The race to be everywhere in your home is on, and as it stands, the competition is between Google and Amazon. With Echo and Google Home, smart speakers are starting to make their way into people's homes.
That's not the only way these two companies want you to interact with their digital assistants though. In 2017, Amazon launched Echo Show, which was - in essence - an Echo with a display.
- Amazon Echo Show review: Alexa steps into a touchscreen future
- Echo Show vs Lenovo Smart Display vs JBL Link View: New year, new smart display devices
Now it's 2018 and Google has its own take, and is enlisting the help of third party manufacturers to get screened versions of Google Home into your life. But what exactly are Google's smart displays?
What are smart displays?
Let's start with what they're not: tablets. Google's been clear that this is a new product category, and the way most of the announced models are designed ensures that you won't want to pick them up and walk about with them.
These are essentially smart speakers with a high-resolution display built in, bringing a visual element to Google's Home product lineup.
The advantage of having a display built in means the Google Home can show you results as well as speak them to you, which - in many instances - is very useful. Whether that means showing you a recipe, directions to a location in Google Maps, or bring up photos you've got saved. These aren't elements well-communicated by audio alone.
As you'd expect, you can also use the screen to watch videos from YouTube or watch the news, using it in a manner you may have used a small television in the kitchen in years gone by.
The reason they're no use as tablets is that the devices aren't built to be carried around or held. Lenovo's - for instance - has a big stand on the back of it, while the JBL model looks like the Playlist speaker we reviewed in 2017, but with a screen on the front. There's also the issue of the permanent power cord.
What's more, they don't have a regular Android user interface. They have a version of Android designed specifically to control smart home environments, one that doesn't have access to the Play Store, so no apps can be installed.
How does they work?
While Google anticipates you primarily using your voice to control the Smart Display, its screen is also touch sensitive, so you can manipulate what's on the display too. So, use "Hey Google" or "Ok Google" to get its attention, but then control some of the results with your fingers on the screen.
Results are displayed on screen in a card-like interface which isn't quite finished yet. You can ask it for calendar appointments, or make use of the Nest integration to check on your home security cameras, among other things.
It has other features too, similar to the audio-only Google Home products. You can use it as a Chromecast device, even adding it to a multi-room Chromecast Audio network. You can also use it to make video calls, using the Google Duo app and front facing camera.
One welcome feature, for those worried about being constantly spied on, is the camera shutter cover. Every model will have a physical switch that covers the camera, stopping it from being able to see when not in use for video calls.
Of course its list of commands are numerous. So numerous in fact that Google has now built a custom directory with over a million different commands and questions you can ask.
What smart displays are available?
At this particular moment in time, there are no devices available to buy, but they are going to be launched at some point in summer 2018.
Lenovo Smart Display
At CES 2018 in Las Vegas, JBL and Lenovo both showed off their smart displays, both with radically different designs. Lenovo's Smart Display - from the front - is very rectangular with the screen taking up most of the surface, and a large speaker panel on one side covering two 10W speakers.
The Lenovo Smart Display, when launched, will be available with both 8-inch and 10.1-inch screen options, and can be flipped 90-degrees for vertical use, thanks to the universal design of the stand.
Tech-wise, it has a 5-megapixel front facing camera capable of recording 720p video, as well as a Qualcomm Snapdragon 624 processor, 2GB RAM and 4GB of storage, which is only used to store the files needed for Google Assistant to work.
JBL Link View
Similar to the smaller Lenovo Smart Display, the JBL Link View has a pair of 10W speakers and an 8-inch touchscreen. It also has the same resolution 5-megapixel front facing camera with HD video recording.
We suspect in most cases, the hardware required to build these smart displays is going to be standard across the board. So the main difference will come in design. JBL's interpretation is clearly different from Lenovo, with the audio-first company going with a size and shape that's not too dissimilar to products it already builds.
LG WK9 - ThinQ Google Assistant Touch Screen Speaker
Along with all the rest of its smart home technology announced at CES 2018, LG also snuck in a product page detailing its own smart display. The WK9 ThinQ touch screen speaker is going to feature pretty much the same specifications as the JBL and the smaller Lenovo device.
That means you get an 8-inch touchscreen, Google Assistant and Chromecast built into a device with two speakers which, in this instance, are enhanced by Meridian Audio's "advanced technologies". We're not sure exactly what that means exactly, but let's hope it means they sound good.
Who else is building them?
Let's start again with who isn't: Google. As things stand right now, the company behind the Assistant-powered screen isn't making its own version of the smart display yet. That doesn't mean it won't ever make its own. In fact, we'd be surprised if they didn't already have one in development.
It also doesn't mean Lenovo, LG and JBL are the only big manufacturers onboard. Google has signed up Sony as well. That means four reputable AV companies getting behind the search giant's vision for smart home displays (so far).
How much do smart displays cost?
That depends which model you get. Lenovo's Smart Display comes in two sizes with two prices. The 10-inch model is likely going to cost around $249, while the 8-inch model is $199. JBL hasn't announced pricing on its speaker yet, but we suspect it'll be similar to Lenovo.