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Smart Home

Google Home Hub vs. Amazon Echo Show: A smart display showdown

Which flagship smart display is right for you?

versus-amazon-echo-showo-v2-vs-google-home-hub
Ray Pawulich/CNET

The $230 Amazon Echo Show sounds great when it plays music. The $150 Google Home Hub makes your personal pictures look fantastic in ambient mode. The flagship smart displays from two tech giants look very different -- the Echo Show dwarfs the Home Hub in size -- but they serve a lot of the same purposes.

Both smart displays respond to the same voice commands as an ordinary smart speaker like the Amazon Echo or the Google Home. Both use a screen to show extra info when you ask a question. You see a detailed forecast when you ask about the weather, or you can browse pics of a restaurant if you're looking for a place to eat. You can also use the screen on both devices to watch videos, control smart home devices, make video calls and check on the feed from your security cam.

Both came out last year, and with Google I/O approaching along with the next presumed wave of smart home tech, it's a good time to figure out, once and for all, which company makes the better smart display.

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Smart assistants

The Amazon Echo Show has Amazon's famous assistant named Alexa. Google's version of Alexa is just called Google Assistant. Both are great. They each respond to a wide variety of commands. You can search the internet, control your smart home, check the weather, add something to your calendar and more. Both can recognize your voice and customize responses accordingly.

Despite a great effort on Google's part to catch up, Amazon still works with more devices and has more features. However, Google Assistant responds to commands more intuitively. For example, when controlling the smart home, Alexa often needs you to say the exact name of the device you want to control. Google will recognize a variety of permutations like "living room light," "living room lamp," or even just "living room."

Winner -- This one is a tie


Sound quality

The Amazon Echo Show is much bigger than the Google Home Hub, so some discrepancy in sound quality is understandable, but it's a big gap. The Echo Show sounds great -- on par with full sized smart speakers like the Amazon Echo. The Home Hub has trouble matching even small smart speakers like the Google Home Mini in sound quality.

Winner -- The Echo Show


Microphones

Unlike the category above, the hardware of the Home Hub puts up a good fight here. Both use microphones well and will generally hear your commands from across a large room. The Echo Show still beats it slightly as it more frequently can hear commands from an adjacent room and over background noise.

Winner -- The Echo Show


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The Home Hub's control panel is great.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Smart home controls

In addition to the usual voice commands, you can use touch controls for compatible smart home gadgets with both the Echo Show and the Google Home Hub. After you give a voice command, you'll see buttons and sliders if you want to fine-tune your command. For instance, change the temp of your smart thermostat, and you can manipulate the slider to change it further. Control a smart bulb, and you'll see relevant controls for brightness and color settings.

Both smart displays go one step further. Swipe down from the top of the screen and you'll see a control panel to initiate commands with a tap. You'll see a button called "Lights & More" on the Show that will pull up a list of your devices. The Home Hub shows a variety of buttons on the panel itself so you can turn off the lights, lock the doors or check your security camera with a tap. Tap "View Rooms" for a breakdown of all of your devices organized by room.

The extra organization of the Home Hub makes a big difference. The Show's list of devices can easily seem jumbled if you have a lot of connected gadgets. The Home Hub shows more options at a glance and provides a more sensible overview of your whole smart home.

Winner -- The Home Hub


Cooking

The Echo Show has just about caught up to Google on this front, as the Home Hub had a significant lead when it first came out. Ask for help with a recipe, and Google will walk you through each ingredient, then each step one-by-one.

You can skip forward or back as necessary, and it'll hold your place until you're ready to move on. When you're looking at the steps, Google keeps an ingredient list on the side for reference. You can also multitask and play music, watch a video, set a timer, add something to your shopping list and more. When you're ready, you can just ask Google to resume the recipe and it'll hop right back to where you left off.

This excellent cooking guidance was part of the reason I recommended the Google Home Hub and the similar Lenovo Smart Display as helpful kitchen gadgets. The first generation Echo Show really just showed you the steps on a single page and read everything off at once.

As of now, the Echo Show can do almost everything the Home Hub can do when helping you cook. It'll go over steps one by one. It'll keep your place as you multitask. The Home Hub organizes information more efficiently and lets you send recipes from your phone to the display, so it still wins, but this battle is much closer than it was.

Winner -- The Home Hub


Videos

Since Google owns YouTube, you can search and play videos from the popular sharing site on the Home Hub with your voice. You can't do that on the Echo Show, but you can access YouTube from the built-in browsers -- Firefox and Amazon Silk.

Otherwise, both offer a variety of video streaming services. The bigger screen on the Show makes a difference here -- it's 10 inches compared to only 7 on the Home Hub. Still, you're probably not going to sit down and watch something on a smart display, and for digestible videos you can watch while you cook, it's hard to beat YouTube.

Winner -- The Home Hub


Design and extras

The Home Hub looks cute with a colorful fabric back. The Echo Show looks more like a high-end tech gadget. It won't blend in as well, but it doesn't look bad. Otherwise, as mentioned above, the Echo Show has two full browsers and the Home Hub has none. The Echo Show also has a built-in camera for video calls. The Home Hub doesn't. The Echo Show doesn't have a physical shutter for the camera, though, so depending on your feelings on privacy, the cam might not be a good thing.

Both can scroll through pictures when you're not using them for anything else, but the Home Hub's ambient light sensor gives it a big edge at this task. The Home Hub automatically adapts both the brightness and warmth of the picture based on the light of the room. This results in photos that look like physical pictures in a frame instead of a glowing image on a TV or billboard. It really does look fantastic, and it helps the Home Hub serve a pleasing purpose when you can't think of anything to ask.

Winner -- The Home Hub


Overall

Since the two devices are close on most fronts, you should go with the Amazon Echo Show if you prefer Alexa. You should also go with the Echo Show if you want a smart display that sounds good when playing music. However, if you're a Google fan or if you're on the fence, the Google Home Hub is the better choice.

It costs less, and it's better at controlling your smart home, walking you through recipes and showing your personal pictures. You probably don't need your smart display to be your main screen for watching TV or your main speaker for listening to music. Smart displays are best at showing you what you need to know to keep your hands free in the kitchen. The Google Home Hub is great at that, and it's the better smart display as a result.

Overall winner -- The Google Home Hub