We’ve come to call them ‘smart displays,’ these countertop touchscreen devices that also feature either the Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice services. The Amazon Echo Show was the first example in this category, and while it had a clunky design, its 2017 debut proved that the concept had potential.
The category his since grown to eight or nine different offerings, depending on how you define them, each with a variation on the core theme. All of them use a voice assistant and a touchscreen in combination to answer questions, play music, and provide you with information about weather, the news, and other things. Most of them also have a camera that enables two-way video chats.
Google brought a lot of attention to the category during Black Friday, where it offered its Home Hub smart display at a discounted $99. If you frequent Instagram or watch NFL football on the weekends, chances are you’ve seen an ad for Facebook’s Portal smart displays. To help you sort through all of them, here’s a breakdown of every smart display currently available.
Amazon Echo Show (First generation)
The first-generation Echo Show has been discontinued by Amazon, but if you’re chasing a bargain you can find it for less than $100 via Amazon resellers. The throwback, angular design didn’t do the Echo Show any favors, but it introduced the idea of an Alexa screen on your countertop. You can make video calls to other Echo Show owners, watch movie trailers, play music, watch a feed from a video camera, or use it as a digital picture frame, among other things.
Amazon Echo Show (Second generation)
The second-generation Echo Show introduced a softer look, better sound quality, and a large 10.1-inch display. While the first model also famously lost YouTube support post-launch, Amazon built a workaround into the second-gen model by including web browser apps. You still can’t use Alexa to pull up or control YouTube videos on this model, but you can at least watch them via the touchscreen interface. Better than nothing, but it still doesn’t feel great given the $229 price tag.
Amazon Echo Spot
For the more privacy-minded consumer, an always-listening smart speaker is already problematic. Add a video camera for video calling, like you’ll find on most of these displays, and the sketch-factor climbs even higher. What if I told you the 2.5-inch Echo Spot is both an Alexa speaker and a camera-equipped video-calling device, and that it’s designed to go on your bedroom nightstand? Takers? Only $130.
Facebook Portal and Portal Plus
Speaking of privacy, it’s hard to imagine a more trust-challenged company than Facebook entering this category. That said, Facebook took some steps to keep your data protected on its two Portal video chat devices. Both devices have Alexa support, but to make video calls, you need to use the eponymously-named Portal voice assistant. All of the processing for voice commands issued to Portal happens on the device itself, not in the cloud. Facebook also says it will gather data about the length and frequency of your calls to inform what ads you see on Facebook, but not the contents of your calls.
I wouldn’t blame anyone for not trusting Facebook despite those claims. It’s a shame the company has earned such a bad reputation with regard to privacy because the quality of video calls on both Portal devices is excellent. The camera has an amazingly wide viewing angle, and it’s also smart enough that you can tag individual users and it will zoom in on them and follow their movements to keep them in the frame. The 15.6-inch Portal Plus is awkward looking and expensive at $350, but the 10.1-inch, $200 Portal is more competitive with the other smart displays.
Google Home Hub
If you’re not comfortable with the idea of an Amazon-, Facebook- or Google-provided video camera inside your home, Google is self-aware enough to offer a camera-free alternative, with an aggressive price to boot. The $149 Google Home Hub has a 7-inch touchscreen, and no camera. You control it via Google Assistant voice commands, or with the touchscreen, both of which are the most robust in this category. The screen is on the small side for smart displays, which for some people might be a turn-off, but that also makes it easy to plunk it down on a crowded kitchen counter. Guiding you through recipes is one thing every Google-powered smart display excels at.
JBL Link View
JBL is one of a few third parties with a Google Assistant-based smart display, and one of two that were actually on the market Google’s own Home Hub. Unlike that smart display, the JBL Link View has a camera for making two-way video calls via Google Duo. It also leans heavily into audio quality as a way to differentiate itself from its competitors, and we found it’s especially good with bass-heavy tracks.
At $250, the Link View sits on the higher-end of the smart display category. The camera, sound quality and 8-inch screen are compelling enough, but I suspect we’ll see more competition in this space next year that makes the price on this one seem a bit too high.
LG WK9 ThinQ Xboom
The LG WK9 smart display also uses Google Assistant as its voice platform, but it doesn’t differentiate itself enough from its competition. Its manufacturer suggest retail price was $300 before it launched, but you should be able to find it around $230 right now. It has similar features to the JBL display, and while the LG’s sound quality is decent, it’s not quite as good. If you can find it for a lower price, it might be worth picking up.
Lenovo Smart Display
Lenovo’s Smart Displays might be the best of this bunch if you want one with a camera. Lenovo offers a 10-inch model for $250, and an 8-inch version for $200. They both use Google Assistant and come with a camera for making video calls. And while their audio quality isn’t as good as JBL’s, it’s good enough, and the Lenovo’s screen size and the overall design of both the 8-inch and 10-inch models are clean enough that they will match pretty much any decor.