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Smart Home

Google's new Ambient Mode lets you turn a Lenovo tablet into a smart display

Dock your Yoga Smart Tab or your Smart Tab M8 to see a tailored touchscreen display with shortcuts to control your smart home devices and personalized notifications.

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The Lenovo Smart Tab M8 switches to Google's new ambient mode when it's docked. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Pick up the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab, and it will function like an ordinary Android tablet. You can download apps, send emails, play games and more. It runs Android Pie, has a high definition screen, and sports a versatile hinge that you can use to prop it up on your counter or even hang it from a wall. Stand up the tablet with the kickstand, and it essentially turns into a smart display, thanks to Google's new Ambient Mode.

Both the new Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab and Lenovo Smart Tab M8 will feature this Ambient Mode. When docked, the tablets will automatically show notifications and reminders. You'll see shortcut buttons to control your smart home devices. You'll be able to issue voice commands to Google Assistant just as you can with a smart speaker like the Google Home Mini. The tablets will even scroll through your personal pics as a screensaver, just like the popular Google Nest Hub smart display.

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The Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab will work as an ordinary tablet when you're on the go. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The interface isn't exactly the same as a smart display, which tailors everything on the screen so that you can see the info from across the room. With smart displays like the new Lenovo Smart Display 7, you can interact with anything on the screen with touch controls and with your voice. Hopefully, the Ambient Mode experience will approach this flexibility. 

I saw Ambient Mode in action briefly during a demo of the Lenovo tablets at the IFA tech conference in Berlin. Ambient Mode is still being polished, but it looks more like the trimmed-down Google Assistant experience you traditionally find on mobile phones, as opposed to the fully optimized touchscreen experience of a smart display. You won't be able to swipe down from the top for a smart home control panel, for example.

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Still, the shortcuts and customizable screen are a nice touch to help bridge the gap between the phone experience and a smart display. Ambient Mode will help the tablets act more like a smart-home control center when you don't need to take them on the go.

The combination of tablet and smart display makes a lot of sense, and Lenovo already has similar tablets that work with Amazon's assistant Alexa. The Yoga Smart Tab is due out in September for $250 (about £200 or AU$365 converted). The Smart Tab M8 will hit stores in October for $120. 

Google's new Ambient Mode is rolling out on two new Nokia devices as well. 

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