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The best smart displays for 2024

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Smart displays have evolved quite a bit since the initial debut of Amazon’s first Echo Show back in 2017. In fact, the category didn’t really come into its own until Google joined the fray with its own line of hardware about a year later. Now, both of these companies are essentially dominating the smart display landscape, with each offering their own take on a smart assistant with a screen.

It’s that screen that can make smart displays much more useful than smart speakers. Rather than just having a voice assistant recite the current weather report, for example, you can see a five-day forecast as well. The same goes for when you ask about your shopping list or calendar; it’s simply easier to read the whole list or your day’s appointments at a glance. Plus, touchsreens offer other benefits that speakers can’t, like watching videos or checking your webcam to see who’s at your front door. We’ve tested and used many smart displays over the years and below are a list of our top picks for the best smart displays you can get today.

Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Read our full Google Nest Hub (2nd gen) review

Our favorite smart display with the Google Assistant is the second-gen Google Nest Hub. Its 7-inch size is a good fit in many rooms, and its unobtrusive design combined with its soft fabric exterior blends nicely into most home decor. It does everything we think most people would want in a smart display, like play YouTube videos, display step-by-step cooking instructions, provide handy smart home controls and give users the ability to check in Nest security cameras if they have any.

In fact, the Nest Hub is especially useful as part of a security system if you have a Nest video doorbell, as the camera view of who’s at the front door will show up on the screen. An ambient light sensor helps to detect the light and color temperature of the environment and adjusts the screen to match. Plus, if you choose, it can help track your sleep patterns if placed next to your bed.

Another feature of the Nest Hub is actually a lack of one: It doesn’t have a camera. That gives it that additional layer of privacy that many people covet, and it’s also a lot more suitable for personal spaces like the bedroom. Sure, you could also cover up a camera with a shutter, but with the Nest Hub you don’t have to remember to do that.

We’d be remiss not to mention the Google Pixel Tablet here, since it’s a slab that can double as a smart display when you use it with its charging dock. The set costs $420 — not too bad since you’re getting two devices in one, but it’s expensive if you’re just looking for a smart display. If that sounds like you, you’ll be better off with the Nest Hub (and pocketing the extra cash).

Pros

  • Improved audio quality
  • Speedier performance when processing voice requests
  • Easy to use on-screen interface
  • Improved Google Assistant features
Cons

  • Sleep Sensing is a little iffy

$100 at Verizon

Photo by Sam Rutherford / Engadget

Read our full Google Nest Hub Max review

If you like Google but you miss having a camera for video calls, or you just prefer a larger screen, consider the Google Nest Hub Max. At 10 inches instead of seven, its screen works a lot better for watching videos from YouTube and YouTube TV. It’s especially useful in the kitchen, where it functions as a kind of portable television, and you can see more of those step-by-step cooking instructions at a glance. The bigger display also means a larger photo frame, which some may prefer..

As mentioned, the Nest Hub Max adds a camera to the mix. It doesn’t have a physical shutter, which is a concern, but you can shut it off with an electronic switch. You can use the camera for video calls with Google’s Duo service as well as Zoom, and it can also function as a Nest Cam to help you keep an eye on your house when you’re away. Another benefit of the camera is the addition of Face Match facial recognition for authentication purposes, which we found to be a little more accurate than just using Voice Match.

Last but not least, the Nest Hub Max’s camera adds a unique gestures feature that lets you play and pause media simply by holding up your hand to the screen. This hands-free control option isn’t entirely necessary, but it’s potentially useful if you’re in a noisy environment and just want the music to stop without having to shout over everyone. Or perhaps you have messy hands while cooking and don’t want to dirty up the display.

Pros

  • Lovely 10-inch display
  • Great sound quality
  • Face Matching features are personalized and useful
  • Doubles as a Nest Cam
Cons

  • Large footprint
  • On the expensive side

$229 at QVC

Amazon

Our favorite Amazon smart display is the latest Echo Show 8. Its 8-inch screen is just right; it doesn’t take up as much space as the Echo Show 10 does with its larger screen, but it’s also more suitable for watching videos than the smaller Echo Show 5. Like other Amazon smart displays, it has a built-in camera, but there is a physical camera cover to help alleviate privacy concerns.

The Amazon Echo Show 8 is a compelling choice if you want the option of using your smart display for video calls. Not only is the 13MP camera’s quality fantastic, but the Show 8 has a feature that automatically frames your face and follows your movements during video calls. It’s useful if you want to move around as you’re chatting, or if you have rambunctious children and pets running around the house and you want to involve them in the conversation. You can use the Echo Show 8 to make calls between other Echo Show displays, or through Skype or Zoom.

