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LG WK9 ThinQ Xboom AI Smart Display review: Despite Google Assistant, LG's smart display doesn't justify its price

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The Good The LG WK9 offers all of the same voice- and touch-enabled features of the other Google Assistant-equipped smart displays. It also has good sound quality for its size, as well as responsive mics.

The Bad The design is clunky, and the sound quality isn't good enough to justify the price.

The Bottom Line The WK9 is a good smart display, thanks to Google Assistant, but you have better, less-expensive options.

6.9 Overall
  • Features 8
  • Usability 7
  • Design 6
  • Performance 7

Even before I opened the box, the LG Xboom AI WK9 Smart Display had a lot going against it. It's late to the game -- Lenovo, JBL and more recently, Google already have similar smart displays with Google Assistant built in. It's expensive -- $300 as opposed to $150 for the Google Home Hub and $250 for the JBL Link View ($250 at ABT Electronics) or Lenovo Smart Display. It's also kind of ugly -- I'd call it boxy at best, whereas the Lenovo Smart Display is elegant and the Google Home Hub is cute.

After spending some time with it, the appearance of the WK9 grew on me a little. I'd still call it ugly, but it's also simple and straightforward, and it cleverly tilts the screen upward for a nice viewing angle throughout a room. Since it has Google Assistant built in, the WK9 also sports all of the cool features that made me like the other smart displays mentioned earlier. It showcases Google's attractive user interface and responds to a wide variety of voice commands. With the touchscreen, you can watch videos, scroll through pictures, check on your calendar, walk through the steps of a recipe, and more.

Because of the other, less-expensive options, the LG WK9 had to have terrific sound quality to earn its keep, and LG partnered with high-end English audio company Meridian for just that purpose. As a result, its sound quality when playing music is indeed good, but it doesn't keep up with the cheaper JBL Link View, and it's only slightly better than the Lenovo Smart Display. In a vacuum, I'd call the LG WK9 a good smart gadget that was worth your consideration, but I'd recommend the cheaper Link View if you really want a smart display that can rock or the Google Home Hub if you're primarily after the touchscreen-enhanced smarts.

Familiar features

If you're familiar with any of Google's other smart displays, then you're familiar with the basics of the LG WK9. You'll primarily use voice commands to interact with it as it has Google Assistant built in -- the same assistant in Google Home smart speakers, most Android phones and the smart displays mentioned above.

Thanks to Google Assistant, you can ask the LG Smart Display to search the web, check your calendar, play a song, control your smart home and more. Google Assistant's roster of abilities is growing constantly. The screen will show you what it hears as you talk so you'll know if it mishears you -- a nice, obvious feature that you currently don't get with Amazon's smart display, the Alexa-equipped Echo Show.

The screen will also do its best to show info relevant to your voice command. Check the weather and you'll see the week's forecast. Search for a place to eat and you can see pictures of and directions to local restaurants. I'm a big fan of the step-by-step recipe guides on these devices. Google will walk you through how to cook a wide variety of meals. You can skip forward and back through the steps as necessary, and you can also multitask while Google saves your place in the recipe for when you need to refer to it next.

lg-smart-display-3

You can also pull up directions to a restaurant and send those directions to your phone. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

The touchscreen uses the same Android Things operating system as the other third-party options from Lenovo and JBL. Android Things is a trimmed-down version of Google's famous Android mobile operating system meant for smart-home devices. On smart displays, Android Things is customized to show information in a large format that you can see from across the room.

It works well, as you'll always be able to interact with anything you see on the screen with a touch or with your voice. As a whole, Google Assistant makes better use of a touchscreen than Amazon's Alexa on the Echo Show. Weirdly, the Google Home Hub uses a different operating system than the third-party products, but it functions the same. All Google Assistant-equipped smart displays offer the same voice commands and the same touchscreen experience.

You can scroll right to go back a page, scroll up for quick settings like volume and brightness, or scroll down for a smart-home control panel allowing you to see all of your compatible devices and perform common tasks like turning off the lights with shortcuts.

You'll set up the LG WK9 using the Google Home app. Plug it in, use the app to connect it to your Wi-Fi and then you can sync a variety of music streaming services such as Google Play Music and Spotify as well as video services like YouTube and CBS All Access. (Note, CNET's parent company is CBS, which also operates CBS All Access.) You can listen to music and watch videos on the display itself, or cast content to other compatible devices in your home. 

The LG WK9 also has a built-in camera (the Google Home Hub is the only one that doesn't) so you can make video calls using Google Duo -- the search giant's video chat app built into most Androids and available for download on iPhones. You can make voice calls as well, and Google Assistant can recognize your voice and search through your contacts to find the right number when you tell it to "call mom." She'll even see it's you calling on her caller ID. 

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