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Google's Lenovo Smart Display is the best smart speaker you can buy

Daniel Howley
·Technology Editor
Lenovo’s Google Smart Display is the version of Google Home I always wanted.
Lenovo’s Google Smart Display is the version of Google Home I always wanted.

Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Home is one of the best smart speakers on the market thanks to its ability to call on the company’s expansive search capabilities and knowledge graph, which connects all of your interactions with the company. But when you want to do more than just listen to the soothing sounds of Google Assistant’s voice, you’re out of luck.

Which is where Google’s Smart Displays come in. Similar to Amazon’s Echo Show, Google’s Smart Displays provide you with a visual look at Google search results for things like the weather, your calendar and YouTube videos. You can also cast video from your phone to your Smart Display, which essentially allows it to double as a small television.

Google is working with several manufacturers to produce Smart Displays, but Lenovo’s Smart Display is the only one currently available for purchase. At $199 for a model with an 8-inch display and $249 for a 10-inch panel, the Lenovo Smart Display is pricier than Amazon’s (AMZN) Echo Show, regularly $229 but on sale for $129, and supports fewer smart devices. Despite that, Lenovo still offers the smarter, Smart Display.

Google gets a screen

The Google Home is an impressive smart speaker. I’ve had one plugged in at my apartment in one form or another since it launched in 2016. That’s because the Home gives me pretty much everything I can ask for in a smart speaker. It offers plenty of intelligence, plays the music I want and lets me cast video content to my TV.

But ever since Amazon’s Echo Show came along — with its 7-inch screen that displays everything from the weather forecast, to recipes, to song lyrics, and even “Jeopardy” games — I was hooked. Even though it was fairly ugly, the Show was my go-to smart speaker.

The Lenovo Smart Display can be used in landscape or portrait modes.
The Lenovo Smart Display can be used in landscape or portrait modes.

Now? I’m all about the Lenovo Smart Display. Being able to watch YouTube videos, cast apps to the Display’s screen, and still ask all of the ridiculous questions I annoy my wife with, makes the Smart Display a big step up from the Google Home.

It’s also a lot easier on the eyes than the Glade air freshener-look of the original Google Home. And pretty much anything looks better than the Echo Show. Sporting a curved rear panel that serves as its stand, and a large screen with a speaker on its left side, the Lenovo Smart Display is certainly unique. What sells it for me, though, is the bamboo wood on the rear of the Display. It gives it a warm, inviting style that makes the device fit nicely in your living room, bedroom or kitchen.

I was also able to link my Smart Display to my Google Photos account, adding various albums that served as the Display’s background. It was strangely nice to sit on the couch and look over to see a photo from years ago that brought a smile to my face.

Of course, it also helps that I can do things like watch tutorials for catching those pesky fruit flies that have been flitting around my apartment for days or stream music services like Spotify, something Apple’s (AAPL) screenless HomePod doesn’t allow.

The missing pieces

Here’s the thing: I admittedly don’t use many smart home devices in my apartment. I can’t change my door lock, can’t put a doorbell outside, and can’t install a thermostat. So until I move into a mansion in the Hamptons, which will definitely happen, I’m sticking with a single speaker.

You can use the Smart Display to watch look up recipes, and watch videos explaining how to put them together.
You can use the Smart Display to watch look up recipes, and watch videos explaining how to put them together.

But there are plenty of consumers out there who want to build out their smart homes. And that’s where the Lenovo Smart Display falls short. See, Amazon is the market leader when it comes to the number of devices that work with its assistant, Alexa. Amazon says its smart assistant is compatible with more than 12,000 different gadgets.

Google Assistant, on the other hand, is compatible with more than 5,000. So while you’ll certainly be able to find the smart device you want with the Google Assistant, you’ll have far more options with Alexa.

What’s more, the Smart Display’s speaker, while good enough for bumping some beats during a party, doesn’t offer the kind of bass or treble you’d get from something like the standard Amazon Echo or Google Home. And forget about Apple’s HomePod. That speaker already sounds incredible, but next to the Smart Display it sounds positively fantastic.

Should you get it?

My initial gripe when it came to smart speakers was the fact that they didn’t include any kind of display. With the Lenovo Smart Display, I feel like I’ve finally gotten just that. If you’re looking for a device that offers the functionality of a smart assistant-powered speaker, the ability to stream video and decent audio, the Smart Display is a great buy. If you want to get the speaker with the most smart devices, go with the Echo Show.

More from Dan:

Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@oath.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley. Follow Yahoo Finance on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn