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Which Smart Display Should Be in Your Home?

Voice assistants have come a long way over the last few years, making their way from your smartphone, to voice-activated smart speakers, to touch-screen smart displays that can connect you to information and friends in a snap. Amazon and Google have arguably the two best voice assistants in the form of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, and they offer some of the best smart displays on the market as well. But which one is right for you?

What Are Your Choices?

The first Echo Show was a little rough around the edges, but the second-generation model fixed nearly all of our complaints and earned our Editors’ Choice award. Those models have been replaced with the third-generation Echo Show 10, which mounts its 10.1-inch touch screen and camera on a motorized speaker base that can pivot and rotate to follow you around the room. Amazon also offers the Echo Show 5, which trades much of the larger Echo Show’s audio power for a sub-$100 price, as well as the Echo Show 8, a smart display that sits comfortably in the Goldilocks zone between the small Echo Show 5 and the pricey Echo Show 10.

Then there’s the Google Nest Hub. We first reviewed it when it was called the Google Home Hub, and it hasn’t actually changed in any way since then aside from the name. Its small size and price puts it between the Echo Show 5 and the Echo Show 8, which is why Google then released the larger, louder Nest Hub Max to compete with Echo Show 10.

Amazon Alexa vs. Google Assistant

Nest Hub

Echo Show devices use Alexa, while Google Nest products use Google Assistant. Both have seen some major upgrades over the years, but they’re also still works in progress.

Google Assistant is much better than Alexa at parsing natural language. Amazon’s voice assistant is picky with syntax, though it has gotten better with steady updates. Google Assistant doesn’t get confused by wording as easily as Alexa, so you can speak more naturally and not have to worry as much about phrasing your commands properly.

Alexa has more robust third-party support, with thousands of skills that can be enabled to perform specific tasks, like ordering a pizza or telling a story. You can also make your own Alexa skills with Alexa Blueprints. Skills can be handy, but the vast majority are more gimmicky than useful, and you still need to dance around Alexa’s syntax to use them.

Both voice assistants can be used to control many smart home devices, including the big names like Philips Hue lights and Nest thermostats. They can even get live video from certain compatible smart security cameras and video doorbells.

What Smart Display Size Screen Do You Need?

Echo Show 8

The Echo Show 10 has the biggest touch screen of the bunch, at 10.1 inches with 1,280-by-800-pixel resolution. The Nest Hub Max has a comparable display that’s just a fraction of an inch smaller (10 inches), with the same resolution. The Echo Show 5 and Nest Hub are both much smaller, respectively featuring 5.5-inch, 960-by-480 and 7-inch, 1,024-by-600 screens. The Echo Show 8 sits between the two extremes, with an 8-inch screen that has the same 1,280-by-800 resolution as the Echo Show and Nest Hub Max, for the sharpest picture.

All of these smart displays can be used to watch streaming video through various sources. The Echo Show has a slightly wider variety of video services than the Nest Hub, including Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and NBC. The Nest Hub, on the other hand, has Netflix, YouTube, and YouTube TV (you can access YouTube on an Echo Show through its web browser, but not with voice commands), and supports Google Cast for streaming countless other compatible apps from your phone. Besides simply streaming videos from those services, both smart displays can show useful information like weather reports and sports scores, step-by-step recipes, and other handy graphical and video content.

Echo Show 10

The Echo Show 10 is unique among these models with its motorized base that can rotate the screen to follow you as you use it. After spending some time testing it, I was surprised at how intuitive and useful the feature is. The other smart displays require you to stand in a specific area if you want to see the screen, while the Echo Show 10 automatically moves to follow you throughout the room.

This really expands where you can comfortably place the Echo Show 10 and use it. It’s not a perfect feature; it doesn’t work in the dark, and the motorized base only rotates left and right, so you have to manually tilt the screen up and down. Still, it’s a strong first step that other smart displays will hopefully embrace in the future.

Which Smart Display Has the Best Sound Quality?

The Echo Show 10 features two one-inch tweeters and a three-inch woofer, the same as in the Amazon Echo speaker. The Nest Hub Max is comparable, though neither comes close to the booming power of the Google Home Max or Amazon Echo Studio speakers.

The Nest Hub and Echo Show 5 sound predictably mediocre, with much smaller, less powerful speakers. The Echo Show 8 again strikes a nice balance, with solid sound quality that doesn’t reach the volume levels of the Echo Show 10, but is far better at filling a room than the Echo Show 5.

As for what you can stream, the Echo Shows support Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Spotify, while the Nest Hubs have YouTube Music, Google Play Music, SiriusXM, Pandora, and iHeartRadio. Both smart display lines have Bluetooth, so you can also stream whatever music you want from your phone or other device. And once again the Nest Hubs have Google Cast, letting you stream both video and music from your phone, tablet, or Chrome tab over Wi-Fi.

The Best Smart Display for Video Calls

Google Nest Hub Max

Both sets of smart displays let you make phone calls and video chat with family members, but how they work varies. The Echo Show relies on Amazon’s service for most video chat, letting you communicate with any friends or family who also have an Echo Show in their home, or through their phones with the Alexa app. It also works with Skype.

The Nest Hub lacks a camera, but you can still accept video calls and use voice chat. The Nest Hub Max is the only first-party Google smart display capable of making full video calls, both sending and receiving video. You can make Google Duo calls to other Google users with either smart display, and join Google Meet conference calls with the Nest Hub Max.

How Much Should You Spend on a Smart Display?

Amazon Echo Show 5

Pricing for smart displays is pretty straightforward, and matches the sizes of the devices. The Echo Show 10 is the most expensive model at $250, slightly pricier than the $230 Nest Hub Max, followed by the Echo Show 8 at $130, then the Echo Show 5 and Nest Hub at $90 each.

The Echo Show 5 and Nest Hub win out as the most compelling smart displays under $100 (depending on your platform of choice), but the Echo Show 8 presents some usefulness and value of its own in its slightly larger size, while the bigger models obviously sound the best.

Which Smart Display Is Right for You?

Ultimately, the right smart display for you comes down to the streaming services you want to use, how much you want to spend, and where you plan to the put it. The larger smart displays are better for bigger rooms where you want louder sound and a screen you can see from afar, like the kitchen, while smaller smart displays are better suited for your desk or nightstand. Luckily, all of the models available from Amazon and Google right now are pretty solid, so you can’t wrong.

If you’re looking for speakers, meanwhile, check out our story comparing the Amazon Echo and Google Nest.

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