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A smart display gives a virtual assistant more to work with than a smart speaker

Smart screens, which are cousins ​​of speech-driven smart speakers with full touchscreen, are great devices for managing your smart home, displaying useful bits of information throughout the day, or even playing music or video.

Just like a smart speaker, a smart screen is mainly voice-activated, so you can bark commands from a room. But unlike a smart speaker, a smart display can display information such as upcoming appointments, weather, current timers, current time, a shopping list, recipes and more without having to perform a single command. They can also be used as a modern, cloud-connected digital photo frame, so that you can see all those memories that you have captured over the years and that are currently captured on your smartphone. Some models also come with built-in cameras that can be used for video calls to other smart screens or even telephones.

A good smart display has all the possibilities of a smart speaker, including good sounding speakers for listening to music or watching video. They are available in various prices and sizes, and depending on where you want to place the screen in your home, you may prefer a smaller model than a model with a larger screen and louder speakers. But if you are looking for an all-round smart screen for use in your kitchen or living room, you want one with a screen that is easy to see from the entire room and speakers that can fill the room with clear, pleasant sound.

The best smart display for most people: Amazon Echo Show 8

Amazon Echo Show 8.
Photograph by Dan Seifert / The Verge

The Echo Show 8 is the middle child in Amazon’s line-up of Alexa-powered smart screens. It has a clear 8-inch touchscreen, two powerful speakers that can deliver a surprising volume, a built-in camera with a privacy shutter and four microphones to hear voice commands. It does not take up much space on a countertop, mantle or bookshelf, but it can easily be seen or operated from a room.

The Show 8 has access to the same Alexa capabilities as the Echo speakers from Amazon, but contains a number of unique things that benefit from the 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, shopping lists are displayed directly on the screen and the Show goes through upcoming calendar events, weather reports, and news headlines when it is not active. The screen can also be used to retrieve feeds from video doorbells and security cameras or to make video calls to Amazon’s Alexa call service to other Echo Show devices or smartphones. With the built-in privacy shutter, you can block the camera image if you do not want to make video calls or use them in a bedroom.

Because the display is a full touchscreen, you can also communicate with the Echo Show 8 without having to use your voice, including canceling timers, operating smart home devices or browsing photos stored in Amazon Photos or Facebook albums. But the Show 8 is not designed as an iPad-like tablet and the interactivity is limited to simple functions.

Like Echo speakers, the Show 8 can play audio and music from various sources, including Spotify, Audible, Pocket Casts, Amazon Music, Apple Music and Sirius XM. It can also play video from Prime Video and Hulu from Amazon. 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 awkward process), nor does it have the ability to play Netflix. The Show 8 is not only in the latter. For some reason, a smart display on the market cannot play Netflix video, which is a shame. Those limitations make the Show 8 a bad replacement for a TV, but it is very suitable for listening to music.

Finally, the Show 8 has a good value: it is often not much more than $ 30 above the standard Echo speakers from Amazon and is often on sale for less money. It has the best value for money of any smart display that you can buy, thanks to the spacious screen, speakers and various options.

A Google-powered alternative with better photo functions: Google Nest Hub

Google Nest Hub.
Photograph by Dan Seifert / The Verge

Together with Amazon, Google has its own smart screens that are powered by the Google Assistant. If you are fully invested in the Google ecosystem or already have many Nest products, they may be a better option for you than the Echo Show. (The Echo Show 8 can display Google Calendar events and video feeds from Nest cameras, but is not as deeply integrated as Google’s smart screens.)

The best option in the Google setup is the Nest Hub (formerly the Google Home Hub). A 7-inch smart display, the Nest Hub is slightly smaller than the Echo Show 8 and fits more comfortably on a bedside table. The great feature is a screen that automatically adjusts to the lighting in your room, making it almost look like photos are printed on paper instead of being displayed on a screen. Combine that with the excellent automatic backups of Google Photos and smart albums that can automatically update the Nest Hub with new images when you create them, and you may have the best digital photo frame experience you can get.

The Nest Hub does not have a camera, so it cannot be used for video calling. But the greater sacrifice is with its speaker, which is much less powerful and does not sound as good as the double speaker system of the Echo Show 8. The 7-inch screen is also noticeably smaller, making it more difficult to view from a room and less comfortable to watch video. But if you watch a lot of YouTube or are a YouTube TV customer, the Nest Hub can display these services much better than Amazon’s options. You can also easily cast video content from various apps on your phone (except Netflix) to the Nest Hub screen, which you can’t do with an Echo Show.

Otherwise the Nest Hub works very similar to the Echo Show. It 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 they are very similar for daily tasks. One thing that Amazon does much better is managing a shared shopping list, so if you plan to place a smart display in your kitchen, the Echo Show is a better choice.

The sticker price of the Nest Hub is the same as the Echo Show 8, but it is so often on sale or discount that you can usually find it for less than $ 100. For that price, the Nest Hub is an ideal option for a smart alarm clock or digital photo frame in a bedroom or other living space.

Other options:

Although the Echo Show 8 and Nest Hub are ideal medium-sized options for most people, Amazon and Google have larger and smaller smart display options made possible by their respective voice assistants. If you’re looking for a smart alarm clock that doesn’t dominate your nightstand, the Echo Show 5 or Lenovo Smart Clock are shrunken versions of the Show 8 and Nest Hub, with fewer features and smaller footprints. If you want an even bigger screen, the Echo Show and Nest Hub Max both have 10-inch screens and louder speakers. But they are considerably more expensive and do not necessarily offer a much better experience to justify their costs.

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