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LG Xboom AI ThinQ crashes the smart display party, but maybe too late

The LG Xboom AI should offer the same great Google Assistant smarts we're used to from devices like the Google Home Hub. Its speakers need to rock if it's going to stand out.

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LG

LG's long awaited smart display has finally started shipping just in time for Thanksgiving. First announced at CES as part of a quartet of displays equipped with Google Assistant, the extravagantly named LG Xboom AI ThinQ WK9 Smart Display officially went on sale on Monday.

The Xboom AI will respond to voice commands, and you can use the 8-inch touchscreen to watch videos, make video calls, check the steps of a recipe, control your smart home and more. The Xboom AI has the same Android Things operating system as other third-party smart displays with Google Assistant such as the Lenovo Smart Display and the JBL Link View ($250 at Walmart).

LG's display will normally sell for $300, but LG is already offering it at a discount through the end of November. You can order it from LG's website now for $200. The Xboom AI ThinQ is only available in the US for now, but LG promises other markets will follow shortly. (The $300 US price converts to roughly £230 or AU$410.)

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Heavy competition

When LG's smart display was first announced at CES, the only notable competitor on the market was the Amazon Echo Show. That's not the case anymore. The Lenovo Smart Display and JBL Link View have both been on store shelves for months. Lenovo offers a model with a 10-inch screen for $250 and an 8-inch model for $200. The JBL Link View is $250.

All of these smart displays have the same set of features -- they all rely on Google Assistant to respond to voice commands. Again, they all also have the same operating system built from Android Things, a trimmed down version of Google's mobile Android operating system intended for smart home devices.

Plus Google now has a smart display of its own, called the Google Home Hub ($129 at Walmart), which is a little smaller and lacks a camera, but sells for just $150. Lots of retailers are offering it for $100 for Black Friday. Amazon also debuted a second and much improved Echo Show.

So the LG Xboom AI has some work to do in order to stand out. Using Google Assistant and Android Things for the bulk of its features isn't a bad thing. In fact, we quite liked the Lenovo Smart Display and the JBL Link View in our reviews -- the digital assistant and software combine to offer a wide variety of features and helpful on-screen assistance. I'd assume, then, that the Xboom AI will show local restaurants when you ask, update you on your calendar and even provide a nice canvas for scrolling through family pictures.

Standing out with sound

If those features sound appealing, the LG Xboom is worth considering, but so is every other Google Assistant smart display. The Xboom AI will try to stand out with hardware. The 8-inch screen offers slightly better than 720p resolution (1,280x800 pixels), which is roughly on par with the rest.

The screen looks a little dwarfed next to its speakers, which is where LG could have an advantage on the crowd. The Xboom AI features two 20-watt speakers, so it has the most power of any of the Google Assistant-based smart displays. LG designed the audio quality in collaboration with Meridian, a British sound company with a history of high-end sound design. Dual passive radiators on the back will help it blast the bass.

Otherwise, the Xboom AI has a camera for making video calls, along with a physical shutter if you want some extra privacy. The smart displays from Lenovo and JBL offer the same. The Xboom AI also works with SmartThinQ, LG's smart appliance platform. Given that Google Assistant can currently control LG smart appliances via voice command, it's unclear how this ThinQ integration will add functionality beyond what you get from the competition. LG representatives didn't have an answer when I asked them for specifics. 

Outlook

Given that the $300 LG Xboom AI costs more than other smart displays with similar capabilities, the sound quality provided by those 20-watt speakers will need to hold up to stringent tests. We'll bend our ears to the task soon and have a full review for you once we know if the LG smart display is indeed worth the extra money or not. 

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