Smart displays haven’t completely gotten the respect they deserve. This is partly because they so closely resemble digital photo frames, which are some of the most maligned gadgets of the last 20 years. But slowly and surely, the world is coming to realize that the best smart displays actually have a fair amount of utility when it comes to video calls and orchestrating dozens of smart home devices.
But more importantly, these devices continue to improve, but also keep expanding on what they can do, which shows the best smart displays are no mere gimmick. And with top companies such as Google, Amazon and Lenovo leading the way, these devices will only continue to grow in importance as more people hop on the smart home train and need a quick and easy way to manage those devices.
But if you’re still deciding if a smart display is right for you, here is what you can expect from the best smart displays.
Features to Look For in the Best Smart Displays
While it seems like new use cases pop up every day, there are a handful of key tasks that the best smart displays excel at. These include:
- Smart home management: One of the main reasons you should want a smart display is if you have, or are planning to build out your own network of smart home devices. The best smart displays make it easy to control and manage more than 100,000 different devices from top brands, including light bulbs, thermostats, televisions, speakers, plugs, robot vacuums and more. Smart displays can even function as a de facto security camera for whatever room it’s in, allowing you to get a live view at any time.
- Communication: Every smart display on this list has the ability to function like an intercom system when connected to a network of other virtual assistant-enabled devices. But the majority also have the ability to video conference, and are equipped with better webcams than what you’d typically find in a laptop. While the services supported will vary depending on which smart display you buy, Zoom is one service that is supported by every device, making these hubs a viable choice for remote work meetings.
- Media streaming: Most of the smart displays on this list have the ability to connect to many of the best streaming services, including Netflix, Spotify, Prime Video, Youtube, NPR, and Hulu.
- Digital photo frame: Yes, we may have just explained that the digital photo frames of old were one of the dumbest single-purpose gadgets of all-time. But as an extra feature in a smart display that has a superior software experience and higher-resolution display than ever before, screen, it’s nice to have.
- Virtual assistant integration: A smart display without a virtual assistant such as Google Assistant or Alexa is not a smart display at all. Being able to use voice commands isn’t just a convenient alternative for controlling smart home devices, checking your calendar, setting alarms or playing music, it’s actually necessary. Because you can’t pick up a smart display like you would a phone or a tablet, trying to use the touchscreen for everything would get very annoying, very fast.
In fact, this brings us to a very important discussion…
The Difference Between Smart Displays and Tablets
Although it’s essentially a touchscreen with a big speaker attached to it, a smart display is not a tablet. We’ve already explained why smart displays rely so heavily on voice assistants, and as such, they have a completely different software experience than you get with the best tablets. But smart displays tend to have less-powerful components than a tablet which means that the best smart displays tend to be more focused in what they can do in order to provide the best experience possible.
So instead of a touch-based interface that lets you install any app you want, you get a touchscreen full of very streamlined options, and instead must rely on voice commands and simple touchscreen prompts. Instead of installable apps, you will find integrations or installable skills from your favorite networks, platforms and services.
And yes, you could just buy a cheap tablet (and a stand). And if its an Amazon tablet, you could get all of the same functionality thanks to Show Mode. But what you won’t get are things like the dedicated controls, privacy shutter and bigger speaker. There’s also not a single Android tablet that offers the same optimized software experience that you get with Google’s smart hubs.
So now that you understand what the best smart displays can and can’t do, let’s take a look at some of the best options you can buy right now.
1. Amazon Echo Show 8 Smart Display
BEST SMART DISPLAY OVERALL
While it won’t ship until early June, the all-new, second-generation Echo Show 8 from Amazon has received a few major performance bumps that should push it up to the top of the pack when it comes to the best smart displays. This 8-inch smart display now has a 13-megapixel camera (compared to a 1-megapixel camera previously) which means that you should look much much better while video chatting through Alexa, as well as other apps such as Zoom, WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams and Skype. And much like the new iPad Pro, the camera can tilt and pan, which means it always keeps you centered in the frame as you move around the room.
Being an Amazon device, it should also be no surprise that the Echo Show 8 is powered by Alexa. As such, it’s the best choice if you use Amazon devices such as Ring video doorbells or services such as Whole Foods. In fact, Echo Show devices are the only ones that will let you add items to your Whole Foods shopping cart and place an order using only your voice. But Amazon has also created a developer platform where you can find “skills” from thousands of companies that integrate their products with Alexa. While many of the speakers on this list have their own unique merits, we think the Amazon Echo Show 8 strikes the best balance between affordability, performance, versatility and overall usability.
Amazon Echo Show 8
Google Nest Hub Smart Display (2nd Generation)
BEST GOOGLE SMART DISPLAY
On the surface, the Google Nest Hub is largely the same as the Amazon Echo Show 8, but there are a few key differences. For starters, this 7-inch smart display lacks a camera which means that you can see someone on the other end of a video call, but can’t be seen yourself. But the Nest Hub has a very unique feature that no other smart display has: a built-in sleep tracker that can detect your sleep quality, breathing, heart rate and more without you having to wear any sensors or connect any extra gear.
