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The best smart displays for 2020

If you have a smart home device, you also need a smart display to make controlling them easy. These small screens let you control all of your devices from the convenience of one location, and can sometimes even include cameras and controls to let them function as hands-free phones.

To save you money and time, we share the pros and cons of the best smart displays. Our favorite displays work best with similarly branded smart devices, but many connect with different branded kitchen appliances and thermostats. Here are the best smart displays for 2020.

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-inch megapixel 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 minimalist 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

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 a 7-inch, 8-inch, or 10-inch screen.

Who’s it for: Those who use Google Assistant and want flexibility. 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: Echo Show 8

Why we picked the Amazon Echo Show 8:

The latest Echo Show device from Amazon, the Echo Show 8, is a smaller Echo model designed to be a great fit for the bedroom. You get all the Echo Show features you want with an 8-inch HD screen, including smart home controls, links to your Amazon Photos connection, a customizable home screen for when you first wake up, and the ability to set up routines for your connected smart devices (along with all of Alexa’s other talents). You can also link to baby monitor cams or security cams to see what’s going on in other areas of the house, which is very handy if you have the right devices.

There’s also a camera and a microphone. These are great for calling friends and family or connecting to other Echo Shows in your house. However, because this device is designed to be bedroom friendly, Amazon also made sure you can turn these features off for privacy if you want to. A switch will electronically shut down the camera and microphones, and you can take an extra step of shuttering the camera for more protection if you want.

Who’s it for: People who want a capable smart display for the bedroom with the ability to link to other cams in the house — but always want guarantees about their privacy when using such devices.

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 video call smart display: Facebook Portal (2019)

Facebook Portal 10-inch 2019 AR
John Velasco / Digital Trends

Why we picked the Facebook Portal (2019):

The Facebook Portal is great for video calls — and it works easily through Messenger and WhatsApp too, adding some versatility to a Facebook-dominated display. The first versions of Portal were…well, creepy, but this newer 10-inch model replaces the old design with a much more friendly portrait-like display that works great for showing off your Facebook or Instagram photos when you aren’t making a video call.

The smart call options, fortunately, are still present, include a camera that can pan and zoom as it follows you around the room. Alexa’s voice command technology allows you to search the internet or start a video call with a simple command. Other smart display features are also here, including the ability to play music or watch online videos, but again everything is highly Facebook focused. That means your investment in Facebook connections really pays off, but having Facebook so involved in your communication could make some people nervous.

Who’s it for: People who use the Facebook family of apps and want an easy way to video call their family and friends.

Read our full Facebook Portal 2019 review

The best alarm clock replacement: Lenovo Smart Clock

Why we picked the Lenovo Smart Clock:

Lenovo’s latest smart display is specifically designed to operate as an alarm clock. The 4-inch touchscreen comes loaded with many different customizable clock faces — and, with the power of Google Assistant, it can also search the web and play videos. Access to Google Assistant’s capabilities also means you can control other smart devices and set up morning routines for news, coffee, and much more. There’s even a USB port so you can charge your smartphone while you sleep.

While nice, these features are also backed up by a very affordable price, making this a great choice for someone who wants a seriously smart upgrade for their alarm clock but isn’t ready to bring a smart display into other parts of the house quite yet.

Who’s it for: Google assistant fans who want a touchscreen alarm clock that can do it all.

Frequently asked questions

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. This is not very common today, but you can still find security systems and other setups that may require a bridge or additional hub device to work.

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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