From Alexa to Google, the best smart displays to buy right now
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Smart displays, those cousins of voice-controlled smart speakers with full touchscreen displays, are great devices for managing your smart home, displaying useful bits of information throughout the day, or even playing music or video.
Like a smart speaker, a smart display is primarily voice-controlled, so you can bark commands at it from across a room. But unlike a smart speaker, a smart display can display information such as upcoming appointments, weather, in-progress timers, the current time, a grocery list, recipes, and more without you having to utter a single command. They can also be used as a modern, cloud-connected digital photo frame, allowing you to see all of those memories you’ve captured over the years that are currently trapped on your smartphone. Some models also come with built-in cameras that can be used for video calling to other smart displays or even phones.
The best smart display has all of the capabilities of the best smart speakers, including good-sounding speakers of its own for listening to music or watching video. They are available in a variety of prices and sizes, and depending on where you want to put the display in your home, you might prefer a smaller model over one that has a larger screen and louder speakers. If you’re looking for an all-around smart display to use in your kitchen or living room, you’ll want one with a screen that’s easy to see from across the room and speakers that can fill the space with clear, pleasant sound.
There are essentially two types of smart displays available: ones that use Amazon’s Alexa assistant and ones that run on Google Assistant. Which one is better for you really depends on your needs and whether you already have a smart speaker in your home. The two platforms are more similar than they are different, but a simple way to differentiate between them is Google’s smart displays work best with Google services, such as Duo, Photos, other Nest devices, and YouTube, and Amazon’s smart displays work with Amazon services, like Prime Video, Amazon Photos, and Ring products. For most people, the best option is going to be Amazon’s Echo Show 8 or Google’s Nest Hub, depending on which virtual assistant you prefer.
Best smart displays 2021
The best Alexa smart display
The Echo Show 8 is the middle child in Amazon’s lineup of Alexa-powered smart displays, and it’s the best Alexa smart display. It has a bright 8-inch touchscreen, two powerful speakers that can put out a surprising level of volume, a built-in camera with a privacy shutter, and four microphones to hear voice commands. It doesn’t take up a ton of space on a counter, mantle, or bookshelf, but it can easily be seen or controlled from across a room.
The Show 8 has access to all of the same Alexa abilities as Amazon’s Echo speakers, but it includes a number of unique things that take advantage of its built-in display. You can see timers on the screen without having to ask for them, recipes are displayed with step-by-step instructions and video tutorials, grocery lists are shown right on the screen, and the Show will cycle through upcoming calendar appointments, weather reports, and news headlines whenever it’s idle. The screen can also be used to pull up feeds from video doorbells and security cameras or to view the feed from another Echo Show in your home.
The second-generation Echo Show 8 has a 13-megapixel camera that can be used for video calls through Amazon’s Alexa calling (to phones or other Echo Show displays) or Zoom. It is able to automatically pan and crop to keep you in the frame, and it generally has good image quality. The built-in privacy shutter allows you to block the camera’s view if you don’t want to make video calls or want to use it in a bedroom.
Since the display is a full touchscreen, you can also interact with the Echo Show 8 without having to use your voice at all, including canceling timers, controlling smart home devices, or scrolling through photos stored in Amazon Photos or Facebook albums. But the Show 8 is not designed to be an iPad-like tablet, and its interactivity is limited to simple functions.
Like Echo speakers, the Show 8 can play audio and music from a variety of sources, including Spotify, Audible, Pocket Casts, Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Sirius XM. It can also play video from Amazon’s Prime Video, Hulu, and Netflix. But it doesn’t have an easy way to play YouTube video (you have to go through the device’s built-in web browser, a very clumsy process), nor does it have the ability to play HBO Max or Disney Plus.
The best Google Assistant smart display
If you are fully invested in Google’s ecosystem or own a lot of Nest products already, the Google Nest Hub is the best smart display with Google Assistant.
A 7-inch smart display, the Nest Hub is a little smaller than the Echo Show 8 and fits more comfortably on a nightstand. Its best feature is a screen that automatically adjusts itself for the lighting in your room, so it almost looks like photos are printed on paper instead of being displayed on a screen. Combine that with Google Photos’ excellent automatic backups and smart albums that can automatically update the Nest Hub with new images whenever you take them, and you have perhaps the best digital photo frame experience you can get.
The latest, second-generation Nest Hub is also able to automatically track your sleep when it’s on a nightstand, making it an ideal smart alarm clock. It also lacks a camera entirely, which every other smart display in this list includes. That means you can’t use it for video calling, but it also means you don’t have to worry about a connected camera being in your most intimate of areas.
The Nest Hub has a single speaker, which is much less powerful and doesn’t sound nearly as good as the Echo Show 8’s dual-speaker system. The 7-inch screen is also noticeably smaller, which makes it harder to see from across a room and less comfortable to watch video on. But if you watch a lot of YouTube or are a YouTube TV customer, the Nest Hub does a much better job of displaying those services than Amazon’s options. Google also supports more video services than Amazon on its smart displays, including Disney Plus and Paramount Plus. You can also easily cast video content from a variety of apps on your phone, such as HBO Max, to the Nest Hub display, which you can’t do with an Echo Show.
