Up until now, if you wanted a screen on your smart speaker, you bought one from Amazon. The Amazon Echo Show, released in 2016, and the alarm-clock-like Echo Spot, launched in December 2017, were the only games in town.
Now Google and the Google Assistant have elbowed their way into the mix. At CES 2018, Google announced partnerships with third parties to build new smart assistant speakers featuring Google Assistant and screens. That includes the Lenovo Smart Display ($200 for an eight-inch model and $250 for a 10-inch model), which will be available for purchase July 27. We got our hands on the device at CES back in January, but were eager to take one home to see how it integrates with our smart devices. Here’s what happened when we plopped a 10-inch model down right next to our Amazon Echo Show in one of our test homes.
Hey good lookin’
The first thing we noticed about the Lenovo is its sharp design. While the Echo Show is a bit blocky in appearance, the Lenovo is more streamlined and minimalist — it looks a bit like a tablet being propped up with a case. The eight-inch model comes with a white trim and a soft gray color on the back, while the 10-inch model comes in a white trim with a bamboo-like texture on the back. Both devices feature a speaker on the front of the device.
One unique feature is that the Lenovo Smart Display can sit either horizontally or vertically depending on your preference, although sadly, only Google Duo phone calls work in portrait mode for now. Lenovo has told us that more functionality in portrait mode will come later.
Next to our Echo Show device, the 10-inch model of the Lenovo looks huge, but somehow not bulky. The thin design on the back makes it feel less clunky and intrusive than our Echo Show. We placed it in our kitchen, where it instantly looked at home.
The outside of the device features a volume button, a mic on/off switch, and a camera on/off switch that has a red indicator to show that it’s off, ensuring that those who are concerned about privacy need only glance at the top corner of the screen to check the status of the camera.
The resolution of the 8-inch screen is high definition (1,280 x 800) while the 10-inch screen is full high definition (1,920 x 1,200). It makes the tiny, four-by-seven-inch screen of the Echo Show look antiquated. We watched YouTube videos (something you can’t do on the Echo Show or Spot due to a feud between Google-owned YouTube and Amazon) on the 10-inch screen and found the clarity to be vivid and impressive.
We connected our Nest cam and were soon looking at bright, crisp camera footage from one of our test home bedrooms. We pulled up the same image on our Echo Show to compare. While they both looked similar, obviously seeing it on a bigger screen made a huge difference in clarity and crispness.
Ok Google, what’s the weather like?
The Lenovo Smart Display is designed to do all the things that a Google Home or Google Home Mini can do. But instead of having that lasagna recipe read to you in the kitchen like you would with the Mini, you can also see the instructions, or watch a video of it being prepared on the screen. Having a screened voice assistant in the kitchen makes a huge difference, making it easier to follow along.
We placed it in our kitchen, where it instantly looked at home.
If you’re using Google Assistant already, then getting set up with the Lenovo should be easy. It literally took us just a few minutes to get up and running, and despite the fact that a Lenovo device is being set up via the Google Home app, there were no gaps. Use your voice, starting with the phrase “Hey Google” or “Ok Google” to ask for the weather, or what your commute to work is going to be like.
You can customize the home screen with pics from Google Photos or anywhere else you want to draw from. There are also several stock displays to choose from that include both digital and analog clock modes. You can swipe on the screen of the device directly to change brightness or sound or catch the previous card featuring the weather.
Smart home control
You can use the app to connect smart home devices and streaming music so that you can turn smart lights on or off by using your voice. Connecting to our Spotify and Pandora accounts was a breeze. The nice thing about the Google Home app is that they list all the possible smart home devices to choose from. We selected Noon lighting, and after signing into our Noon account, were controlling the kitchen lights via Google Assistant in under a minute.
The display features home screen tabs that you can customize by user through Voice Match as well as Routines. For example, you can set it up so that when you say, “Hey Google, good morning,” it can turn on a light in the room, give you a list of appointments for the day, tell you what the weather was like outside, and show you YouTube videos on the latest news of the day.
Speaking of YouTube, the continuing feud between Amazon and Google means that Amazon Echo Show users have been unable to see videos from the site on their devices for months now. We didn’t realize how much we missed YouTube until it came back into our lives via the Lenovo Smart Display. Oh, sweet, wonderful, time-sucking YouTube.
If you’re looking for incredible, like life-changing, audio, you won’t get it with this device, but that’s not really what it’s made for. We tested the sound of both the Smart Display and the Echo Show side by side by playing Coldplay’s “Magic” on Pandora. The sound was similar with both devices: nothing that audiophiles will write home about, but certainly good enough quality sound to fill a room during a dinner party.
One thing we noticed while trying to chat with the device during CES was that it didn’t hear us as well when the volume was loud. When we placed it in our test home, we tried to trick the device by whispering, but had no similar issues with it hearing us.
The Lenovo Smart Display has a one year limited warranty.Our Take
With a crisp, clear display, a thin, beautiful streamlined look, and the brains of Google Assistant, it’s hard not to gush about the Lenovo Smart Display. By offering two different sizes at (somewhat) reasonable prices, it beats the Amazon Echo Show ($230) in virtually all ways. We can’t wait to be able to use it interchangeably in landscape and portrait mode.
Is there a better alternative?
In case you can’t tell, the Lenovo Smart Display’s biggest competition is the two Alexa products from Amazon with a screen, the $230 Echo Show or the $129 Echo Spot, which is small and round like an alarm clock. Both the Echo Show and Echo Spot feature Alexa as the voice assistant, and both devices play videos, show you the time, and more. The screens on both devices are smaller than Lenovo’s though. There are also other Google Assistant smart screens on the way, including the JBL Link View, which will feature an 8-inch screen and is due out later this year.
How long will it last?
The Lenovo Smart Display is sturdy, elegant and is backed by two trustworthy names: Lenovo and Google. We think the device will last years, and there’s no doubt that Lenovo and Google will continue to push supporting firmware updates from time to time.
Should you buy it?
Yes, especially if you’re already building a smart home powered by Google Assistant. But even if you’re looking for any smart speaker with a screen regardless of which voice assistant comes with it, the Lenovo Smart Display is the clear choice over any screened Alexa device right now. You’ll wonder how you lived without it.