Smart+Home

Battle For Your Home: Smart Home Display

 

     Maybe you already have a stand-alone smart assistant device in your home, maybe you’ve chosen to wait or don’t want a smart assistant in your home at all. No matter how you feel about smart assistants they are here to stay. Today I’ll be looking at the battle between Amazons Echo Show and Google Smart Home display.

     If you’ve been looking for a smart assistant with a displays you really only have 2. The first to be released was the Amazon Echo Show, a great little 7in display with 2 Dolby qualified speakers, and its been updated consistently with the latest large update being less than a month old. A new 10-inch model has just released with a larger, nicer display and refined sound, but the new and old Echo Show function exactly the same.

     The second smart assistant to add a display is Google, this comes in a few flavors from multiple companies. The first to release was the Lenovo smart displays which comes in 2 sizes an 8in or 10in display. The next to release was the JBL Link View which has an 8-inch screen and massive sound. The last of the Google Smart Displays to release is from Google itself, The Google Home Hub and it features a beautiful 7in display an ambient light sensor and unique styling.

So which smart display is right for you?

      Well let’s get into it, first, there really isn’t any right or wrong answer. In my home, we have multiple Google Assistant AND Amazon Echo devices. 3 of the 5 stand-alone smart assistants we own have displays, and yes they are better with a display. The TLDR version is just buy whichever smart display catches your attention. 

I’m not going to leave you hanging though, let’s break the smart displays down.

Display:

     Amazons Echo shows come in 2 versions the older 7in model and the new 10inch model. Obviously, the 10 model is going to be easier to watch from across the room, and the display is a nicer, higher quality display versus the older 7in model. The 7in model doesn’t look bad at all, in fact, my mom often will watch complete episodes or movies while cooking on the older 7in model. The 10in model takes everything the 7in does great and just makes it better.

     On the Google side, you have a few choices when it comes to displays. The Lenovo comes in 2 sizes 8in and a 10in, both screens look fantastic and the only reason for both sizes is to reach 2 price points and to have 2 physical sizes. The JBL link view 8in screen looks very slightly worse than the display that Lenovo… Again this isn’t saying that the JBL Link View screen is bad, it’s not even close to bad, it just doesn’t look as good as the Lenovo. In fact, I doubt that you’d be able to tell a difference unless the Lenovo and JBL are side by side. Lastly, the Google Home Hub uses a beautiful 7in display. The trick behind Googles display is really the color profile. The head of Google’s Hardware division told the Verge the display is really a nice off the shelf part, the magic is in the color profile. The goal of the Home Hubs display is that it should look exactly like a printed photo in a Photo frame, and well, it does exactly that. You can read our review of the Google Home Hub here.

Sound:

     The first gen Amazon Echo Show has a pair of Dolby speakers that blast forward, they sound great for the size of the device. Most people will likely find that they are completely satisfied with the sound from the first gen Echo shows.

Screenshot 2018-10-31 at 9.21.27 AM.png

(Photo: Amazon.com)

     The second generation Echo Show has a revised speaker setup with a passive bass radiator that sounds even better but they face the rear which allows the new display to look much cleaner vs the first generation.

Screenshot 2018-10-31 at 9.26.38 AM.png

(Photo: Amazon.com)

     On the Google side, the JBL link View is the king when it comes to sound. JBL obviously focused on making the best sounding smart display and they succeeded. If you want a banging speaker and the idea of a smart display sounds cool, well stop here and order the JBL. Pictured below you can see the speakers on each side for good stereo sound separation and on the rear is a passive bass radiator, similar to the 10in Echo Show.

 

(Photo: JBL.com)

     The Lenovo smart displays use a single 10-watt speaker with a passive bass radiator. Again it the sound should be decent enough to fill a small room and works well for the designed purpose.

Screenshot 2018-10-31 at 9.36.51 AM
(Photo: Lenovo.com)

 

 

     Lastly is Googles own Home Hub. It’s physically the smallest smart display, this allows it to blend it seamlessly in most rooms, but its size does affect the sound. I don’t want to scare anyone off from the Home Hub, this is one of my favorite smart display. The sound is louder than the Google home mini, but its less than the Google Home smart speaker. The sound quality is fantastic even at max volume and it can easily fill a small room with sound, just don’t expect much bass. Again if you used it as intended, you’ll be more than happy with the sound output.

Audio Sidenote:  All of these speakers can be connected via Bluetooth to other speakers if you choose.

 

Smart Assistant/ Home Control:

     This is really the most important feature of a SMART display.  The assistant and home control is really the only reason to own a smart display. So let’s dive in.

