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Best smart displays of 2021

From Google to Alexa devices, these are the best of the best smart displays on the market now.

Update, Sept. 28: Amazon announced the new Echo Show 15 smart display at its annual fall product launch event, along with several other new Echo and Ring products. We will ultimately review those devices, so check back frequently for updates.


Thanks to the pandemic, voice assistants and smart home hubs are getting more use than ever before -- and thanks to the countless major smart home device models releasing regularly, they're also getting more powerful. Smart displays bring an even more compelling angle: they offer touch controls, a screen for streaming, video chat, a digital assistant and much more. I for one have sent an Echo Show 8 to my mother-in-law so she can drop in with video calls to read to my kiddos every couple of days -- even though she lives 10 hours away.

But which is the best smart display for you?

The smart display industry has flourished in recent years, with the Amazon Echo Show 8 and the Google Nest Hub (formerly the Google Home Hub) at the forefront of the screen wars. Amazon's new Echo Show 10 adds the element of motion to the category.

It makes sense that there are almost a dozen smart displays on the market: They're a great combination made up of the always-listening voice assistant (like you'd find in a smart speaker) and a touchscreen for watching videos, controlling your smart home devices, adding things to your to-do lists and more. The Google Nest Hub Max even adds in a face-tracking camera that can display personalized bits of information whenever this smart device recognizes you.

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There are plenty of smart display features to consider when deciding which smart display is right for you. Do you want one that offers video chat and video calling? Or that connects with Amazon Alexa or the Google Home app? Does it need to be able to control your smart lights and smart plugs? Is audio performance a factor (in case you need music for a dance party)? These are all factors you should keep in mind.

If you're looking to upgrade your current smart speaker, or you're just starting your smart home and you find the touchscreen appealing, here are the best smart displays available now. We'll update this list periodically.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The newest version of the Nest Hub with Google services arrived in 2021 and it's a great entry point for the category. It's the smartest and best overall, making the low $100 price even more appealing. 

Thanks to the built-in Google Assistant, the Nest Hub responds to all of the same voice command options as the Google Home Mini smart speaker. The Google smart display touchscreen is a little small at 7 inches, but the adaptive brightness makes pictures look particularly great. Google will even customize a slideshow of family pics as your screensaver.

You can also control your smart home devices, like your smart doorbell, with an intuitively designed control panel. Unlike most of the other smart displays (and unlike its big brother, the Nest Hub Max), the Nest Hub doesn't have a camera, but that might be a bonus if you have privacy concerns and want to put it on your bedside table.

The second-generation smart home hub model includes Sleep Sensing and Quick Gestures thanks to Google's Soli mini radar. The colorful fabric design on this Google assistant smart display allows the device to blend in anywhere, though the tablet touchscreen comes in particularly handy if you want step-by-step help through a recipe in the kitchen.

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

 

Chris Monroe/CNET

For a long time, the Nest Hub occupied pride of place on this list, thanks to its photo display aesthetic, pleasant user interface and more naturalistic voice assistant. But as we venture ever deeper into the coronavirus pandemic, the Echo Show 8's camera -- and this smart home hub's ability to video chat -- becomes a more important deciding point for would-be customers. And that's one feature the Nest Hub simply doesn't have. Add that to Amazon Alexa's growing smarts, and the Show 8 has been upgraded to share the "best display" honor with the Nest hub.

With the Show 8, Amazon Alexa virtual assistant will respond to your voice control and voice commands, plus you can use the tablet screen to play games, browse recipes, watch movies and Prime Video trailers, control your smart home and more. The 8-inch touch screen on this Amazon Alexa smart display device is small enough to stay out of the way, but big enough that you won't have to squint. It also includes a physical camera shutter for privacy.

In addition to the usual tricks, Amazon included its recent sunrise alarm feature, which helps ease you out of your sleep with a screen that starts getting brighter 15 minutes before your scheduled wake-up time. You can watch new how-to videos, or make a video call with a tap. 

Google Assistant still makes better use of the touchscreen than Amazon -- in particular, the cooking directions and smart home controls are better -- but the Echo Show 8 is close enough if you're already invested in Amazon's Alexa, and this smart home device actually has a camera for video chatting, which the Nest Hub doesn't. In short, the Show 8 is Amazon's best smart display yet.

