The Best Smart Displays for 2021

Smart displays let you control your smart devices from the convenience of one central location, and they can sometimes even include cameras and controls you can use for video chatting, home monitoring, and other purposes. The best smart displays work best with similarly branded smart devices, but many connect with different branded devices like kitchen appliances, cameras, light switches, vacuums, and thermostats. Here are the best smart displays for 2021.

At a glance

The best: Echo Show 10 3nd Generation

John Velasco / Digital Trends

Why we picked the Echo Show 3:

The Echo Show 3 sports a large 10.1-inch display like its predecessor, and it has a new design that allows the screen to rotate. The screen moves around the room with you as you video chat, watch a show, or interact with Alexa. The camera is much better on the latest Show 10, with 13 MP to get a full and clear picture for your video chatting and home monitoring. You can watch your home while your away via the built-in camera and the Alexa app, so the device basically acts as a home security camera.

Like all Echo devices, the Show 3 uses Amazon’s Alexa to control smart devices, ask questions, catch up on the news, and make video calls. Alexa has excellent smart home compatibility with many different devices and easily connects with Amazon Music and Prime Video (although Hulu and a variety of additional music services also are available). The device has a built-in Zigbee smart home hub as well.

Who’s it for: People who want a high-end display with a focus on sound quality and home security. The Show 3 has dual 1-inch tweeters and a 3-inch woofers, and the sound is powerful enough to travel throughout the home. The show works well with other Echo devices, and it can act as an excellent second TV in a den, kitchen, or other room of the house, with connections to both Prime Video and Hulu, among other video options. The Show 3’s 10.1-inch display is ideal for catching details, while the audio saw massive improvement for this generation.

Read our full Echo Show 3 review

The best Google Assistant Smart Display: Google Nest Hub Max

John Velasco/Digital Trends

Why we picked the Google Nest Hub Max: 

Sure, the Nest Hub Max has a larger screen than the original Nest Hub, but it also offers a lot more features and functionality in addition to its brilliant HD screen. It has a 6.5-inch megapixel camera with auto-framing, so you can make video calls, and the camera will even follow you as you move around the room.

Face-match technology allows for a more personalized experience. When the Hub recognizes your face, it can show you content specific to you (video messages, reminders, and upcoming calendar events, etc.). Up to six users can save a face match profile. The Nest Hub Max also allows for quick gesture control, so you can use hand gestures to control certain functions (like pausing or playing a music track).

The Hub Max has a Nest Cam built-in. You can use the Nest Cam to check on your home while you’re away, although some of the more advanced features require a Nest Aware subscription.

Who’s it for: Those who want a feature-rich display that serves as multiple functions. The Google Nest Hub Max is a versatile device that does it all … well almost. It doesn’t have a built-in Zigbee Hub, so if that’s important to you, you might want to consider a different option like the Echo Show 2.

Read our Google Nest Hub Max review

The no-camera display: Google Nest Hub 2

John Velasco / Digital Trends

Why we picked the Nest Hub 2nd Gen:

Google’s Nest Hub smart display is one of the few that lacks a camera for video chatting, so you can only make voice calls using the device. Just like the original Nest Hub, the Nest Hub 2 doesn’t have a camera, but it has a 7-inch touchscreen that lets you better interact with Google Assistant. You can view recipes, watch shows, see song lyrics, see the devices in your smart home, and more.

The 2nd-gen model added in Soli radar for motion sensing, which allows the Hub to perform a feature called “Sleep Sensing.” This means the Hub can gather sleep data and provide tips on how to sleep better. Our review found this feature to be surprisingly accurate, with a dashboard that displays accurate data on how long it takes to fall asleep, respiratory rate info, and how long it takes to get out of bed.

Who’s it for: Those who use Google Assistant and want to view info on their smart display, but don’t mind if their device lacks a camera. This is a great display for looking up recipes in the kitchen or checking your calendar with a voice command, so it’s ideal for a kitchen or as a bedside companion.

Read our full Nest Hub 2nd Gen review

The best for your bedroom: Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen)

John Velasco / Digital Trends

Why we picked the Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen):

The Echo Show 8 is a smaller Echo model designed to be a great fit for the bedroom. You get most of the Echo Show features you want with an 8-inch HD screen, including smart home controls, links to your Amazon Photos connection, a customizable home screen for when you first wake up, and the ability to set up routines for your connected smart devices (along with all of Alexa’s other talents). You can also to baby monitor cams or security cams to see what’s going on in other areas of the house, which is very handy if you have the right devices. The 2021 model even allows you to remotely view the Show 8’s camera feed from the Alexa app, so you can check in on your home without a separate security camera.

The 2nd-Gen Show 8 has a 13MP camera, dual two-inch speakers, and a microphone. These are great for calling friends and family. However, because this device is designed to be privacy friendly, Amazon also made sure you can turn the mic and camera off for privacy if you want to. The Show 10 (2nd gen)’s camera pans, zooms, and frames, allowing you to have a better chatting experience than with the previous model because you always stay in frame.

Who’s it for: People who want a capable smart display for the bedroom or kitchen with an advanced camera that has remote viewing and auto framing — but always want guarantees about their privacy when using such devices.