Furthermore, Google Assistant, which powers the Nest Hub, has some added depth that Alexa lacks when it comes to virtual assistants. This includes being able to give you traffic and commute updates from Google Maps, pulling upcoming flight info from your Gmail account or allowing anyone to make hands-free calls without a phone. And of all the devices, the Nest Hub is probably the best at offering up a visual experience that feels like a command center, offering up interactive tiles for media, smart home devices, timers, weather and more, all on a single screen.
Google Nest Hub
Amazon Echo Show 5 Smart Display (1st Generation)
BEST BUDGET SMART DISPLAY
If you want an extremely affordable smart display option, the first-generation Amazon Echo Show 5 is the way to go. While this 5-inch display only has a 1-megapixel web camera, it otherwise packs all of the same functionality as the larger Echo Show 8. And if you want a smart display to place in your bedroom or on your desk in your home office, that smaller size can be a huge benefit since it won’t stick out like a sore thumb.
Furthermore this is a great option for families because it works with Amazon Kids+, which delivers age-appropriate video content, game and audio books to this smart display for $2.99 a month.
Amazon Echo Show 5
Google Nest Hub Max Smart Display
BEST FOR STREAMING VIDEO
While the Google Nest Hub Max didn’t receive an update in 2021 like its smaller counterpart, there are still a few good reasons to pick up this 10-inch smart display: You want a Google Assistant smart display that has a webcam for Google Duo and Zoom calls, you want a bigger screen and a better-sounding speaker, or you want a smart display that can closely approximate a kitchen TV.
The reason the Nest Hub Max is such a great option for TV and movies is not just because it has a larger screen, but also because all Google-powered smart displays have Google Cast capabilities, which means that you can open nearly any major streaming video app on your phone and push the content to your smart display. But unless you plan to be a foot away from your display at all times, we think going for the biggest screen possible is the best move.
Google Nest Hub Max
Amazon Echo Show 10 Smart Display
BEST FOR VIDEO CALLING
If you want the ultimate smart home hub, the Amazon Echo Show 10 is unquestionably the best smart display when it comes to performance. The feature that stands out most about this 10-inch hub is the fact that it sits on a motorized base. During video calls, this allows the Echo Show 10 to physically move as you move, so that you stay in the frame of the 13-megapixel camera and can always see the person you’re talking to.
The Echo Show 10 also includes a Zigbee hub, which means you can connect smart home devices without needing a separate smart device bridge, or having dozens of devices make your Wi-Fi network lag. And because it packs the best-sounding speaker of all the Echo Show devices, this is definitely the hub to get if you plan to listen to a lot of music.
Amazon Echo Show 10
Lenovo Smart Display 8
If you want a smaller Google smart display that has the ability to make video calls, then you’ll want to take a look at the Lenovo Smart Display 8. Splitting the difference between the Nest Hub and the Nest Hub Max. you get an 8-inch display, 2-megapixel web camera that works with Google Duo and Zoom and a dual-driver speaker generating 10 watts of power. Other than that, it’s virtually identical in function to the Nest Hub. For most people, the price tag might be too steep considering this display is a couple of years old and lacks the sleep tracking capabilities of the second-gen Nest Hub. But if you specifically want the features this display offers, it will do the job.
Lenovo Smart Display 8
BEST SMART DISPLAY FOR WORK
If you’re looking for an all-around smart display, we’re not sure Facebook Portal is the one we’d go with. But if you’re someone who uses Facebook for video calls or wants a dedicated video conferencing setup for work, Facebook Portal could be the best smart display for you. With the ability to make video calls to anyone in your Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp contacts, and the ability to stream to Facebook Live, Portal is undoubtedly the easiest way to tap any of those services. And a big, 15.6-inch display ensures that you’re not constantly squinting at the screen.
But in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Portal now also has the widest selection of business-oriented video conferencing services, including Zoom, Webex, BlueJeans, GoToMeeting and Workplace. This gives you tons of flexibility in how you communicate while the 12.5-megapixel webcam has the ability to tilt and pan to keep you in the frame and looking great.
Portal from Facebook
Lenovo Smart Clock
GREAT FOR BEDROOMS
Along with Facebook Portal, the Lenovo Smart Clock has the most specific use case amongst the best smart displays on this list, but if you want a Google Assistant-powered hub that is specifically designed to be used in the bedroom, this is the smart display you want to go with. Every aspect of the Lenovo Smart Clock has been optimized to make the 5-inch screen as easy as possible to interact with while preserving as much of your privacy as possible. This is evidenced by the fact that there’s no camera, and this doesn’t have the ability to play back video from services such as Netflix and YouTube.
What it can do is leverage Google Assistant to control your smart home, set alarms and give you updates on your commute, schedule and weather. It can also stream music from services such as Spotify and iHeartRadio. It even has a USB port so that you can easily charge your phone. While the $80 price tag might be a little high for some, its a great choice if you want a compact smart display for the bedroom while feeling assured that unwanted eyes aren’t peeking in.
Lenovo Smart Clock