Best smart displays for 2021: Amazon, Google, Lenovo and more
Thanks to coronavirus lockdowns, voice assistants are getting more use than ever before. Add that to the slew of new products from Amazon and Google last fall, and this is an exciting time for Alexa and Google Assistant. Smart displays bring an even more compelling angle: they offer video chat, touch controls, a screen for streaming and much more. I for one have already sent an Echo Show 8 to my mother-in-law so she can drop in to read to my kiddos every couple of days this new year — even though she lives 10 hours away.
But which smart display is best for you?
The smart display industry has flourished in recent years, with the Amazon Echo Show 8 and the Google Nest Hub (formerly the Google Home Hub) at the forefront of the screen wars. In addition, Amazon’s new Echo Show 10 will be adding a new contender to the field soon. It makes sense that there are almost a dozen smart displays on the market: They’re a great combo made up of the always-listening voice assistant (like you’d find in a smart speaker) and a touchscreen for watching videos, controlling your smart home devices, adding things to your to-do lists and more. The Google Nest Hub Max even adds in a face-tracking camera that can display personalized bits of information whenever this smart device recognizes you.
There are plenty of considerations that go into which smart display is right for you. Do you want one that offers video chat and video calling? Or that connects with Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Home app? Does it need to be able to control your smart light bulbs and smart plugs? Is audio performance a factor (in case you need music for a dance party)? These are all factors you should keep in mind.
If you’re looking to upgrade your current smart speaker, or you’re just starting your smart home and you find the touchscreen appealing, here are the best smart displays available now. We’ll update this list periodically.
Read more: Google Nest Hub wins CNET’s Editors’ Choice
You can often find the Nest Hub (formerly called the Google Home Hub) on sale for $100 or less, making this Google smart display device an affordable entry point for the category. It’s also the smartest and best overall, making the lower price even more appealing.
Thanks to the built-in Google Assistant, the Nest Hub responds to all of the same voice command options as the Google Home Mini smart speaker. The touchscreen is a little small at 7 inches, but the adaptive brightness makes pictures look particularly great. Google will even customize a slideshow of family pics as your screensaver.
You can also control your smart home devices, like your smart doorbell, with an intuitively designed control panel. Unlike most of the other smart displays (and unlike its new big brother, the Nest Hub Max), the Nest Hub doesn’t have a camera, but that might be a bonus if you have privacy concerns and want to put it on your bedside table. The colorful fabric design on this Google assistant smart display allows the device to blend in anywhere, though the touchscreen comes in particularly handy if you want step-by-step help through a recipe in the kitchen.
For a long time, the Nest Hub occupied pride of place on this list, thanks to its photo display aesthetic, pleasant user interface and more naturalistic voice assistant. But as we venture ever deeper into the coronavirus pandemic, the Echo Show 8’s camera — and its ability to video chat — becomes a more important deciding point for would-be customers. And that’s one feature the Nest Hub simply doesn’t have. Add that to Amazon Alexa’s growing smarts, and the Show 8 has been upgraded to share the “best display” honor with the Nest hub.
With the Show 8, Amazon’s Alexa will respond to your voice control and voice commands, plus you can use the screen to play games, browse recipes, watch movies and Prime Video trailers, control your smart home and more. The 8-inch screen on this Amazon Alexa smart display device is small enough to stay out of the way, but big enough that you won’t have to squint. It also includes a physical camera shutter for privacy.
In addition to the usual tricks, Amazon included its recent sunrise alarm feature, which helps ease you out of your sleep with a screen that starts getting brighter 15 minutes before your scheduled wake-up time. You can watch new how-to videos, or make a video call with a tap.
Google Assistant still makes better use of the touchscreen than Amazon — in particular, the cooking directions and smart home controls are better — but the Echo Show 8 is close enough if you’re already invested in Alexa, and it actually has a camera for video chatting, which the Nest Hub doesn’t. In short, the Show 8 is Amazon’s best smart display yet.
If you want a 10-inch touchscreen powered by Google Assistant, the Lenovo Smart Display looks elegant and features the same smarts as the Nest Hub. Lenovo actually offers three different models with 10, 8 and 7 inch screens. The 10-inch $250 smart display has a bamboo back that’s particularly well suited for the kitchen.
The Lenovo Smart Display was actually the first smart display to debut with Google Assistant built-in and it’s still one of the best. You still get Google’s smart-home control panels and recipe guides, plus the Lenovo display has a smart camera for video calls and a physical shutter to cover it if you want privacy.
