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Smart display debate: Are these speaker-tablets worth it or not?

Andrew likes smart displays. Megan doesn't. Let's have a fight.

Do you have a strong opinion on smart displays? Tell us in the comments section below.
Tyler Lizenby/CNET

My colleague Andrew Gebhart is pro-smart display. You know, the smart speaker-tablets you set in your kitchen to guide you through a recipe -- or in your bathroom to walk you through a makeup tutorial. They do a lot more than that, of course, but the gist is they respond to Alexa or Google Assistant commands just like your Echo or Home device with the addition of a touchscreen. 

I feel differently about smart displays. I don't like them. So Andrew and I thought we'd fight about it, for science. Keep scrolling to catch the full debate and be sure to weigh in yourself in the comments section below. We want to know: Are you a fan of smart displays, or not so much? 

Read more about smart displays: Are they the next frontier for the connected home? | Amazon Echo Show 5 smart display coming in June for $90

150 words of history

Smart displays emerged on the scene after the Amazon Echo, Google Home and other voice-enabled speakers.

The Amazon Echo Show was the first to hit stores. Now in its second iteration, the Echo Show 2.0 features a 10-inch display with 720p HD resolution. It has Alexa, Amazon's voice assistant, built in. That means you can use the Show to do all of the same things as any non-screen-equipped Alexa speaker

But the screen-centric design also makes it possible to see who's at the front door, control select smart home devices, and pull up a YouTube video straight from its integrated display. 

A variety of Echo Show competitors are now available, including the Lenovo Smart Display, the JBL Link View, the Google Home Hub, the Facebook Portal, the Amazon Echo Spot and the LG WK9 ThinQ Xboom.

While each display has a unique design and different specs, they all essentially do the same thing. 

The great smart display debate

Megan: I struggle to understand why we, as consumers, need smart displays when our phones, tablets and TVs do the same things just as well, and often better. There are a few exceptions -- I do like the Google Home Hub's recipe tutorials, for instance -- but that isn't nearly enough to make me want to run out and buy one. 

Andrew: They don't do the same thing! I understand the idea, and the extra screen isn't right for everyone, but it's a shared device for the whole family where you can see all of the info from across the room and control it with your voice. You can't say all of that about TVs, tablets or phones. Smart displays are designed so that no matter what you do, you can interact with the screen with your voice or by tapping. 

Megan: Why does the whole family need to be able to interact with a device like this? And, also, if they *really* do, they can easily share and use a regular tablet with similar facility -- voice commands, YouTube videos, live feeds from the smart doorbell outside, etc., are all possible sans smart display.

Andrew: If we're strictly comparing smart displays to tablets, smart displays are generally cheaper. Smart displays stay unlocked, but use your voice to personalize info. When you ask a question, they show info large enough that you can see it from across the room. 

Setting up a tablet the same way is theoretically possible, but it would take a lot of work. Smart displays do this out of the box. Plus, why does a family need this? The smart home! Centralized smart-home touch controls are awesome! You don't need to remember what your significant other named all of the lights to give a voice command, you can just scroll down on the screen and tap.

You can see who's at your front door on your smart display. 


Megan: I'd wager most of the folks who'd consider a smart display already have at least one tablet. So it's less a question of "do I get a Fire tablet or a smart display?" and more -- "do I get a smart display in addition to the Fire tablet I have sitting next to me right now?" 

I can already use voice commands via my smart TV to see a live video feed or control smart-home devices. That's easier on my wonky-astigmatism eyes than a 7-inch smart display like the Google Home Hub, sitting in my kitchen, separated from my living room by a wall. And you don't have to use a passcode or other privacy lock; you can designate a device for family access!

Andrew: For your smart TV, you still need to hold down a button on the remote. I'd actually agree that if you already have a screen in every room and a few Fire tablets designated as family devices, you don't need a smart display. At that point, you probably don't need a smart speaker either. To me, smart displays work best if you want that always-listening help somewhere in your home and you're more of a visual learner than a verbal one.

Again, to me, the screen makes it much easier to control a smart home with a bunch of devices thanks to a visual overview, and the screen makes it much easier for tasks like getting recipe help. If you already have enough devices, great. If you need more digital assistance in your life, smart displays add a lot of great features to smart speakers, and they're more streamlined and tailored to wider family use than tablets.

Unlike the Google Home Hub, the second-gen Amazon Echo Show has a built-in camera.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Megan: More than anything else, I want to avoid having unnecessarily redundant devices in my home, especially if they're extra screens. If I already have something that does the trick, why bother? That's the category smart displays fit into for my life. 

I also think there's a solid chance that a Google Home Hub, or really any smart display, will look seriously dated in a couple short years and become a kind of pricey paperweight. I tend to update my phone every few years, though, so that will stay pretty current and have better specs and features while the other lags behind.

Andrew: Current smart displays could easily be dated in a couple of years, but maybe not. Most of the designs are elegant -- such as the Lenovo Smart Display and the Google Home Hub. The screens dominate the front and most of the rest is simple and understated.

If they do get outdated, and you know you're going to want the latest and greatest version, I'd still say a purchase is worth it. You noted that you update your phone every few years, but your smartphone is way more expensive than a $150 smart display. Expectations are key, and I doubt most folks need to get 10 years out of their smart display like it's an appliance. Most tablets and smart speakers get new versions every couple of years too. If you pay $150, and you use your smart display a lot for two to three years, I'd say that's money well spent. Plus, if you don't mind a possibly dated look, it should keep working for much longer than that.

Now playing: Watch this: The battle for the best smart display: Google Home Hub...

Yea or nay?

Unsurprisingly, there's no real answer to this. If you think a smart display would improve how you interact with your home, go for it. If you don't, then don't get one. Everyone has different preferences and use cases that might make one option more appealing than the other.

Think about your house and the smart tech you have today -- and decide for yourself. And if you want to know more about the smart displays we've tested to date, start here. That link takes you to an overview of 'em all, with some comparison thrown in so you can decide if you want one, and if so, which one's right for you and your home.

Additional reading: Google Home Hub vs. Amazon Echo Show