The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Your Next Smart Display

Google Nest Hub Max Header Image

While smart speakers are still incredibly popular, a newer trend is taking over – smart displays. They’re basically speakers too, but with an interactive screen for increased functionality and easier access to content. There’s currently a modest selection to choose from, supporting different platforms and with various screen sizes. The biggest question, though, is what kind of smart display is right for you?

How do smart displays differ?

On the surface, all smart displays might look the same: it’s a screen with a speaker. But that’s where the similarities end. Some of the most common differences to look for include:

  • Screen size: You can find displays measuring from 4 inches, like the Lenovo Smart Clock 2, to 15 inches, such as the Amazon Echo Show 15. The most popular models are in between, like the 7-inch Google Nest Hub and the 8-inch Amazon Echo Show.
  • Platform: This is a major deciding factor for many buyers. Usually, you’ll choose between Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Apple’s reportedly working on a smart display too, but it’s not available yet and so Siri isn’t an option right now. The Portal range from Meta (previously Facebook) is being discontinued for consumer use, so that option is off the table as well.
  • Camera quality: If you plan to use your smart display for video calling, carefully consider the camera quality. Generally speaking, the higher the resolution of the camera (measured in megapixels), the better the video quality when chatting with friends and family.
  • Functionality: Some smart displays are made specifically as an alarm clock with smart features. Others are full smart displays that can do a little bit of everything, including making video calls, streaming YouTube, and keeping an eye on your home.
Google Nest Hub Doorbell Camera 1
  • Speakers: Since you can use these devices for calls, listening to music, and even watching movies, you want speakers that sound good. You’ll base speaker quality on your needs. For instance, if it’s mainly for voice calls, you won’t need powerful bass or stereo speakers.
  • Build: Most displays are made to sit on a shelf, countertop, or table. However, some have adjustable bases to get the perfect angle. Others even have swivel bases that follow you around on video calls as you move.
  • Desired location: While this might not factor in as much as some of the other differences, the size and features you choose likely depend on the location. For example, in a bedroom, you might prefer a small screen, no camera, or a more basic alarm clock function. In a kitchen or home office, you might prefer a swivel or adjustable base.

It’s a lot to process, but picking the perfect one for you depends on knowing what you want most. The good news is there’s more variety now than ever before.

Decide How You’ll Use Your Smart Display

Once you have an idea about the differences and how you’ll compare them, it’s time to decide what you’ll use your smart display for. These devices’ capabilities keep growing, so it’s entirely likely you might buy one for a completely different purpose than what’s listed here.

Google Nest Hub Cooking In The Kitchen With A Smart Display
Image source: Google

The list below should give you a good idea of what they’re capable of:

  • Help with cooking: A popular use is finding and displaying recipes. You can find recipes from numerous sources, get cooking tips and hacks, flip through your family recipes stored in the cloud, and check out step-by-step cooking videos. If you’re tired of fumbling with a smartphone in the kitchen, a smart display can become your best friend in the kitchen.
  • Keep tabs on the weather: Want to know the weather for the following week? Just ask. And if you didn’t hear anything clearly, you’ll see the forecast on the screen.
  • Watch videos: Want to watch videos before bed or while doing your chores? Smart displays work with numerous streaming services and of course, YouTube. The services available depend on the platform. While these have a smaller screen, they’re a good alternative if you don’t have a TV in a particular room.
  • Prepare for your day: Set up a smart display on your nightstand to serve as an alarm clock, play music, deliver news and weather reports for the day ahead, and even recap your schedule.
  • Listen to music: Whether it’s music videos or just streaming tunes from Spotify or other music streaming services, simply tell your display what you want to hear and you’re ready to jam out. You can also listen to relaxing bedtime sounds (like rain or ocean waves), podcasts, or play bedtime stories for your children.
  • Video calls: Video calling really made smart displays a popular alternative to speakers that only support voice calls. Depending on your display’s platform, you can chat with your contacts over Google Meet, Zoom, or Skype. Some of them even work as intercoms throughout your home.
Amazon Echo Show 5 Video Call
  • Keep track of security cameras: As long as your security camera is compatible with the platform you choose, you can use the display to view current video feeds from around your house without having to pick up your phone.
  • Sleep tracking: Some displays even have sleep tracking built-in. They can detect respiration, motion, snoring, and more. So, if you want an all-in-one device, it’s a handy feature for a display in your bedroom.

