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The best smart displays from Google, Amazon, and others
Smart speakers can be a great way of stepping into the smart home world, but there are reasons to go a step further with a smart display. Today we’ll explain the upgrades a display offers, and give you a few of our favorite picks.
Why buy a smart display?
Smart displays offer all the voice command options of a smart speaker but with added visual feedback and control. When asking about the weather, for example, you might get an entire week’s forecast, rather than just a single day. This benefit extends to things like notes, reminders, alarms, calendars, recipes, and news, and as well as linked accessories like lights. Some data can be displayed passively, so you may not have to ask at all.
Displays also enable unique video-based functions, such as video calls, security camera feeds, or watching services like Netflix and YouTube. Google-based displays support Google Cast, extending compatibility to any service with a Cast-ready mobile app. Don’t worry about the cameras most displays are equipped with — you can physically disable them if they’re not in use.
Smart displays are bulkier than speakers, and tend to cost more, especially if you want to keep high-quality audio. They’re so versatile, however, that they’re hard to ignore in a “complete” smart home setup.
The best smart displays:
Editor’s note: We’ll be updating this list of the best smart displays regularly as new ones launch.
Google Nest Hub Max
The Nest Hub Max is the best of the best if you’re shopping for a Google-based display. It features a 10-inch touchscreen, and audio is powered by a couple of 18mm 10W tweeters paired with a 75mm 30W woofer. Video call options include Zoom and Google Duo, and it can even operate as its own security camera when using a Nest Aware subscription.
The Max does have a large footprint, and lacks the Sleep Sensing feature in its smaller sibling, but it’s meant to be a focal point of your smart home, out in the open in places like your kitchen or living room.
Google Nest Hub
The second-generation standard Nest Hub makes some sacrifices to be more affordable than the Max. Primarily it sports a smaller 7-inch touchscreen, less powerful audio, and no camera for video calls.
That said it actually has a couple of advantages, mainly the aforementioned Sleep Sensing if you keep it bedside. That uses radar, sound, light, and temperature sensors to monitor both you and environmental conditions, gauging how well you sleep and what might be causing problems. A wearable with sleep tracking will probably be more accurate, but the Hub is more convenient — at least for now, since Google is planning to lock Sleep Sensing behind Fitbit Premium subscriptions starting in 2023.
See also: The best fitness trackers
The product’s size meanwhile lets it fit on more surfaces, such as nightstands and crowded desks. If you don’t need a camera or spectacular audio and video, the standard Hub is a solid choice, probably even preferable to the Max.
Amazon Echo Show 8
Amazon can’t be left out when listing the best smart displays on the market. We’re starting with the Echo Show 8, which finds a good balance between size, affordability, and features.
The device has plenty to offer, and some might say it’s a better deal than the Nest Hub. It has a larger 8-inch touchscreen, a 13-megapixel camera, and a couple of 2-inch speakers with a passive bass radiator. There are more video calling options too, including auto-framing as you move around the room.
Alexa is typically considered the most powerful and widely-supported digital assistant, even if Google Assistant has its own strengths. A note to make here is that if want to use a smart display for YouTube videos, you should probably skip the Echo Show lineup — Amazon forces you to watch YouTube through a web browser instead of a native app, and there’s no Google Cast or YouTube Music support.
Amazon Echo Show 10
As you can tell, the Echo Show 10 isn’t just a larger version of Amazon’s 8-inch display. Its screen rotates to face you whenever it detects your presence, and it can even scout the room as a security camera. You can limit or disable rotation if this bothers you, but it’s potentially very useful when you’re cooking, or have other things to take care of during a video call.
Amazon Echo Show 15
The Echo Show 15 is perhaps the most unusual smart display available, which is saying something after the Show 10. While you can sit it on a table stand, you’re really meant to mount it on a wall, whether in portrait or landscape mode. The idea is that it serves as a waystation — a place where an entire household can check notes, lists, weather, and calendar appointments. Face and voice recognition ensures that everyone gets appropriate content.
There are a few drawbacks versus the Show 10. Its sound isn’t nearly as good, and it’s stuck with a 5-megapixel camera, which doesn’t even have auto-framing — a feature you’d think would be obvious on a display you can’t move. It doesn’t work as a Zigbee hub, either. If you can live with these issues, the Show 15 does accomplish its main mission.
Facebook Portal Go
Facebook’s Portal devices haven’t generated as much traction as their competitors, but they have their uses, particularly if you’re hooked on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or Zoom. Portals were among the first smart displays to offer auto-framing during video calls.
The Portal Go is the only display on our list with a built-in battery, so you can take it anywhere with Wi-Fi access. It additionally doubles as a Bluetooth speaker, which can save money if you were thinking about getting a dedicated unit to pair with your phone.
Up next: The best smart speaker you can buy
The Go is equipped with a 10-inch screen, a 12-megapixel camera, two speakers, and a woofer. It even supports Alexa. Portal devices don’t have the same level of app support as Amazon or Google products, but there are options like Spotify, Plex, Netflix, and Prime Video.
Facebook Portal TV
Although it’s technically a media streamer rather than a smart display, the Portal TV offers many of the same benefits as other Portals with the bonus of a much, much larger screen — your TV set. When you’re hosting a video call, the sense of presence is palpable.
This particular Portal model sits below or on top of your TV and connects via HDMI. Like the Go, it supports Alexa voice commands, though for most interactions (like opening video apps) you’ll be using a bundled remote.
We’d generally recommend the Portal Go over the Portal TV, since the latter can’t compete against streamers like the Chromecast or Apple TV 4K. If video calls are extremely important to you, however, the Portal TV may pique your interest.
Are you wondering how else you can make a home smarter? We have an excellent guide to help.