What is a smart display?

If you’ve been watching for the latest smart tech and coolest new gadgets, then you’ve probably noticed the term “smart display” being used more often. Some products, like the Lenovo Smart Display (which we really liked), even have the phrase in the name. But what does “smart display” really mean, why is it becoming popular, and what differentiates it from all the other available tech? Let’s take a closer look.

Smart display: The easy definition

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

A smart display is any smart speaker designed to be used around the home and also includes a sizable touchscreen. Specifically, these devices have touchscreens that you can use for more than just controls—screens that support entertainment, informational videos, video chats, and much more. They can also connect to and control other smart devices in the house.

In practice, the smart displays we’re seeing on the market are smart Bluetooth speakers that are being augmented with screens to add more usability. Like smart speakers, you speak to a smart display that is powered by one of the common voice assistants (Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant). Amazon was one of the first to start this trend with its Echo Show and Echo Spot devices featuring Alexa voice assistant, but other brands have joined the field.

Smart display vs. tablet

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“Wait,” you may be thinking, “I have a voice assistant and video apps on my tablet. What exactly is the difference here?” The big difference between the average tablet like an iPad and a smart display like the Echo Show is mobility. A tablet is designed to be carried with you, and is only stationary when you are. A smart display is meant to occupy the same spot for a long time—like a land phone or alarm clock—and doesn’t take up a free hand.

Smart displays also have a much tighter focus on voice assistant commands and video-oriented capabilities. This specialization makes smart displays very easy to use, even without training: You just talk to them. That can appeal to a broader audience than tablet computers. Smart displays are also set up so that you can control smart devices, like light switches and front door locks, with just your voice.

Smart display products on the market

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Lenovo Smart Display: The Lenovo Smart Display, available in two different sizes (10-inch and 8-inch screens), uses Google Assistant to provide video chats, play cooking and other videos from sources like YouTube, and control your smart home. It can also play music from a variety of sources. It’s a particularly good smart display if you already use Google Assistant or are a fan of Google Home. The display is crystal clear, and you can easily turn off the camera button if you want privacy.

JBL Linkview: This oval speaker with an 8-inch smart display also uses Google Assistant to help manage smart devices, video chats, visual web searches, and so on. It also supports Google Cast for beaming the same audio to multiple speakers around the house and boasts a rear-facing passive radio for stronger bass. We’re in the process of reviewing this device, and will let you know what we think of it once we do.

LG WK9: LG’s entrant in the smart display category is a ThinQ Bluetooth speaker with a touchscreen that works via Google Assistant. The 8-inch screen includes video chat capabilities and the ability to do things like watch cooking videos on YouTube. It’s a good option for those who care a lot about the audio quality of their speaker, but the blocky design is a little disappointing. The device isn’t available for purchase yet, but will be soon.

Amazon Echo Spot Review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Amazon Echo Show: The Echo Show was one of the very first smart speakers to add a smart screen. Of course, the big difference here is that Amazon uses its own interface and search functions with Alexa instead of Google Assistant. This allows the Show to use screen-compatible Alexa skills, like watching video news stories. It also allows you to watch Amazon Prime Video shows or movies, which is nice if you prefer Prime content. You can also control all compatible smart devices.

Amazon Echo Spot: The Spot is a small, round version of the Show. It’s not really big enough for videos and is primarily intended to act as an alarm clock that can also function as a video chat phone. It’s cool if you use these functions, but is somewhat limited.

Sony: Sony is also working on a smart display. In fact, the company released one of the first prototypes, the Dash, at CES 2010, but (ironically) it never took off. Now it appears Sony is ready to get back into the game, although its not certain what form the smart display may take.

Future of the smart display

Echo Buttons

Expect the number of smart displays on the market to keep increasing, at least for now (note that Apple does not yet have one out). This is still a new field, and brands will want to explore how it can be used. There’s a lot of room for growth and new specialties here.

There’s also a lot of room for new content experiences, including more ads…which could be a weak point in the smart display field. Currently, smart displays use a fairly mild ad format with generic, screensaver-like notifications when the smart display is not in use. But Google has developed more in-depth smart display ad campaigns that could pave the way for more advertisements on these devices—for better or worse.

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