Smart displays let Amazon, Facebook, Google show you answers to your questions
Smart display comparison
|Best overall||Best Alexa display||Best full-sized display|
|Google Nest Hub||Amazon Echo Show 8||Lenovo Smart Display 10 inch/8 inch|
|Cost||$129 (£119, AU$199)||$100||$250|
|Screen Size||7-inch (177.8 mm)||8-inch (203.2 mm)||10.1-inch (256.5 mm)|
|Resolution||not listed||720p (1280 x 800)||1080p (1920 x 1200)|
|Dimensions (WxHxD)||7.02×4.65×2.65 inches (178.5x118x67.3 mm)||7.9×5.4×3.9 inches (200.7×137.2×99.1 mm)||6.8×12.3×0.5 to 5.4 inches(173.87×311.37×12.5 to 136.02 mm)|
|Weight||1.1 lbs. (480 grams)||2.29 lbs. (1038 grams)||2.6 lbs. (1,200 grams)|
|Wireless Connectivity||Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n/ac, 2.4GHz and 5GHz), Bluetooth 5.0||Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n/ac, 2.4GHz and 5GHz), Bluetooth||Wi-Fi (802.11ac, 2.4GHz and 5GHz), Bluetooth|
|Voice Assistant||Google Assistant||Alexa||Google Assistant|
|Calling and Messaging||Direct dial (US, UK, and Canada, outgoing calls only), video calls with Google Duo||Alexa Messaging, Skype, direct dial (US and Mexico)||Direct dial (US, UK, and Canada, outgoing calls only), video calls with Google Duo|
|Smart kitchen features||Step-by-step recipe assistance with YouTube tutorial videos||Food Network GO; Step-by-step recipe assistance; Amazon Meal Kits integration||Step-by-step recipe assistance with YouTube tutorial videos|
|On-screen smart home controls||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Built-in Camera||No||Yes (1MP)||Yes (5MP)|
|Microphones||2-mic array||2-mic array||4-mic array (2 front, 2 rear)|
|Speakers||Full range speaker (80 dB SPL @ 1KHz, @ 1m)||2x full range 2-inch 10W speakers||1.75-/2-inch 10W full range speaker, 2x passive tweeters|
|Streaming Music Services||iHeartRadio, Pandora, Spotify, YouTube Music||Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn||iHeartRadio, Pandora, Spotify, YouTube Music|
|Streaming Video Services||YouTube, YouTube TV, Google Play Movies, CBS All Access, HBO Now||Amazon Prime Video, NBC, Vevo||YouTube, YouTube TV, Google Play Movies, CBS All Access, HBO Now|
|Compatible smart home cameras||D-Link, EZVIZ, Nest Cam, Netgear Arlo, Skybell Video Doorbell, Smartcam, Swann, TP-Link Kasa Cam, Vivitar||Amazon Cloud Cam, Amcrest, August Doorbell Cam, Blink, Canary, D-Link, EZVIZ, Logitech Circle, meShare, Nest Cam, Netgear Arlo, Ring Video Doorbell, Toucan, TP-Link Kasa Cam, Wyze Cam, Zmodo||D-Link, EZVIZ, Nest Cam, Netgear Arlo, Skybell Video Doorbell, Smartcam, Swann, TP-Link Kasa Cam, Vivitar|
|Other notable features||Ambient EQ automatic adaptive screen brightness; Digital picture frame via Google Photos with Live Albums; Live TV with YouTube TV; Send directions to your phone or chosen recipes from your phone to the display; Digital Wellbeing mode for parental restrictions and downtime hours||Sunrise alarms. Customizable clock faces. Customizable alarm tones. YouTube access via Silk or Firefox browsers||Live TV with YouTube TV; Send directions to your phone or chosen recipes from your phone to the display; Digital Wellbeing mode for parental restrictions and downtime hours|
|Color options||Charcoal, Aqua, Chalk, Sand||Charcoal, Sandstone||Bamboo|
|Availability||US, UK, Australia and 12 others||US, UK, Australia and 7 others||US only|
|Expected ship date||Available now||Available now||Available now|
Google Nest Hub Max: At $229, the Nest Hub Max ups the Google Assistant’s screen size from 7 to 10 inches and offers better sound quality than before. The real story, however, is the addition of a sophisticated camera that can track movements and gestures, or identify faces to show you personalized info on the screen. It’s an impressive combination of hardware and software, but it comes with privacy concerns. For most people, we think the original, camera-free Nest Hub is a lot closer to the smart display sweet spot.
Amazon Echo Show 5: The Echo Show 5 is the cheapest of Amazon’s displays, and it features most of the perks of the Show 8. Its resolution is lower than the Show 8 and its screen is smaller. While it features a tap-to-snooze alarm feature that makes it perfect for a bedside alarm, its sound quality isn’t close compared to its bigger siblings.
Amazon Echo Show (second gen): The original Echo Show helped popularize the smart display back in 2017 and the current second-gen Show improved on it in every way with better design, sound quality and a more useful screen. It’s a good premium counterpart to the attractive $90 entry point of the Echo Show 5. The second-gen Show has great sound quality and a 10-inch screen. The touchscreen just isn’t as useful as similar models with Google Assistant.
Facebook Portal: The $180 Facebook Portal makes great video calls. It can track and follow any individual in frame so you can move freely as you talk. Otherwise, it has the Alexa app built-in, but it isn’t as smart as the rest. Of course, Facebook has recently faced numerous privacy scandals, so putting one of its cameras in your home takes a big leap of faith.
Lenovo Smart Clock: This $50 smart alarm trims out a lot of the functionality of smart displays. There’s no camera and you can’t watch videos. You can customize alarms and scroll through screens with weather and commute info. Thanks to a recent update, you can also look at personal pics and the Smart Clock will scroll through selected albums from Google Photos as your screensaver. It’s cute and tailored for your nightstand, but it’s more of an upgraded alarm clock than a full smart display.
Read more: Luna, a Ring camera drone, new Alexa features: Everything Amazon announced this fall