Like an Echo Show, the Nest Hub can be used to control smart home devices, display upcoming appointments, step-by-step recipes, or voice-controlled timers and alarms. Google Assistant is generally better at answering random fact-based questions than Alexa, but for everyday tasks, they are very similar.
The best Alexa smart display for a bedroom
The Echo Show 5 is very similar to the Echo Show 8 but smaller. That makes it more ideal for a nightstand and the best Alexa smart display for your bedroom. It’s also the least expensive Echo Show model.
The Show 5 only has a 5.5-inch screen, which isn’t as easy to see from across the room as larger models. It also only has a single speaker, which can get quite loud, but isn’t as good as the speaker systems in the bigger Echo Show devices.
The Echo Show 5 also doesn’t support as many video streaming services or video calling services, and its 2-megapixel built-in camera is much lower quality than the Echo Show 8 or 10’s cameras. Fortunately, it still includes the physical privacy shutter to block its view when you don’t want to use it.
Where the Echo Show 5 really shines is on a nightstand or desk. If you’re using it as a smart alarm clock, you can tap on the top to snooze the alarm. On a desk, it works well for personal audio such as podcasts or to view feeds from a security camera or video doorbell.
The best Google smart alarm clock
If you are looking for a smart alarm clock with Google Assistant, then the best option is the tiny Lenovo Smart Clock 2. The Smart Clock 2 has a 4-inch screen, no camera, and a small footprint, making it ideal for a nightstand.
The Smart Clock is capable of showing the time, weather, calendar appointments, and Google Photos albums, just like the larger Nest Hub displays. You can interact with the screen with either voice or touch, and there are buttons on top for controlling volume and a switch on the back for muting the microphone.
In addition, the Smart Clock 2 is available with a dock that can charge your phone wirelessly, which makes it an ideal nightstand companion.
Though you can play all the same music services (Spotify, YouTube Music, etc.) through the Smart Clock, its small speaker doesn’t sound that great and doesn’t get very loud. It works for hearing Google Assistant voice responses and an alarm, but not for extended listening.
In addition, you can tap the top of the Smart Clock to snooze an alarm, and there’s a USB port on the back that you can use to charge your phone.
The best Alexa smart display for video calls
Amazon’s biggest and most expensive smart display is the Echo Show 10. It’s the best option if you want an Amazon display for making video calls because it has a motorized base that can actually follow you as you move around the room.
The 13-megapixel camera on the Echo Show 10 is the same as on the second-generation Echo Show 8. But its automatic crop and pan modes are supercharged by the 10’s motorized base. You can stick it in the corner of your kitchen and easily carry on a video call as you move around the room.
In addition, the motorized base makes it easy to watch video or follow a recipe as you move around since it always attempts to face you.
The Echo Show 10 also has a louder and better-sounding speaker system than the smaller models, and it can fill a room with music easier. You can also pair smart home devices such as lightbulbs and other sensors directly to it through the built-in Zigbee radio.
The best Google smart display for video calls
The 10-inch Nest Hub Max is a lot like the Nest Hub, but bigger. It also has a camera, though, which can be used for video calling through Google Duo or Zoom, or as a home security camera when you’re away.
The Max’s camera can also automatically crop and pan to keep you in frame, though it lacks the fancy motorized base found on the Echo Show 10. The camera also recognizes who is using the Max and automatically provides relevant information, and supports basic play and pause controls through hand gestures.
The Max also has a louder, better-sounding speaker system than the smaller Nest Hub, which makes it more suitable for larger rooms. It’s probably too big to really use in a bedroom or on a nightstand — for that, you’ll want to stick with the smaller options.
The best smart display for video calls
If you want a smart display specifically for making WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger calls, then the 10-inch Facebook Portal Go is your best option. It has a 13-megapixel camera that supports automatic panning and cropping, and it can be used for video calls on Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Zoom, Cisco WebEx, and other services.
The best part of the Go is its built-in battery, which lets you move it wherever is most comfortable to take video calls — you don’t have to be tethered to a power outlet like with other smart displays. The battery is rated to last up to five hours for video calls, which is surely enough for most people.
The Portal Go has Alexa as well, making it an Echo Show alternative. But the Alexa integration isn’t quite as good, and it doesn’t support as many features as Amazon’s smart display. You can also use Facebook’s own voice commands for controlling the Portal.
You can listen to music services or watch streaming video on the Portal’s 10-inch display, but the sound quality isn’t quite as good as you get on the Echo Show 8 or 10. If Facebook support is the most important thing to you, however, the Portal Go is a good choice. Otherwise, stick with an Amazon Echo Show.