The Google Home is one of my favorite smart speakers. Like an Amazon Echo, I can use it to grab recipes in the kitchen, place phone calls, listen to music and more.
Sometimes it can be hard to use, since it doesn’t have a display to provide extras like pictures or video. Only the Amazon Echo Show and Echo Spot offered a mix of smart speaker and a screen.
Google’s partners, including Lenovo, began selling so-called smart displays this week with the Google Assistant built-in. I’ve been testing the $250 Lenovo Smart Display with a 10-inch screen. I think it’s better than the $229 7-inch Amazon Echo Show.
Here’s why I like it.
Smart displays are an entirely new gadget category. You control it with your voice, like an Amazon Echo or Google Home, but the embedded display is used to show you extra information.
You can ask the Lenovo Smart Display anything. Who won last night’s Yankee’s game? Will it rain this weekend? What’s on my calendar? Instead of just hearing those responses by voice, the smart display will also show you the answer. It’s also good for watching video on services like YouTube.
That’s not all you can do though.
Getting started is really simple if you already have a Google account. You’ll log in, then connect the speaker through a Google Home app on your iPhone or Android phone. It takes just a couple of minutes. After that, the display starts to show you information it thinks will be valuable to you.
That includes the weather on the home screen, how long it might take for you to commute to work, YouTube videos you might like and information on flights it may have recognized from your Gmail account. You can swipe across the large, bright touchscreen to see more information, or speak more commands.
I found it was really useful for cooking. I asked the smart display for chicken cacciatore recipes and it brought up more than a dozen that I was able to swipe through. When I selected one, it showed me the ingredients in large, easy-to-read text. Then, it walked me through the steps of cooking one by one. After each step, I’d just say “OK, Google, next,” and it would read me the next step.
The Smart Display also works with Google’s video chat app, Duo, but the person you’re calling also needs to have that app installed. It’s not as popular as other video chat apps like FaceTime or Skype, so you’ll need to make sure your family members have it installed first.
I don’t normally watch YouTube videos around the house, but you can ask Google to play anything you want with the Smart Display. It also works with movies and TV shows that you’ve purchased from Google, so I was able to watch “Ready Player One” while I was in the kitchen. If you’re a YouTube TV subscriber, you can stream live television to the Smart Display, too, with a command like “OK, Google, turn on CNBC.”
I really liked that I could sync it with my albums in Google Photos, the cloud service where I store all of the pictures I’ve taken with my phone. I could pick certain albums, and the display rotates them throughout the day when the screen isn’t being used by another app. You can also bring up photos of people or places if you have them tagged with a voice command. (“OK, Google, show my photos from Spain.”)
I prefer turning on the TV to grab the news, but like an Amazon Echo or Amazon Echo Show, you can ask the Smart Display for a daily briefing and get clips from CNBC and other news outlets like CBS. It’s convenient if you want a quick hit of news about the day while prepping coffee in the morning.
Finally, it can play music from such services as Google Play Music, Spotify and Pandora. The speaker was good, but not on the level of something like a Sonos or Apple HomePod.
You can do a lot of this with the Amazon Echo Show, but the display is larger and higher quality on the Lenovo Smart Display. I also like that it ties in with Google’s services, which knows more about me than Amazon. If you use Google a lot, like I do, then you’ll probably like this even better than the Amazon Echo Show.
Lenovo’s design is a little quirky. The display looks a bit weird with a speaker on just one side of it, and the bamboo wood on the back didn’t really fit in with the rest of the decor in my house. I kept it against a wall, though, so it wasn’t really much of a problem.
Sometimes the touchscreen wasn’t as responsive as I thought it should be. When I was moving through a recipe, it didn’t always register my touch to move on to the next screen. This seems like something that could be fixed through a software update.
Finally, talking to any of these smart assistants can be really frustrating at times. They’re amazing when they work, but can still fail to hear your command sometimes. When you’re standing there with flour on your hands asking for the next step in a recipe, the last thing you want to do is continually repeat yourself. Sometimes this happened with the Lenovo, but again, it’s an issue with every smart speaker I’ve ever used.
I thought the Amazon Echo Show was the best smart home speaker, but I think this one takes the cake. If you use Google services, like photos and Gmail, as much as I do, then this is pretty much a no-brainer.
If you already own an Amazon Echo, however, you might as well just stick to Amazon’s ecosystem. It’s too confusing to walk around the house and say “Alexa” in one room and “Hey Google,” in another. Plus, owning multiple Echoes or Google Assistant products can be beneficial, since they can call each other, like an intercom system.
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