It wasn’t long ago that life was easy in the Land of Smart Speakers: You can talk to your smart speaker, it will be talked back, and that was great. But over the last few months, a large number of smart speaker manufacturers have given consumers another way to control their devices: namely, a screen.
“In general the integral screen gives enhanced interactions with a smart speaker,” says Elisa Arisa, head of the smart speaker-testing program at Consumer Reports. With the screen, you can make sure that your speaker is playing the music that you selected, or it can show you a how-to video in the kitchen.
However, these devices aren’t for everybody. One drawback: Audio-only speakers can be placed high on a shelf, while devices with screens want space on a kitchen counter or a desk.
Like the Echo, but with a screen
- Great voice recognition
- Improved touchscreen
- The Competent smart home hub
- Speaker is too bassy
- Limited third-party app support
- Alexa needs some schooling
The recent Echo Show is a step in the right direction, with better design, a clearer screen, and superior sound, but it has limited support for third-party streaming services.
The screen size is 1280 x 720 px – so it won’t blow you away up close, but it looks good from a distance. It also features adaptive brightness, although the display isn’t the main way you interact with the Echo Show – it’s optimized for voice activation via Amazon Alexa, and it’s great for using while you Harry-Potter about the kitchen.
It’s not the cheapest smart display on the market, however, it adds value by combining devices you already have and ones you could buy at a cheaper price elsewhere – just look like at the Amazon Echo Dot, for example.
Put everything together though, and the recent Show is a marked improvement on the original version, and if you’re keen on watching a cooking lesson or listening to music as you cook, it deserves a place on your kitchen counter.
A rival for the Amazon Echo Show
- Cheaper than Echo Show
- Innovative Home View UI
- Google Photos integration
- Small screen
- Weak audio
- Limited video calling
With the recent attack of smart display devices from the big tech companies, there’s more choice than ever if you want to a screen included with your smart speaker.
The Google Home Hub is one of the recent crops of smart displays, and it certainly gives its closest competitor, the Amazon Echo Show a run for its money, with intuitive voice control and well-designed first-party apps.
That being said, this is not a speaker for audiophiles – it works good enough to play music in the background while you do chores or read, but it doesn’t pack great enough of a sonic punch to serve as your main speaker for listening to music.
Where the Google Home Hub does excel, is as a control Centre for your smart home, supporting over 5000 smart devices from 400 companies – plus, at around $80/£80 lower than the Amazon Echo Show. (the difference in Australia is a whopping AU$150), it’s not bad value for money too.
Versatile video device
- Clear video
- Lovely form factor
- Pricier than Echo
- Video Cropping
In our opinion, the Amazon Echo Spot is the best-designed Alexa device Amazon has ever designed – it’s a gadget you’d happily have in your smart home, in your kitchen, on your desk, and pretty good anywhere else.
The Spot is versatile – it doesn’t have a chameleon-like ability to adapt to the home you put it in, but this is not certain just a smart alarm clock, something Amazon has been very clear about.
It is everything the Echo Show does, but it all feels good in this smaller form factor. The design is great – it’s available in black and white – and we can easily see the Spot being used in the room, kitchen or even on a desk. In fact, you may want it in all of these spots.
That’s the thing with the Amazon Echo Spot: much look like other Echo devices, Amazon wants to you have a multitude of them in your smart home so you always have access to video chat don’t matter where you are.
Essentially, it wants to replace the Echo Dot to the Echo Spot. The Amazon Echo Spot is a little bit more expensive than the recent Echo, though, and in turn much more costly than an Echo Dot.
This is because of the additional display. While we still haven’t seen that killer Skill for the display, it does complement the look of the Spot and opens up the possibilities for it being much more than just a smart speaker.
We’re hoping that Amazon’s Skills become much more video-friendly – once this happens, the Amazon Echo Spot will become an absolute must-have.
Great Sound with Google power
If you’re a Google fan then it comes to digital assistants, the JBL Link View could be a great choice for a smart speaker with a screen. Google Assistant offers several options for third-party skills than Amazon’s Alexa, but some users find Google’s interface to be more intuitive, especially when they’re using a device with a display.
The oval-shaped Link View features a pair of stereo speakers with a subwoofer flanking its 8-inch touchscreen. The JBL’s design set the speaker’s front and center, though it gives the device a somewhat bigger footprint. The bass is deep but a little bit boomy, while the tuneful midrange and trebles are forgiving of the less-than-great source material.
Big Screen Small Sound
The Lenovo also gets it’s artificial intelligence by Google Assistant, but our testers rated it much lower than the Link View. The Lenovo is well designed, featuring a large 10-inch touchscreen, but with a side-mounted speaker, it takes up a lot of reality on a desk or a kitchen counter.
The Lenovo’s main shortcoming, but, is it’s less-than-stellar sound quality. Despite the unit’s substantial size, the sound was surprisingly weak, with a harsh midrange and sizzly trebles. The bass was also noticeably anemic, making the Lenovo a less-than-ideal colleague for relaxing with cocktail lounge tunes from Tony Bennett.
Facebook’s First Smart Speaker
The Portal Plus and slightly smaller and less expensive Portal represent Facebook’s first raid into the smart speaker market.
The Portal Plus distinguishes itself with the biggest smart speaker screen we’ve seen. You can move the supersized 15.6-inch screen from landscape to portrait mode. The Portal’s display is smaller at 10.1 inches, but it’s hardly small.
The Portals different from other smart speakers in that they feature a multilayered digital assistant. Speaking the keyword “portal” allows you can call friends from your Facebook account, a main selling point for the device. To do anything else-listen to the news, switch off the kitchen lights-you use Amazon’s Alexa.
One other thing to note: Both varieties of the Portal incorporate technology that figures out you’re a person, then speaker path you around the room. Facebook maintains that the feature is just used to keep you in the frame if you walk anywhere while you’re on a video call, but you can decide if the feature is creepy or cool.