As with the other smart displays, the Echo Show 8 also works as a digital photo frame and can be used to keep up with the news, check the weather and control smart home devices. If you want to use your smart display to play music, we also really like the Echo Show 8’s sound quality on account of its deep bass and rich tone. The latest model also includes support for Visual ID, which uses facial recognition to identify who’s using the machine and personalize information on the screen for them, and a built-in Zigbee smart home hub.

Pros

  • 8-inch screen balances a compact design with a solid display
  • Improved 13MP camera with Visual ID
  • Improved audio quality
  • Physical camera shutter
Cons

  • Screen resolution tops out at 1,280 x 800p

$95 at Kohl’s

Amazon

With only a 5.5-inch screen, the Echo Show 5 is one of the smallest smart displays on the market, and as a result, will work nicely on a desk or a nightstand. In fact, one of the reasons we like the Echo Show 5 so much is that it doubles as a stellar smart alarm clock. It has an ambient light sensor that adjusts the screen’s brightness automatically; a tap-to-snooze function so you can whack the top of it for a few extra minutes of shut-eye; plus a sunrise alarm that slowly brightens the screen to wake you up gently.

The Echo Show 5 does have a camera, which might make you a touch queasy if you are extra privacy-conscious – especially if this is supposed to sit by your bedside. Still, it does have a physical camera cover, which can help ease those fears.

Pros

  • Compact design
  • Built-in ambient light sensor
  • Useful sunrise alarm feature
Cons

  • Sound quality isn’t as robust as larger Echo Shows

$90 at Amazon

Photo by Nicole Lee / Engadget

Read our full Amazon Echo Show 15 review

There really isn’t anything else quite like the Echo Show 15, which with its 15.6-inch touchscreen and wall-mounted design that seem to nod to the tiny TVs many of our parents had in their kitchens back in the day. Indeed, Amazon promotes the Show 15 as the ideal smart display for a kitchen since that’s one of the most central rooms of a home and this smart display offers features like Visual ID, widgets and built-in Fire TV software that the whole family can make use of.

Similar to Google’s Face Match, Visual ID uses facial recognition to identify different household members and display information relevant to whomever is using it. You can even leave notes for other folks in your home, and the Show 15 will display them when that person walks by. Widgets are customizable bits of info on the touchscreen that show things like a calendar with appointments, sticky notes, weather forecasts and more. One of the native widgets even lets you view security camera feeds with just one tap.

But arguably one of the best ways to take advantage of the large screen on the Echo Show 15 is by watching videos. The display’s 1,920 x 1,080 resolution is the best out of any Echo Show, and with Fire TV software baked in, you can use the Show 15 as a mini TV to stream Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, YouTube, and, of course, Prime Video. For that reason alone, it could be the smart display that gets the most passive use in a home — provided you have the space for it.

Pros

  • 15.6-inch screen is great for watching videos
  • Wall-mounted design (that can be placed tabletop with an optional accessory)
  • Built-in Fire TV software allows it to double as a mini TV
Cons

  • Lackluster camera for video chatting

$280 at Kohl’s

The first question you should ask when looking for the best smart display for you is whether you prefer Amazon’s or Google’s ecosystem. If you have a lot of Google smart devices in your home, like Nest thermostats and security cameras, or even if you use a Google Pixel smartphone as your daily driver, then a Google-powered model may make more sense. If you have Amazon products, like a Fire TV Stick or a Ring cam, Amazon would obviously be a better choice from a compatibility standpoint. Of course, it’s perfectly acceptable to have products from competing companies in the same home, but just realize they might not work seamlessly with each other from the start.

Aside from that, the two systems also offer some unique features. Google, for example, works best if you have an existing Google account and use services like Calendar and Photos. We especially love Google smart displays because they work well as digital photo frames. You can set it up to automatically pull in pictures of friends and family from your Google Photos library, and the algorithm is smart enough to use what it thinks are the best shots — so less chance of blurry photos or images of your eyes half-closed showing up, for example. But although you can use Amazon’s displays as digital photo frames, the process is not quite as intuitive as Google’s, and Amazon doesn’t have anything comparable to Google’s photo-sorting algorithm.

It might seem like a minor point, but seeing as the display is on standby 90 percent of the time, its secondary function as a digital picture frame is very welcome. All Google smart displays also support YouTube and YouTube TV, step-by-step cooking instructions and all of the usual benefits of Google Assistant, like weather reports. As with Assistant on the phone, it also has voice recognition, so only you can see your calendar appointments and not others.

Amazon’s smart displays, on the other hand, are slightly different. Instead of YouTube, they offer some alternative video streaming options, including Amazon Prime, NBC and Hulu. They also come with two browsers (Silk and Firefox), which you can use to search the web or watch YouTube videos – a handy enough workaround given the lack of a dedicated app. Amazon devices also offer step-by-step cooking instructions as well, thanks to collaborations with sources like SideChef and AllRecipes. The cooking instructions sometimes include short video clips, too.



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