen, the Lenovo Smart Display or Nest Hub Max would both make better Google Assistant devices.

Read our full Google Nest Hub review

The best budget smart display: Echo Show 5

Amazon Echo Show 5 review
Terry Walsh/Digital Trends

Why we picked the Echo Show 5:

The Echo Show 5 is pretty small, with only a 5.5-inch screen. The Show 5 does, however, have a lot to offer in a tiny package. You can perform the basic functions you can perform with most smart displays — make video calls, control your smart home devices, watch videos, and ask the assistant questions. But, the Show 5 is a budget display, so it only has a 1-megapixel camera and a single 4-watt speaker. It also lacks the built-in Zigbee Hub that you’d get with the Echo Show 2.

The Show 5 thrives in terms of its privacy features. It has a slider you can use to physically block the camera. You can also take advantage of newer Alexa Privacy features, like the ability to erase your recordings for the day.

Who’s it for: This device is ideal for those who want a voice-assistant-powered device with a display screen, but don’t want to spend too much cash. It’s the perfect starter smart display.

Read our Echo Show 5 review

The best sounding smart display: JBL Link View

JBL Link View review screen
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Why we picked the JBL Link View:

The Link View sports a rounded design, 8-inch display, and power 2-inch drivers for excellent speaker sound. It works with Google Assistant, providing access to all of the Assistant’s knowledge, scheduling, music services, and YouTube videos. The display also has video call options. It also has some privacy features, such as the ability to block the camera and mute the mic.

Who’s it for: People who are looking for a great-sounding Bluetooth smart speaker with a screen. Trust JBL to do well with audio: This smart display has the best sound of any option on our list, but it skimps a little on the display – which is great for casual uses and video calls, but a little lacking for video. The “shutter camera” capabilities will also appeal to those worried about privacy.

Read our full JBL Link View review

The best alarm clock replacement: Echo Spot

Amazon Echo Spot Review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why we picked the Echo Spot:

The Amazon Echo Spot is a round little device with a round little screen. Technically it has most of the capabilities of an Echo Show, including the voice capabilities of Alexa and video calls, but that small screen limits how you can use the device. It also lacks a Zigbee hub, and it has a VGA camera as opposed to the Show 2’s 5 MP camera.

It’s a nice little video phone in a pinch, and when you put up a clock face it serves as a great clock with alarms you can set via voice commands, and music you can play on demand. Its size also allows it to fit in areas other smart displays cannot. That being said, it doesn’t have much usability compared to alternatives.

Who’s it for: People who want a fancy alarm clock that can show the weather, play music, give you the forecast, and take calls (but preferably not while you are still in bed).

Read our full Amazon Echo Spot review

What is a smart display?

Think of a smart display as a Google Home or Amazon Echo speaker with a screen. This allows the voice assistant (Alexa or Google Home, for instance) to show you information instead of only telling you vocally.

What’s the difference between a smart display and a tablet?

Although tablets and smart displays have some similarities — they both have a display screen, they both play music, and they often both have an assistant (Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana, etc.) — the two devices have different primary functions.

A tablet is a portable computing device that’s primary functions are internet searches, social media, app games, email, etc. A smart display on the other hand typically stays stationary, and its primary functions are to control smart home devices, provide answers to questions, and to serve as a voice assistant.

What can a smart display do?

Your smart display works with a smart assistant (like Alexa or Google Assistant) to read you the news, play music, play movies and TV, show you a feed of your security camera or video doorbell, show you a morning traffic or weather report, help you in the kitchen with conversions and recipes, set reminders and alarms for you, and so much more.

If I have a smart display, do I still need a smart home hub?

Not really. If you have an Echo Show 2, it has a built-in Zigbee Hub so there would usually be no need to purchase an additional smart home hub.

Most modern smart home products operate without the need for a hub, so you can control most smart devices with just your smart display (as long as they’re compatible). However, having a smart home hub can make your smart home more efficient.

If I have a smart display, do I still need a bridge for my smart home products?

Sometimes. Some smart home products require a bridge to connect with your smart display. Typically, the product will clearly state that a bridge is required.

What is a Zigbee Hub?

In a nutshell, a smart home hub like a Zigbee Hub helps your smart home devices work better in tandem. Most smart devices and smart speakers like the Echo Dot have evolved to the point where you can control all of your devices without a hub, and the companion app (like the Alexa app) serves as a central point where you can manage your devices and even set routines.

However, a hub allows for a cleaner communication path, which can make things easier on your network. Sometimes, a hub can also allow for offline control of your smart lights and switches if you have compatible devices.

What should I look for when buying a smart display?

This depends on your preferences. Look for a smart display that shines in the areas that are most important to you. For instance, if privacy and affordability are top priorities for you, look for a device like the Nest Hub or the Echo Show 5. But, if you want a device with a large display screen and good sound quality, look at more expensive models like the Google Nest Hub Max or the Echo Show 2.

Which voice-assistant is better: Alexa or Google Assistant?

It depends. In terms of smart home control and compatibility, Alexa is the superior assistant. Alexa is compatible with more smart home products, and Amazon’s assistant offers better and easier-to-use routines features. Google Assistant is superior in terms of its overall intelligence given its language abilities, responses to questions, and features like Google Duplex.

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