Read our Amazon Echo Show 8 review.

 

Chris Monroe/CNET

If you want a 10-inch touchscreen powered by Alexa, the $250 Amazon Echo Show 10 is the latest and greatest in smart display technology. With a motorized base, the Echo Show 10 can follow you around the room during video calls or while you're watching video content on the device. The 10.1-inch tablet HD display looks good, and the Echo Show 10 comes with a 13-megapixel front-facing camera with a physical shutter for privacy. Amazon also added adaptive color to this Echo device model. 

You can use the Echo Show 10 as a smart home security camera and view it remotely in the Alexa app. Group video calling is supported for up to seven people, and Drop In lets you make a call directly to your display from anywhere with the Alexa app. Occupancy and vacancy based routines can trigger other smart home devices when the Echo Show 10 senses someone entering or leaving the room. 

This Alexa device is Amazon's priciest smart home hub display and the most feature-filled smart screen. Even though motion features can be disabled and the camera has a physical shutter, we think most people will still get by just fine with the Echo Show 8 for considerably less money. Still, if you're after Amazon's boldest smart display yet, this is it.

Read our Amazon Echo Show 10 review.

 

Smart display comparison


Best overall Best Alexa display Best full-sized display

Google Nest Hub (2nd gen) Amazon Echo Show 8 Amazon Echo Show 10
Cost $100 (£90, AU$149) $100 (£70, AU$129) $250 (£240, AU$399)
Screen Size 7-inch (177.8 mm) 8-inch (203.2 mm) 10.1-inch (256.5 mm)
Resolution (pixels) 1,024x600 1,280x800 1,280x800
Dimensions (WxHxD) 7.00x4.70x2.70 inches (177.4x120.4x69.5 mm) 7.9x5.4x3.9 inches (200.7x137.2x99.1 mm) 9.9x9.0x6.7 inches (251.46x228.60x170.18 mm)
Weight 1.23 lbs. (558 grams) 2.29 lbs. (1038 grams) 5.64 lbs. (2,560 grams)
Wireless Connectivity Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n/ac, 2.4GHz and 5GHz), Bluetooth 5.0 Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n/ac, 2.4GHz and 5GHz), Bluetooth Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n/ac, 2.4GHz and 5GHz), Bluetooth
Voice Assistant Google Assistant Alexa Alexa
Calling and Messaging Direct dial (US only), audio calls with Google Duo Alexa Messaging, Skype, direct dial (US and Mexico) Direct dial, Group calling with Alexa, Zoom, Skype
Smart kitchen features Step-by-step recipe assistance with YouTube tutorial videos Food Network GO; Step-by-step recipe assistance; Amazon Meal Kits integration Food Network Kitchen; Step-by-step recipe assistance; Amazon Meal Kits integration
On-screen smart home controls Yes Yes Yes
Built-in Camera No Yes (1MP) Yes (13MP)
Privacy Shutter n/a Yes Yes
Microphones 3-mic array 2-mic array 2-mic array
Speakers Full-range speaker with 1.7 in (43.5 mm) driver 2x full range 2-inch 10W speakers 2x 1-inch tweeters  3-inch woofer
Streaming Music Services iHeartRadio, Pandora, Spotify, YouTube Music, Apple Music Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn, Apple Music Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn, Apple Music
Streaming Video Services YouTube, YouTube TV, Google Play Movies, CBS All Access, HBO Now, Hulu, Disney+, Netflix Amazon Prime Video, NBC, Vivo, Hulu, Netflix Amazon Prime Video, NBC, Vivo, Hulu, Netflix
Compatible smart home cameras D-Link, EZVIZ, Nest Cam, Netgear Arlo, Skybell Video Doorbell, Smartcam, Swann, TP-Link Kasa Cam, Vivitar Amazon Cloud Cam, Amcrest, August Doorbell Cam, Blink, Canary, D-Link, EZVIZ, Logitech Circle, meShare, Nest Cam, Netgear Arlo, Ring Video Doorbell, Toucan, TP-Link Kasa Cam, Wyze Cam, Zmodo Amazon Cloud Cam, Amcrest, August Doorbell Cam, Blink, Canary, D-Link, EZVIZ, Logitech Circle, meShare, Nest Cam, Netgear Arlo, Ring Video Doorbell, Toucan, TP-Link Kasa Cam, Wyze Cam, Zmodo
Other notable features Ambient EQ automatic adaptive screen brightness; Digital picture frame via Google Photos with Live Albums; Live TV with YouTube TV; Sleep Sensing and Quick Gestures; Digital Wellbeing mode for parental restrictions and downtime hours Sunrise alarms; Customizable clock faces; Customizable alarm tones; YouTube access via Silk or Firefox browsers Zigbee hub; Adaptive color and brightness; 360 rotating screen with motion tracking; YouTube via Silk or Firefox browsers; Sunrise alarms; Customizable alarms; Customizable motion settings
Color options Charcoal, Mist, Chalk, Sand Charcoal, Sandstone Charcoal, Glacier White
Availability US, UK, Australia and 12 others US, UK, Australia and 7 others US, UK, Australia
Expected ship date Available now Available now Available now
Warranty 1-year 1-year 1-year

