today’s best implementation of smart displays

Highs

  • Very agreable, but sturdy design
  • Largest snmart display
  • Ease of use and setup

Lows

  • Slightly more expensive

Rating and Price

  • Rating: 9/10

After the avalanche of smart speakers, a new generation of more powerful digital assistants has come: the smart display.

The Lenovo Smart Display is the first Google-powered appliance that combines the convenience of voice commands with the clarity of having visual and interactive information.

This 10-inch model is slated to become the tip of the spear for the holiday season. Let’s see how good it is in the real world.

What is a Smart Display?

The Lenovo Smart Display is the first of several Google-powered smart displays for 2018, many of which were announced at CES of this year. These devices are themselves part of the Google Assistant home appliances that feature the smart speakers with voice assistant. Check the official teaser from Lenovo below to get a quick idea.

Smart displays can do nearly everything the smart speakers do, with the added benefit of having visual content, and a touch interface. This expands their capabilities significantly as we will see later when we look at some use cases.

Unlike smartphones, the various OEMs will not try to customize the software platform (Android Thing), and Google will maintain and update the software directly, and that means one thing: software updates will be deployed out faster.

Design

The review unit we have is the 10” Lenovo Smart Display (~249 MSRP and already $50-OFF at Costco), but there is also a $199 8” version as well.

JBL and LG have also pledged to release their own smart displays, but we have already seen their designs, and Lenovo’s is the best looking of all, which is probably why it is the first to launch.

The 10” version has a bamboo backside and a base with three contact points that make it look slimmer when seen the right side. Yet, it is very stable and can’t be toppled over.

There are even gum pads on the left side to allow for the device to be used in Portrait mode. I can be useful if someone video-calls you from a phone in vertical mode I suppose.

Unfortunately, this is not supported by the rest of the software (yet?), but might be a sign of things to come. A portrait mode could save some space on a table/counter, although the videos would ultimately appear a little bit smaller. We’ll see if/when the time comes

Although the Lenovo Smart Display is not IP-Rated, it does have some water resistance and is well-sealed and should resist the occasional splash. Even the power connector is surprisingly well sealed, probably for that reason.

Because this is a simple appliance, the hardware specs don’t matter much, but if you are curious, it is as powerful as a mid-range smartphone since it is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 624, 2GB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage.

Display

The 10” 1920×1080 display has a brightness of 480 NITs (measured), which is about where the best laptops computers stand today. The screen is always readable, even in direct sunlight, near a bright window, or close to a light source.

"A LARGER SCREEN IS A MASSIVE ADVANTAGE"

The auto-brightness will adapt the screen’s brightness to match the current lighting conditions, and if you have it in your bedroom, the screen will go as dark as it can, but it won’t actually shut down. Fortunately, in that case, the screen gets dark enough that it should not be a distraction.

Because of the highly visual nature of the content, the larger 10 inches screen is a massive advantage for the Lenovo Smart Display when compared to competitors (running with Google software or not). For example, the Amazon Echo Show has a 7-inch display and an arguably much less attractive design.

Webcam

Block the webcam with a the convenient physical shutter, a must for privacy

There’s a 5 Megapixel webcam near the upper-right corner of the screen. It can be used for conference call via Google Duo. Privacy-conscious people will appreciate the fact that Lenovo has included a physical shutter to prevent any unwanted camera spying. It is probably essential if one expects people to use it in bedrooms and places where total privacy is expected under any circumstances.

Sound

The sound is generated by two speaker (10-Watt) + two tweeters. The sound quality is very decent, although one could argue that the Google Home Speaker is better. For reference, it is undoubtedly more powerful than most laptops and quite loud. If we want to be picky, perhaps there are two sound-quality criticisms that most people could perceive:

  1. The sound is coming distinctly from the speaker and lacks “body” or “volume.”
  2. At maximum sound (10/10), there is some distortion, but at 8/10 things are fine

For a smart display in this price range, I have not heard any better sound, for now. Smart speakers like the Apple HomePod ($349) are much more expensive, and even the more affordable Sonos One does not have nearly the same capabilities as a smart display. Yet, it is useful to keep those two in mind as legitimately excellent sound references.

There are two microphones to record/listen to your voice, and they seem undoubtedly good enough to get the job done. If you intend to listen to music, the voice commands may become challenging for the microphones to record, because of the speaker sound interference. This is a classic problem, and even my first Kinect had this exact issue (and never got over it). Since there’s a volume rocker, you always have manual control.

Overall product rating: 9/10

Filed in General >Reviews. Read more about Editorspick, Google, Google Assistant, Lenovo, Lenovo reviews.

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