Amazon Alexa

     Amazon uses Alexa as their smart assistant, and she’s been around for a while now and it shows. When it comes to smart home devices Alexa will be able to control nearly ALL of them. Alexa is being integrated by 3rd party companies, in Washing machines, dryers, Bluetooth speakers, T.V., lamps, and the list goes on. As for the smarts, well Alex has come a long, long way in a short amount of time. At release, I couldn’t ask for business hours of a local store, or how long the commute was. Now Alexa has no problem answering these questions and more. Alexa isn’t as good or as detailed with answers compared to Google yet, but Alex will likely provide enough information that most people won’t feel like they are missing out. Another good thing about Amazon and Alexa is the popularity of the Echo line of smart devices and the integration of Alexa into so many products is pushing innovation at a blistering pace.

     I do want to get a little deeper into the home control space, Amazon just updated the Echo shows ahead of the Google Home Hub release to give you all of your smart home controls in one space. This is a fantastic idea, however, Amazon approach is lacking. It’s about 85% of where I think it should be. The Echo Show now has a drop-down panel when you swipe from the top of the screen. When you select “Lights & More” it brings up basic on/ off toggles for lights and switches, No thermostat control. If you touch a lights name nothing happens you only have options for on/off…

IMG_20181010_181752

(Photo: TLR Technology.com)

This is where it becomes weird if I ask for a light specifically, This is the interface that you’ll see.

img_20181031_101002.jpg

     When I ask for a specific light such as the kitchen I get a slider to adjust the brightness and a light bulb icon that I can touch to turn the light on or off. I’m not sure why Amazon doesn’t allow you to touch the name from the list and bring you this screen. I’m sure they will likely correct this with a future update, but it would be much more usefully compared to the simple on/ off toggle they provide from the Lights and More menu.

     Another oversight by Amazon is the complete lack of color control from the touch interface, again I can tell Alexa to change my kitchen light to blue, teal, magenta, etc and it will. However, as you can see above I’m only given to option to Dim or turn the light off, again I’m sure it will be added with an update but as of today October 31st its not available.

     I mentioned this above but as of now, Amazon doesn’t give you the ability to see the smart thermostat on the display either. Alexa can control my Nest Smart Thermostat with no problem when I ask, but I can’t have it display. I know I sound like a broken record at this point but again an update will likely correct this but for now, it won’t be displayed.

     When the Echo Show smart display isn’t being used directly it can show random pictures chosen by Amazon, it will show various articles with the correct background pictures,  suggest things to try, news to hear or video’s to watch.

     The Echo Show can also perform a variety of entertainment task. Alexa can read books from your Kindle library or audible. It can play music from most of the popular sources, Spotify, tune in, I heart radio, etc. On the video side, you can watch movies and series from Amazon Prime Video, Youtube, and Bing searches. ** No Netflix yet, no smart display has Netflix at this time**

     Shopping, of course, is available on the Echo Show, just ask Alexa for her deals and you’ll be taken to a page of 10 items that Amazon give Echo owners better pricing on. You also have the ability to ask for a specific item and the Echo Show will pull various items of that type including the picture, price, and rating. You can scroll thru the choice by voice or touch and make the purchases by voice or touch using a pin number that you’ve set up.

     Overall, I started with Amazon Alexa devices, I’ve bought more than most people ever will. I’ve given them as gifts to family members to get them started with smart assistants and Alexa has come a very long way. Alexa had and still has many features that Google simply hasn’t added yet. Alexa can send messages and Google still can’t for some reason, and Alexa can sync with many Google products such as calendar directly or others using IFTT. Simply put Alexa in Amazon smart displays is pretty fantastic, but not perfect. If you buy an Echo show or regular Amazon Echo device you’ll be glad that you did.

Google Assistant:

     The Google Smart Displays might be the newest kid on the smart display block, but the Google Assistant has been around a long time when compared to Amazon Alexa. Google is a search engine giant with tons of information to pull from. It’s no shock when you need a very specific question answered the Google Assistant will probably have the exact answer you’re looking for. Google is also better when it comes to directions, Google smart home displays can send directions to your phone using Googles Maps when you ask. In the smart home space though Google is a relative newcomer and is racing to catch up with Amazons Alexa. I don’t think its a shock that Google has caught up and passed Amazon in certain areas really quickly, which leads us into our deeper look at home controls.

     Google Smart Displays have been out for a few months now and until the last month, I’d say the home controls were practically even between Amazon and Google. Amazon Alexa could control more devices, but all the mainstream device could be controlled by both Assistants. I’ll say though when it comes to home controls Google Assistant is faster and has fewer issues. 

     Sometimes I’ll ask Alexa to turn off a light, a second later Alexa will say the light is offline or “I’m having trouble connecting right now” 3- 4 seconds later the light will go off. Sometimes I’ll have to say it 2 or 3 times before the light goes off, and on average, it probably takes a 2-3 seconds before Alexa says “Ok” and the light goes off. This isn’t every time but it happens often enough that it’s worth mentioning. The smart thermostat is nearly instantly though.

