LAS VEGAS—The Amazon Echo Show is getting some real competition. Here at CES, Google and partners announced Echo Show-like "smart displays" from four companies—Lenovo, JBL, LG, and Sony. We got a good look at three of them in Google's booth and picked our favorite.
None of the smart displays really work yet. They're all about six months from launch; rather than being final products, they're PR cries from Google so we don't count it out in the home assistant market. But I'm willing to cut Google a break that I'm not willing to cut Apple right now, because its Home Max speaker was announced three months in advance, came out on time, and is really good. (Apple's HomePod, on the other hand, is MIA.)
All of the displays have the same software, in that they're all Android Things-powered touch screens running Google Assistant, with front-facing cameras. So the difference is in the hardware design and audio. JBL's Link View looks to be the most powerful and impressive, at least audio-wise. It's a football-shaped stereo speaker system with an 8-inch screen embedded in the middle. There's decent stereo separation between the two 10W speakers on the sides of the screen and a big bass port in the back. It really looks like someone took their JBL Playlist speaker and stuck a screen onto it.
The JBL's only apparent down side is that it looks a little grim. It's black and kind of bomb-shaped, and would look great in a living room but possibly not in a bright, light-colored kitchen.
That's where you'd want the Lenovo Smart Display. Lenovo's Smart Display comes in two sizes, 8 and 10 inches. Both are bright white devices with a single big speaker to the left of the screen. The back comes in a soft gray rubbery material, or a nice bamboo finish. If the JBL Smart Display looks like it's laying the beats down, the Lenovo Smart Display looks like it's about to cheerfully wake you up or tell you a recipe. But the position of its two 10W speakers is going to give you less stereo separation than on the Link View, and there's no big bass radiator.
That leaves the LG ThinQ WK9 as the odd one out, and it is indeed odd. It's ugly. It's a big blocky black rectangle with a little bit of a Death Star vibe.
It's interesting how it's a very similar concept to the JBL— 8-inch screen, stereo speakers—but it's much less attractive. What the ThinQ WK9 has that the Link View doesn't obviously have, though, is an obvious physical camera shutter switch, although we may just have missed the switch on the Link View.
And what of Sony? Nobody seems to know. Google couldn't tell me what Sony's smart display play was, and Sony's staff didn't seem to know, either. We're still six months away from Smart Displays being a thing, so Sony has plenty of time to catch up. For now, we like the JBL Link View the best of this bunch.