Tag: smartdisplay

CES showed us smart displays will be the new normal

Before the start of CES 2018, the only real smart speakers with a display were the Amazon Echo Show and the Echo Spot. But now that Google has partnered with several manufacturers to make a whole line of Echo Show rivals, a bona fide new device category has been born: the smart display. And based on the devices revealed this week, I believe the smart display will slowly start to outnumber smart speakers and will likely be the norm going forward.

The simple reason for this argument is that the display makes such devices much more useful. Sure, you could have Alexa or Google Assistant tell you there's a Starbucks 1.5 miles away from you. But wouldn't it be nice to actually see where it is on a map? Or if you wanted to know the time, you could just, you know, look at the screen. Or if you wanted to know who the artist of the song is but couldn't be bothered to interrupt the track, you could do the same. That extra visual layer is really useful, especially for quick, glanceable information.

Of course, you could've made this same argument months ago when the Echo Show debuted. But these new Google Assistant displays are so much better in almost every way. For example, when you make a search query, it won't just spit out a short generic answer with the transcript showing up on-screen; it'll actually appear in a way that makes sense. So if you search for "cornbread recipe," the display will offer an array of recipes to choose from. Tap on one and you'll be presented with a lovely step-by-step recipe guide, all without having to install any additional skill or action.

Or if you ask a Google Assistant smart display to play relaxing music, it won't pick out a random playlist and start playing a song you don't want (something that happens quite frequently with the Echo). Instead, it'll offer a visual selection of playlists, which you can then scroll through and pick the one you want. Perhaps my favorite feature is when you ask for directions. It will not only show you the map on the screen but also send those same directions straight to your phone without you having to ask.

Plus, Google has now opened the door for so many more companies to start making smart displays. At CES, we saw Lenovo, JBL and LG show off their versions, each with very different designs. Eventually, even more companies will join the fray, adding their own spin on what a smart display looks like. With so many options on the market, there'll soon be a smart display for every kind of home. Amazon might've introduced the smart-display concept, but Google will be the one to democratize it.

And this is just the beginning. Smart displays can be incorporated in more than just a little 10-inch prop on the table. Personal assistants are already in smart fridges from LG and Samsung, so it doesn't take much imagination to think that Alexa and Google Assistant displays could take over the rest of your home. Imagine a smart display not only on the front of your fridge but also in the kitchen TV or maybe the bathroom mirror. Soon smart displays will be everywhere. CES 2018 was just the beginning.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2018.

Lenovo Smart Display hands-on: Google Assistant gets a new kind of home

In case you hadn't heard, Google's Assistant doesn't just live in phones, speakers and televisions anymore. You'll see the Assistant pop up in small, connected screens meant for use around the house later this year, and we just spent a little time with Lenovo's first efforts: the 8-inch and 10-inch Smart Displays. It's hard not to think of them as just a pair of surprisingly handsome tablets, but after getting a sense of how the Google Assistant works on a purpose-built screen, it's clear that Amazon's Echo Show has some serious competition.

But first, the basics. The 8-inch screen on the smaller Smart Display runs at 1,200x800, while the larger version's 10-inch panel runs at 1,920x1,200. Other than that, the two versions of the Smart Display are essentially the same. Both use Qualcomm's SDA 624 chipset, both have large vertical speaker screens next to the left of their screens and both use tiny sliders on their right sides to physically cover their built-in 720p cameras. The (definitely non-final) software I tested on the Smart Displays worked best in landscape mode, but you can turn either of the Smart Displays on their sides to stand vertically thanks to a handy triangular hump.

And don't be fooled: these aren't just off-the-shelf Android tablets running a special Google Assistant skin. Google Assistant director Chris Turkstra confirmed the Smart Displays actually run the Android Things OS and boot directly into the Assistant interface — you won't be installing apps or swiping through the usual Android home screens. (Well, at least without a little extracurricular hacking.)

But what are they actually like to use? Well, when they're inert, the Smart Displays are basically just digital picture frames that cycle though images in a Google Photo album. When you start talking to them, though, the Assistant's calming female voice responds with crispness and clarity through Displays' speakers. If you close your eyes and start talking to a Smart Display, the experience is nigh-indistinguishable from chatting up a Google Home speaker. That's a good thing, too: Alexa's deep ties to Amazon are nothing to scoff at, but if you're anything like me, having a voice assistant that can reach into the well of data I've already given Google gives the Assistant a distinct edge.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

As handy as Google's Home speakers are, though, they're not great at succinctly conveying lots of information. Google's move to embrace these small screens, then, is proof that pictures are worth a thousand words. I spent my time with the Smart Displays asking it to show me restaurants around Las Vegas, requesting YouTube videos to watch and fiddling with a fun little trivia game that should keep parties interesting. These are the sorts of basic requests I throw at Google's Assistant all the time anyway, but the screens really shine in areas you may not expect. Thanks to partnerships with online recipe sources like NY Times Cooking, the Smart Displays offered more nuanced, visual directions as you're trying to prepare some dinner.

More interesting are the ways the Smart Displays tap into existing Google products: video calls over Duo are both super-simple to initiate and worked fairly well despite some lousy Wi-Fi. If you ask the Smart Display for directions somewhere, they'll automatically show up on compatible smartphones. And if you're the sort who has a few Nest cameras around the house, tapping into them through these small screens is a breeze. What remains to be seen is whether -- and how -- third-party developers will work to build experiences for a completely new kind of Google product.

In general, the Smart Displays seem full of promise, even if I'm still not totally sold on the idea of festooning a home with smart displays. Aren't our lives already ruled by plenty of screens as is? Still, if you're already invested in Google's ecosystem, the Lenovo's new screens should slot into your life nicely. The 8-inch model will sell for $199 while the 10-inch model costs $249 -- expect both to be available sometime this summer.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2018.