     The Google Assistant turns the light of nearly instantly. It’s like Google is hardwired to the bulb, switch or thermostat. It’s crazy how fast Google smart home controls work, and the very, very few times that the Google smart home says it can’t connect to a bulb etc is due to the connection with the bulb and wifi. I’m happier with using Google for home control because it’s going to work 99% of the time where I feel Alexa works 90% of the time.

     Onto the smart display home controls. Google is simply better now with the release of the Home Hub and googles compact smart home user interface. I stated above how limited the touch interface was with the Echo show, that is none issue with Googles Smart Displays.

home hub 2

home 2

(Photo: Store.Google.com)

     As you can see in the pictures above Google has it right. The first thing to now in the first picture at the bottom is a simple on/off switch, this is based on the room the smart display is in. This gives you instant control over the room that you’re in. Secondly, Google gives you many more choices of devices to control by touch vs the Echo show including the option to broadcast a message across all your Google Assistant powered smart speakers.

     Next, check out how Google gives you a visual of the smart thermostat, including the ability to change the modes and temperature by touch. Very well done Google!

     The next big thing for me is the ability to touch a room, turn the lights on or off, change the brightness and select a color if the light bulb allows it. This is really something that Amazon needs to add to the Echo series of smart displays, and if I were a betting man I’d say that Amazon is working on adding this feature now.

img_20181031_083405.jpg

     When Google Smart Displays are idle you have a few choices of things that it will display. The first option is you can create what Google calls a Live Albums which allows you to choose people, and or photo albums from google photos to display. Googles A.I will then go through your selection and find photos that look the best and aren’t duplicated and display them. This is a huge selling point for Googles own smart display the Google Home Hub which I preordered and I’m glad that I did. It’s a fantastic display that photos can really show the quality of, do yourself a favor and go to a store and check one out in person… Better yet just order one you won’t be upset that you did and until December 31st you get 6 months of YouTube premium free.

 

 

 

 

     The next option when the display is in standby is to have Google choose photos and works of art from around the world and display them randomly. This is a fantastic and beautiful option if you own a Chrome Cast device and it goes into standby mode then you know what to expect.

     The last option that Google gives you is choice of various clock faces. This the most boring choice to me but its completely functional and maybe professional enough to have in spaces where the other 2 choices are less appropriate.

     What I miss on the Google Smart Displays are the rotating news articles and video that interweaves on the Echo Show. I often find myself sitting at my desk glancing at the time on my Echo show when an interesting story or video pops up. I’d at least like to see it added as an option by Google in a future update.

     Just as the Echo the Google Assistant can stream music from most sources including youtube music, Google music, Spotify, etc. The  Assistant can also play an audio version of books purchased through Googles Books. When it comes to video you can play Youtube, Youtube Premium content, and movies purchased through Google Play Movies.

     Next up is the shopping experience with Google Assistant, as you might expect its rather lacking and more complicated than shopping with Amazons Echo series of smart devices. Google uses Google Express which a service that scours the internet and will order your product from one of Google trusted partners. The partner could be Walmart, Target, Cosco, or a number of other vendors. I tested this by asking for an Arduino UNO board, a fairly common board for makers. Amazon showed me the listing including pictures, prices, and which are shipped with free 2-day shipping using  Amazon Prime. Google told me it could get me one from Fry’s electronics, I’d have to pay to ship, and I have no idea how long it would take to get here. The shopping experience just isn’t as unified as Amazon, no big shocker there. **For the record Google and Amazon will track packages that are shipped to you. Google reads your email and looks for tracking info, Amazon if ordered from Amazon will your their tracking info.**

     I’ll say it again if you get a Google Smart Home Home Display you won’t be upset, in my opinion, has better all in one touch home controls, it’s faster at controlling some smart home devices, it is better at answering more in-depth questions. The downside is that Google Assistant isn’t embedded into as many devices and appliances as Amazon’s Alexa and the Shopping experiences isn’t even in the same universe.

Sidenote: I need to mention that for some reason Google still doesn’t allow you to send messages… I’m not sure why Google hasn’t figured this out yet. Alexa will send messages a voice recording, Googles doesn’t even do that yet.

Summary:

     Overall you can go wrong with either smart display so the battle for your counter will rage on. There is no clear winner if somehow you managed to get the best features of both it would be a nearly perfect device. I’m going to add some fuel to the fire and tell you if you can own both. The more units they sell the faster the innovations will come, both Assistant and displays have pro and cons. I prefer to have my cake and eat it too, so, for now, my home will continue to be a house divided with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

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