The rest

Google Nest Hub Max: At $229, the Nest Hub Max ups the Google Assistant's screen size from 7 to 10 inches and offers better sound quality than before. The real story, however, is the addition of a sophisticated camera that can track movements and gestures, or identify faces to show you personalized info on the screen. It's an impressive combination of hardware and software, but the Google Nest Hub Max comes with privacy concerns. For most people, we think the original, camera-free Nest Hub is a lot closer to the smart display sweet spot.

Amazon Echo Show 5: The Echo Show 5 is the cheapest of Amazon's displays, and it features most of the perks of the Show 8. Its resolution is lower than the Show 8 and its screen is smaller. While it features a tap-to-snooze alarm feature that makes it perfect for a bedside alarm, its sound quality isn't close compared to its bigger siblings.

Amazon Echo Show (second gen): The original Echo Show helped popularize the smart display back in 2017 and the current second-gen Show improved on it in every way with better design, sound quality and a more useful screen. It's a good premium counterpart to the attractive $90 entry point of the Echo Show 5. The second-gen Show has great sound quality and a 10-inch screen. The touchscreen just isn't as useful as similar models with Google Assistant.

Lenovo smart display: If you want a 10-inch touchscreen powered by Google Assistant, Lenovo's smart display looks elegant and features the same smarts as the Nest Hub. There are actually three different Lenovo smart display models with 10, 8 and 7 inch screens. The 10-inch Lenovo smart display has a bamboo back that's particularly well suited for the kitchen.

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Facebook Portal: The $100 Facebook Portal makes great video calls. Its video calling smart camera can track and follow any individual in frame so you can move freely as you talk. Otherwise, it has the Alexa app built-in, but it isn't as smart as the rest. But Facebook has faced numerous privacy scandals, so putting one of its cameras in your home takes a big leap of faith.

Lenovo Smart Clock: This $80 smart alarm trims out a lot of the functionality of smart displays. There's no camera and you can't watch videos. You can customize alarms and scroll through screens with weather and commute info. Thanks to a recent update, you can also look at personal pics and the Smart Clock will scroll through selected albums from Google Photos as your screensaver. It's cute and tailored for your nightstand, but it's more of an upgraded alarm clock than a full smart display.

Best smart display FAQs

What is the point of a smart display?

For smart home users, the smart display will function as a sort of visual dashboard, showing you all your connected devices and their statuses. You can view cameras and doorbells on your smart display screen, as well as make video calls, watch online content, view recipes and ask general knowledge questions. 

There are other fun features like books, games, puzzles and holiday easter eggs. Smart displays also double as digital photo frames and helpful clocks and calendars. 

What is the difference between a tablet and a smart display?

A smart display admittedly doesn't do as much as your Android tablet or iPad. You won't be able to download any apps or view every single streaming platform. It isn't portable, either.

Smart displays are focused on being hubs or command centers for your smart home. It's a device you'll plant on one shelf or countertop and likely leave it there for its entire life. 

Should I buy a smart display?

Well, that depends. If you're interested in smart home tech, a smart display is a helpful way to view everything you're setting up and controlling within your home. If you like making video calls, smart displays are a good way to do so without sacrificing your phone or laptop battery. 

If a smart home isn't really your cup of tea or if you're hesitant to put more cameras, microphones and voice assistants in your home (we wouldn't blame you), then a tablet or small laptop will meet your needs.