Out of all of the gadgets I saw at January’s Consumer Electronics Show, the one I was ready to buy on the spot if I could was just $249. Sure, the new TVs costing thousands of dollars were beautiful to look at. And the latest robots, drones and high-def audio products with their large price tags caught my eye. But nope: For just $249, I wanted the 10-inch Lenovo Smart Display that runs on the Android Things platform.
Fast forward to present day (since we had to wait eight months for the product release) and I have the Smart Display. I like it more now than I did when I first saw it.
If you didn’t hear why I had a love affair with the device in January, let’s hit the basics. Lenovo created a Google Home device with the requisite speakers and microphone array paired with either an 8- or 10-inch touchscreen display. It’s similar to the Amazon Echo Show, which looks like an ancient IoT artifact by comparison. Where the Amazon unit is angled and industrial, Lenovo’s Smart Display is white and has curvy bamboo on the back. My wife said it looks like Ikea made it; that’s either good or bad, depending on how you view Ikea furniture, of course.
Google Assistant is built in and the two speakers make this device sound a smidge better and louder than my Google Home. Audio is much better than a Google Home Mini, but that’s to be expected. There’s also a camera built in which might have some folks shy away. Don’t fret: Lenovo added a physical switch that covers the camera. I generally leave it that way unless I take the rare Google Duo video call, which is what the camera is for. Duo works well although it’s best when you stand the Smart Display on its shorter side so the video and camera are in portrait mode.
And then there’s the touchscreen. The smaller model uses a 720p display while the larger one I purchased is 1080p. Viewing angles are excellent and the screen is more than bright enough. Why does that matter? Because this isn’t just a smart speaker and digital assistant: It’s useful for small doses of content consumption.
For example, YouTube works natively on the Smart Display and can be voice controlled. It can be a little challenging at times to get to a specific video by voice, but the touchscreen helps you find what you want. Video playback is excellent. You can also link your Netflix account to the device, however you can’t yet play Netflix directly on the device. I suspect that’s coming soon. That’s OK though: The Smart Display is also a Chromecast receiver, meaning just about any content you can “cast” from a phone or tablet can be played back on the display. I use this feature to watch YouTube TV, and once the service is playing, I can control it by voice.
That’s not all the touchscreen does though. It’s super handy for smart home control because after a voice command to turn on a light, for example, the brightness level appears on the display: You can fine-tune your smart home commands this way by dragging the slider.
Note that I’ve seen similar controls starting to appear in the Google Assistant mobile app too. And you get to see contextual content when asking questions. That includes detailed icons for local weather queries, a listing of your schedule, even directions, which are sent automatically to your phone:
The screen is also useful for viewing supported webcams. I have a Nest Hello doorbell installed, so saying “OK Google, show front door” brings up a live stream from that device. It does take about six seconds for the stream to start, however.
Since this is an always-on display, you can choose from different screen savers or link your Google Photos for the changing background. There is a light / occupancy sensor built in too. At night, the display dims and shows the time. When there’s motion, the display reverts back to the screen saver. That makes this a great device for a bedroom nightstand, which is where I have mine. Those who use Google Assistant for step-by-step recipes might opt for the kitchen.
After just two weeks owning a 10-inch Lenovo Smart Display, I’m already using it more than my other Google Home and Amazon Echo products. The addition of the touchscreen brings so much more capability from an entertainment standpoint, plus the visuals enhance both smart home control as well as contextual information.
That’s just me though. Should you buy one? If you’re all-on on Apple HomeKit or Amazon Echo devices already, I’d say no with one caveat: If you plan to eventually switch to Google Assistant, this is a great purchase. Anyone with Nest products would might be enticed to have a Smart Display as well. And heck, if you watch hours of YouTube or YouTube TV and want yet another high-def screen in the bedroom, study, kitchen or even garage — yes, I used this in my garage for a few days while working on projects — the Lenovo Smart Display is worth the look.
This might be a perfect present for my mom. If she has the screen set to show pictures from her Google photos and people share pictures to her, will they show up?
Can you have a partial group of pictures display?
Kevin C. Tofel says
Yup, you choose which Google Photos Album(s) to show on the Smart Display. If one of those is a shared album, any new photos added to the album will automatically appear. 🙂
Thank you for the review. Do you know if the screensaver also plays videos from your shared Google photo album?
Yeah they will. You can simply command the smart display to pull up whatever photos you want as long as it’s from your Google Photos account. For example you can just say “Hey Google, pull up my Japan trip photos” and it’ll do so. Nifty isn’t it!
Looks like a great product, one that would fit nicely on my breakfast bar.
For NetFlix, while it doesn’t playback on the device could I have it cast to my TV?
Kevin C Tofel says
I don’t see a way to cast FROM the Smart Display. It’s designed as a Chromecast receiver, so that makes sense. Instead, you can use a tablet or phone to cast to a TV.
Kevin – Can you set the Smart Display to automagically show the Nest Hello live feed when someone presses the doorbell?
Related question – can you do 2-way audio w/ the doorbell, through the Smart Display, to have a conversation with someone?
Kevin C. Tofel says
Good questions, Steve! It actually does both of those by default. When the doorbell is pressed, the Smart Display shows a live feed and provides options to talk (two-way), ignore or speak a canned response. Cheers!