Ahead of Google I/O next week, it's worth asking which of these two smart assistant devices fits better at the center of your home.
Should you buy an Amazon Echo smart speaker or an Amazon Echo Show smart display? Or if you prefer the Google Assistant, should you grab a Google Home Mini or a Google Home Hub ? This question might become more complicated next week depending on what comes out of Google I/O, the search giant's annual developer event, but for now, every device I've mentioned has its own merits. You might even find enough use for Alexa or Google Assistant to justify splurging on both a smart speaker and smart display. But if you only want one piece of dedicated voice assistant hardware, which one do you pick?
Comparing smart speakers to smart displays categorically might seems like judging apples against oranges: both serve a lot of the same purposes. They both can play music, search the web, and help you organize your day, and they can also both act as a central control point for your smart home.
Read more: The best smart speakers for 2019 | The best smart displays of 2019
The Amazon Echo helped popularize the concept of a voice-activated smart speaker. Smart displays like the Google Home Hub add a touchscreen to the formula. They still respond to the same voice commands, but they show extra info when you ask about the weather, search for a restaurant or check your calendar. You can also use the screen to watch videos, control your smart home and make video calls.
In general, smart displays can do everything smart speakers can do and more, but smart speakers cost less and respond to all of the same voice commands. Picking the right one comes down to how much use you'll get out of the screen.
Read more: Amazon Echo Show 5 smart display coming in June for $90
Smart speakers -- Since the Amazon Echo exploded onto the scene in 2014, the smart speaker category has gained numerous options from a variety of companies. Here, I'll focus on the ones made by Amazon -- the company that popularized the category -- and Google -- Amazon's main competitor in the space.
Special mention goes to the Apple HomePod if you're invested in Apple's HomeKit smart home and the Sonos One as a smart speaker with particularly good sound quality.
Smart displays -- Amazon again gets credit for popularizing the category, this time with the Amazon Echo Show back in 2017. The first Echo Show wasn't great -- it looked like an old-fashioned TV and the touchscreen wasn't that useful, but it paved the way for the great devices we have now.
The second generation $230 Echo Show is much better than the first. It looks more polished, has two full web browsers built in, and makes better use of the screen with new touch controls for smart home devices and better help on recipes. Like the old Show, it has a 10-inch screen and a camera for video calls.
Other options include the $300 LG WK9, which also uses Google Assistant, but costs too much and doesn't stand out from the crowd. Facebook also has the $200 Portal and the $350 Portal Plus. Both have some smarts thanks to Alexa, but are meant more as video chatting devices and the touchscreen isn't as well rounded as those above.
Price. The $50 Amazon Echo Dot responds to the same voice commands as the $230 Amazon Echo Show. If you don't know how much you're going to use your new smart gadget, an affordable smart speaker is a better entry point.
You don't need another screen. You already have a phone and a TV. A smart speaker provides the unique angle of always-listening help. With smart displays, you're paying more to see info you can easily see on other smarter devices.
Likely a longer shelf life. A first generation Echo Dot still responds to all of the same voice commands as the latest model. Yes, the latest Echo Dot looks better, but when you're talking about a small black hockey puck on the corner of your shelf, that matters less compared to a screen taking up prominent space on your kitchen counter. Smart displays as a whole have taken a strong stance on design, which might mean that same design becomes outdated more quickly, and the touchscreen could easily be left in the dust by future, more advanced models. Smart speakers keep it simple, so your investment is safer.
No camera, no pictures. Other than the Google Home Hub, most smart displays have a camera. Every smart display can pull up a feed from a security camera and browse through personal photos. For those concerned about privacy, a smart speaker might be a better fit. Note that you can elect not to show personal photos on smart displays, and you can opt out of showing personal information on the screen at all, but if you'd rather not even bother, a smart speaker removes the option for you.
Pictures and videos. While price is the most obvious advantage of smart speakers, using a screen to look at stuff is a pretty obvious win for smart displays. Both Amazon and Google can scroll through family photos. You can see pictures of restaurants when you're searching for a place to eat. You can search YouTube videos by voice with Google's displays or pull them up in a browser on the Echo Show. A smart display can't replace your home's main TV, but pulling up a quick video while you cook is a nice feature.
Cooking help. Both Alexa and Google Assistant use their respective screens to great effect in the kitchen. Smart speakers can read out the steps of a recipe, but smart displays keep the list front and center after they read it out. The Echo Show lets you multitask and watch videos or play music, then hop back to where you left off. The Home Hub and others with Google Assistant do that too, plus they keep the ingredient list on the side for your reference. If you need help on a step, just ask, and the Home Hub will find relevant instructions or a YouTube video.
Smart home touch controls. Smart speakers helped usher the smart home into the mainstream. You no longer had to manage multiple accounts on the smart phones of every family member just so your household could control the lights. You could simply say what you wanted to a central speaker. Smart displays are the next evolution of this centralization. Both Alexa and Google Assistant-powered smart displays can show you a list of devices, and Google even organizes them by room. You can control your devices with a touch and get a handy overview. Your significant other now doesn't need to remember what you set up and what you named each device, they can just check the smart display.
While I prefer smart displays, some of my coworkers would much rather have a smart speaker. I like having a visual reference for what I'm doing, and the smart home control panel makes a big difference if you have a lot of connected devices. If you're just getting started, the smart speaker is a better choice, and it's a better choice if the extra screen would be distracting to you or get in the way. You could also go with a smart speaker if you want to save money, but I'd call the usefulness of the screen well worth the premium.