The Best Smart Displays for Different Uses

As you’ve already discovered, not all smart displays are the same. One thing you should know is that all Amazon Alexa devices work well with other Amazon Alexa compatible devices, while Google Assistant devices work well within the Google Assistant ecosystem. To help you better pick the right one for your needs, let’s take a look at the best displays on the market and what uses they’re best suited for:

1. Amazon Echo Show 5 – Perfect for bedrooms and bathrooms

The Amazon Echo Show 5 is a smaller, compact smart display that fits well on nightstands and bathroom counters. With only a 5.5-inch screen, you’ll need to have it closer to you to see clearly. For kids, the small form factor may make it feel more like a smartphone.

Amazon Echo Show 5 Product Shot
Image source: Amazon

It doesn’t have the best camera (only 2MP), but it does get the job done. Also, the sound quality isn’t going to blow you away, but it works well for calling, listening to the news, and general Alexa interactions. For privacy, there’s a switch to turn the mic off, and a camera cover to boot. It’s the most affordable model with a full color touchscreen at $85.

2. Amazon Echo Show 8 – Ideal for home offices, kitchens, and living rooms

Want a little more power and features? Try the Amazon Echo Show 8. It’s the perfect mid-range smart device that works well for most any use. Think of it as the Goldilocks of Echo Show devices – it’s just right. The 8-inch screen with 13MP camera with autoframing is a major upgrade from the Echo Show 5. This is what makes it better for larger areas since you can see the screen better, and video calls look clearer.

Amazon Echo Show 8
Image source: Amazon

The HD screen works well for watching videos. Thanks to two stereo speakers, the sound is impressive for a such a small device. It also features a camera cover and mic mute button. Naturally, it costs more at $130.

3. Amazon Echo Show 10 – Best for frequent video calling and watching videos

Thanks to the 10.1-inch screen, the $250 Amazon Echo Show 10 is the most popular Echo Show for video calling, especially for families and small business teams. Plus, it works well for watching videos. Most of the features (including privacy) are similar to the Echo Show 8, but with one major exception – the base rotates to keep you in frame as you move around. There’s also conversation mode to talk to Alexa without saying “Alexa” first.

What Kind Of Smart Display Is Right For You Echo 10

This is yet another feature that makes it perfect for video chats. Even if you’re just streaming your favorite show while cooking, the screen follows you so your video is never out of sight.

Lastly, the Echo Show 10 also works as a smart home hub with Zigbee support, meaning you won’t need additional hardware to connect all your smart devices that support this popular wireless standard.

4. Amazon Echo Show 15 – Best for keeping the family organized

What if your family’s calendar was also a smart display? That’s exactly what the Amazon Echo Show 15 is designed for. This 15.6-inch display looks more like a large tablet than your average smart display. While you can buy a stand for it, it’s made to mount on a wall, like a picture frame or calendar.

Amazon Echo Show 15
Image: Amazon

What makes it perfect for families is you can keep your calendar, sticky notes, shopping list, and more all on the same screen to help keep everyone in sync. Plus, the camera recognizes who is front of it to display the most relevant items for them. It’s also great for video calls for individuals and larger groups.

While it may be too big for many of us, it’s the biggest smart display screen size available currently. Plus, at $250, it’s the same price as the 10-inch model.

5. Google Nest Hub – Perfect for bedrooms and sleep tracking

If you’re already an avid Google Assistant user on your Android device, the Google Nest Hub might be the most logical option. With a 7-inch screen, it’s compact without being too tiny to use easily. The 1.7-inch full range driver offers pretty good sound too. Unlike all the options listed so far, though, this one doesn’t have a camera. So, video calling is out, but audio calling is a still a go.

Google Nest Hub Sleep
Image source: Google

However, for rooms where you might not want a camera, such as bedrooms and bathrooms, it’s perfect. Plus, the Google Nest Hub has a built-in sleep tracking feature, making this a great bedroom smart display. The motion sense feature also lets you control the device with gestures – so you don’t need to reach out and touch the screen. It’s actually surprisingly affordable at $100.