Read our Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) Review

The best budget smart display: Echo Show 5 (2nd Gen)


Why we picked the Echo Show 5 (2nd Gen):

The Echo Show 5 is pretty small, with only a 5.5-inch screen. The Show 5 does, however, have a lot to offer in a tiny package. You can perform the basic functions you can perform with most smart displays — make video calls, control your smart home devices, watch videos, and ask the assistant questions. But, the Show 5 is a budget display, so it only has a 2-megapixel camera and a single 1.7-inch speaker. It also lacks the built-in Zigbee Hub that you’d get with the Echo Show 3. However, you can check in on your home using the Show 5’s camera via the Alexa app.

The Show 5 thrives in terms of its privacy features. It has a slider you can use to physically block the camera. You can also take advantage of newer Alexa Privacy features, like the ability to erase your recordings for the day.

Who’s it for: The Echo Show 5 device is ideal for those who want a voice-assistant-powered device with a display screen, but don’t want to spend too much cash. It’s the ideal starter smart display.

The best video call smart display: Facebook Portal

John Velasco / Digital Trends

Why we picked the Facebook Portal (2019):

The Facebook Portal is great for video calls — and it works easily through Messenger and WhatsApp too, adding some versatility to a Facebook-dominated display. The first versions of Portal were … well, creepy, but this 10-inch model replaces the older design with a much more friendly portrait-like display that works great for showing off your Facebook or Instagram photos when you aren’t making a video call.

The smart call options, fortunately, are still present, include a camera that can pan and zoom as it follows you around the room. Alexa’s voice command technology allows you to search the internet or start a video call with a simple command. Other smart display features are also here, including the ability to play music or watch online videos, but again everything is highly Facebook focused. That means your investment in Facebook connections really pays off, but having Facebook so involved in your communication could make some people nervous.

Who’s it for: People who use the Facebook family of apps and want an easy way to video call their family and friends would love the Facebook Portal.

Read our full Facebook Portal 2019 review

The best alarm clock replacement: Lenovo Smart Clock

Why we picked the Lenovo Smart Clock:

Lenovo’s latest smart display is specifically designed to operate as an alarm clock. The 4-inch touchscreen comes loaded with many different customizable clock faces — and, with the power of Google Assistant, it can also search the web and play videos. Access to Google Assistant’s capabilities also means you can control other smart devices and set up morning routines for news, coffee, and much more. There’s even a USB port so you can charge your smartphone while you sleep.

While nice, these features are also backed up by a very affordable price, making this a great choice for someone who wants a seriously smart upgrade for their alarm clock but isn’t ready to bring a smart display into other parts of the house quite yet.

Who’s it for: Lenovo Smart Clock is for Google assistant fans who want a touchscreen alarm clock that can do it all.

Frequently asked questions

What is a smart display?

Think of a smart display as a Google Home or Amazon Echo speaker with a screen. This allows the voice assistant (Alexa or Google Home, for instance) to show you information instead of only telling you vocally.

What’s the difference between a smart display and a tablet?

Although tablets and smart displays have some similarities — they both have a display screen, they both play music, and they often both have an assistant (Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana, etc.) — the two devices have different primary functions.

A tablet is a portable computing device that’s primary functions are internet searches, social media, app games, email, etc. A smart display on the other hand typically stays stationary, and its primary functions are to control smart home devices, provide answers to questions, and to serve as a voice assistant.

What can a smart display do?

Your smart display works with a smart assistant (like Alexa or Google Assistant) to read you the news, play music, play movies and TV, show you a feed of your security camera or video doorbell, show you a morning traffic or weather report, help you in the kitchen with conversions and recipes, set reminders and alarms for you, and so much more.

If I have a smart display, do I still need a smart home hub?

Not really. If you have an Echo Show 3, it has a built-in Zigbee Hub so there would usually be no need to purchase an additional smart home hub.

Most modern smart home products operate without the need for a hub, so you can control most smart devices with just your smart display (as long as they’re compatible). However, having a smart home hub can make your smart home more efficient.

If I have a smart display, do I still need a bridge for my smart home products?

Sometimes. Some smart home products require a bridge to connect with your smart display. Typically, the product will clearly state that a bridge is required. This is not very common today, but you can still find security systems, light switches, and other setups that may require a bridge or additional hub device to work.

What is a Zigbee Hub?

In a nutshell, a smart home hub like a Zigbee Hub helps your smart home devices work better in tandem. Most smart devices and smart speakers like the Echo Dot have evolved to the point where you can control all of your devices without a hub, and the companion app (like the Alexa app) serves as a central point where you can manage your devices and even set routines.

Hubs are genuinely one of the most straightforward ways of connecting your smart devices throughout your home. They’re able to communicate with one another better, so you don’t have to keep repeating commands. A hub can also connect with your device or smartphone to adjust your lights and switches while offline in some situations.

What should I look for when buying a smart display?

Your top preferences will strongly influence which smart display is best for you. The Echo Show 5 and Nest Hub are excellent products if privacy and reasonable prices are your biggest priorities. If the top of your preference list is a bigger screen and superior audio quality, and you can swing a higher price, then you should check out the Echo Show 3 or the Google Nest Hub Max instead.

Which voice-assistant is better: Alexa or Google Assistant?

We don’t have a definitive answer here. Alexa and Google Assistant often outperform each other in different categories. Alexa is compatible with a broader range of products than Google Assistant, for example. On the other hand, Google Assistant is superior when it comes to overall intelligence and responding to questions. 

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