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The 7 best things your smart display can do

While a smart speaker might get the job done, a smart display offers unique features worth considering.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

If you recently purchased a smart home display like Amazon's Echo Show or the Google Home Hub, you likely heard all the rave reviews about -- how it would simplify your life and you'd never know how you lived without it. But what exactly can a smart display do? We're going to break down what we feel are the best uses of smart displays. If you haven't purchased a smart display yet and you're trying to figure out which one is best, we compiled a list of our favorites. 

Be your personal assistant

While some people may want to keep AI out of their personal lives, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa can be extremely helpful management tools, especially for families who have a lot of moving parts to their schedules. 

With these devices, all you have to say is, "Hey Google, when's my next meeting?" or "Alexa, remind me to take out the trash at 6 p.m." and your smart assistant will follow your command. Using devices like the Echo Show or Google Home Hub Max can help streamline your calendar and keep you organized. There are even options for personalized calendar responses with voice recognition for different members of your household.

This ability to manage grocery lists or check commutes works on smart speakers, but displays add a visual. You'll see your calendar, commute route or weather forecast on screen for added detail. Getting that information at a glance means less time looming over logistics and more time doing what you want. 

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Group calling supports up to seven people on the Echo Show 10.

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Video chat your friends and family

Staying connected with friends and family is more important than ever these days. That's what makes using a smart display for video calling so appealing. You can use an Echo Show or Google Nest Hub Max camera and speakers to make video calls to anyone you like. These smart displays support apps like Skype, Google Duo or Zoom to stay connected with those outside your home. 

The Echo Show 10 even includes face-tracking technology, so Alexa can follow you around the room and keep you in frame during video calls. Google Home Hub will allow you to connect through video calls with other Duo users. The best part is, all your calls are free. 

Make sure your home is secure

Smart displays can connect to your home security system or smart security devices like video doorbells and security cameras from Ring, Nest, Blink, Arlo, and more. With a smart display at home, you can keep an eye on your front door or backyard with ease. Some new parents even use this feature as a baby monitor to make sure their newborns are staying safe. 

The Echo Show 10 functions as its own smart security camera. In the Alexa app for iOS or Android, you can view the smart display camera's live feed remotely from anywhere. The Nest Hub Max can also be viewed remotely from the Nest app. 

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The Google Assistant-enabled Lenovo smart display shows off shopping results.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Shop without lifting a finger 

One of Alexa's biggest advantages is that she will order you whatever you ask straight from your Amazon account. A simple, "Hey, Alexa, order me another package of raspberry leaf tea," and the next thing you know, it's on your doorstep two days later. Well, the Echo Show does not disappoint and allows users to integrate Alexa with their Amazon account. But did you know Google has this feature now too? Your Google Hub can't connect to your Amazon account, but it can order items at your favorite online retailers like Target, Best Buy and Walmart.

If voice ordering makes you a little uneasy, know that both of these devices always give you the total amount and require voice or PIN confirmation before purchasing. Shopping on a smart display means you'll get a good visual of exactly what you're ordering, something a regular smart speaker can't do. 

Pump up the jams

These days having a speaker in your home is almost essential. Whether you need it to put some dancing music on while you're cooking dinner or just to have some ambiance for guests, having a quality speaker is a game-changer. Sure, smart speakers can do this on their own, but having a smart display adds a visual element. You can easily glance over at the display to see the artist and album, without having to interrupt the tunes to ask, "Hey, Google, who sings this?"

The Echo Show and Google Home Hub definitely do not disappoint in this area. Both of these devices have the option to connect to your accounts on a variety of music streaming apps like Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer, iHeartRadio, Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify, Tidal, TuneIn and Vevo. All you have to do is sign in and jam away. 

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Adaptive color and brightness on Google's smart displays makes photos look their best.

Derek Poore/CNET

Display your favorite photos 

Yes, you can use your smart devices as a digital photo frame to display your favorite photo. As digital photo frames become more and more popular, this smart display feature is becoming more valuable. You can add photos from Google Photos or Amazon Photos, or select from a range of preinstalled slideshows related to art, travel, nature and more. 

While we do think Google's Nest Hub wins out in this category thanks to superior adaptive brightness and color, you can't go wrong with either option. Amazon's line of smart displays are perfectly capable of showing off your images.  

Control other smart home devices

With so many smart devices out there these days, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Smart displays can function as great smart home command centers, especially Amazon's Zigbee-enabled models. Both Google and Amazon have added home dashboards to their smart displays, so you can see all the smart home devices in your house at a glance. With a touchscreen display, you can dim the lights or turn up the thermostat with just a few taps, no voice commands required.

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To sum it up

Getting a smart display like an Echo Show or the Google Home Hub will upgrade your smart home experience. To learn more about which one may be the best fit for you, we have a comprehensive breakdown of the pros and cons of each.

Whether you keep a busy schedule and need to take a few tasks off your plate or just want a video chat device, a smart display gets the job done.