6. Google Nest Hub Max – Ideal for video calling and listening to music

If you love Google Assistant and want a camera on your smart display, then opt for the Google Nest Hub Max instead. The 10-inch display is much easier to see in any room. It also offers much better sound with two 0.7-inch tweeters and a 3-inch woofer. But while it also features motion sense gestures, it doesn’t support sleep tracking.

Google Nest Hub Max Product
Image source: Google

It’s on par with the Echo Show 10, though it doesn’t swivel to follow you. However, it does recognize faces. So, if you have multiple users, the device will automatically show the appropriate content to whoever’s standing in front of it. With the larger screen, it’s more expensive at $230.

7. Lenovo Smart Clock Essential – A supercharged alarm clock

The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is more of an alarm clock with a smart speaker than a true smart display. However, it’s perfect for bedrooms with the large clock display, built-in nightlight, and current weather conditions.

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential
Image source: Lenovo

Thanks to Google Assistant integration, the clock also lets you do most anything a smart speaker would do, such as asking random questions, playing music, listening to the news, getting the day’s weather, setting timers, and much more. It’s simple and basic, but a great addition to any bedroom at just $25 at the time of writing.

Prefer Amazon Alexa? The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is also available in an Alexa version in either red or blue. It has more memory too (512 MB in the Google Assistant model, versus 4 GB in Alexa model). It costs a little more at $40 at the time of writing.

8. Lenovo Smart Clock 2 – The ideal clock and charger combo

The Lenovo Smart Clock 2 is a slightly more feature-rich version of the Essential. The 4-inch color touchscreen shows a clock face, weather conditions, the song that’s currently playing, and your photos from the cloud. It’s compatible with Google Assistant, which means you can ask Google pretty much anything like you would a Google smart speaker — but there’s no Alexa version on offer.

What Kind Of Smart Display Is Right For You Lenovo 2

While some models are just the clock itself, others come with a wireless charging station. The base model is $40, while the charging combo is $50 at the time of writing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better, Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant?

This depends a lot on your preferences. Android users who are already used to Google Assistant often prefer Google Assistant devices. Plus, Google’s smart displays fully support YouTube, YouTube Music, and YouTube TV, while Amazon’s displays only offer these in a browser.

Another difference is Amazon Alexa displays require both parties to have either an Echo Show device or the Alexa app for video calls. Google Assistant works with other Google displays, Duo, Meet, and Zoom.

You’ll find plenty of users for both that claim one or the other is better at voice recognition and getting commands correct. Neither one is perfect at it. I’d suggest downloading both the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa apps on your smartphone and testing them both to see which you prefer.

Are smart displays easier to use than smart speakers?

In some ways, yes. For example, you can tap on results for a request versus having to listen carefully to each result and then remember which one you want to hear more about.

However, both are fairly easy to use once you get the hang of the voice commands and what the devices are capable of.

Can I set up different users on the same display?

While you’ll set up the devices with one main account, you can add other users.. The process varies based on the device. For instance, with Amazon Alexa devices, you can set up voice profiles for personalized experiences or create a home group on Amazon with different accounts and allow the entire home group to use the same Alexa device. Google Assistant devices have a similar functionality.

How do smart displays store and use my voice data?

Both Amazon and Google may store voice recordings. While Google claims not to store data unless requested by the user, Google is notorious for putting user privacy last. However, Google is attempting to be more competitive with Apple on this front lately. Both companies state they do encrypt stored data and you can delete it.

Another thing to remember is the skills and apps you use on your smart display may have different privacy policies and may store any voice recordings and interactions on their own servers.

For increased privacy, it’s a good idea to cover the camera lens (if there is one) and turn off the mic when the device isn’t going to be used.

Image credit: Google

Crystal Crowder
Crystal Crowder

Crystal Crowder has spent over 15 years working in the tech industry, first as an IT technician and then as a writer. She works to help teach others how to get the most from their devices, systems, and apps. She stays on top of the latest trends and is always finding solutions to common tech problems.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Our latest tutorials delivered straight to your inbox