Overall - 80%
Back in November, I reviewed the JBL Link View, at first, I was not sure about it, the high cost and awkward shape were not ideal, but I grew to love it and often chose to use it over my Sonos 1 when in the kitchen.
The Lenovo Smart Display is slightly different, the 8-inch version has a £179 RRP, but you can buy it from John Lewis for just £129. Then there is the 10-inch version which is £199 currently. Unlike the JBL this is less of a speaker more a smart display, as the name suggests.
At the moment this makes the 8-inch model the cheapest smart display available, the Google Home Hub currently costs £139. The Google Home Hub lacks a camera, so is unable to do any form of video calls.
The Amazon Echo Spot would be the closest Alexa competitor, while this is cheaper at £120 it has a tiny 2.5-inch screen. The Echo Show has a 10-inch screen but also includes substantial speakers similar to the JBL, however that will set you back £220.
If you are not familiar with smart displays, then they are basically an AI assistant with a screen attached. This expands their functionality and usefulness considerably. Now when you ask Google something not only do you get the vocal answers but you can bring up relevant information on the display. This can be anything from the weather, maps, recipes or YouTube videos. This display also includes a camera so it can be used for Google Duo video calls if that kind of thing appeals to you.
- CPU: 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 624 (quad-core ARM Cortex A53)
- RAM: 2GB
- Screen: 8-inch FHD+ (1280 x 800) touchscreen (IPS; 86-degree viewing angle)
- Storage: 4GB eMMC
- Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi (2×2 MIMO), Bluetooth LE 4.2
- Camera: 5MP wide-angle camera
The Lenovo Smart Display, in my opinion, is easily the best-designed option on the market. Not only is it more attractive than its competitors it is functional too, allowing you to switch its orientation between landscape and portrait for video calls. Its petite size makes it quite convenient for use in a kitchen as you can squeeze it into a corner and it takes up little room.
If you are familiar with any of the Google Assistant products the set up for this is identical. You need to go into the Google home app and select to set up a new device, then follow the onscreen instructions which includes confirming an onscreen code. It is about as easy as it gets, though you will likely need to wait for an update to be carried out.
Unfortunately, when I received the device, I thought it would work like a phone, with auto orientation. While you can place this vertically, it is only useful for video calls. I feel like this is an omission from Googles part, but with smart displays being quite a new product I wouldn’t be surprised to see auto rotation be rolled out in the future. Having this in portrait mode would have been great for limited kitchen top space and if you primarily use it for things like recipes etc.
Once set up it works exactly as the JBL does, there is no need to log into to services as it uses the Google account you set it up with. With the JBL I found I loved it for music in the kitchen, it meant I could select music while cooking and not have to touch my phone with messy fingers. This works just as well through the much smaller speakers make it less ideal for a dedicated music speaker. It is not terrible, but coming away from either the Sonos 1 and JBL it doesn’t really cut it by my standards.
Similar to JBL, Lenovo has taken your privacy into account and there are dedicated hardware buttons to control the microphone and camera.
While this may not be the best speaker on the market, it still works great in a kitchen, especially for avid cooks. You can bring up recipes and find out other information when you are on the move and with your hands busy with other stuff. Easily the most used feature was the timer, though I often found myself doing weight conversions or looking up cook times.
With the display linked to my account, it displayed my calendar too, while I am not fastidious with maintaining my schedule, I do use it as much as possible due to my flaky memory, and having regular reminders of what I have on for the day is always useful.
If you are fond of video calls, then this smart display is an obvious choice over the Google Home Hub which lacks a front-facing camera. The downside is that you are restricted to using Google Duo, and I believe the uptake of this app has been relatively poor. Video quality isn’t fantastic for the person on the other end of the line, given the 720p camera, but it is functional and perhaps preferable over using your phone.
As with all Google Assistant products, you can link this up with various smart home devices and its usefulness is reliant on third parties integrating this properly. For example, this works well with controlling our Philips Hue lights and switching the power on and off for my TP-Link Kasa smart plugs. However, the Ring Doorbell integration is effectively useless, and there is no direct integration with Google and AppKettle, you instead have to use IFTTT. There is also no current compatibility with Sonos, so I could not issue commands to control my Sonos 1. This, of course, isn’t a fault of Lenovo or this display but an issue with Google Assistant as a whole. Alexa has similar problems with Ring and cross-platform compatibility is a problem that is common with many home automation and smart home products.
If the idea of a smart display appeals to you, then the Lenovo is both the most affordable and attractive on the market, while having more functionality than the Google Home Hub. Based on this it is highly recommended.
In general, it is early days for smart displays and their potential hasn’t been fully realised yet. Third party integration is critical. If I could have the display wake up with a video feed of my Ring doorbell when someone arrives, I would buy this without a second thought.
The current pricing appears to be sensible with a £50 price gap between the JBL Link View with its superior speakers but less attractive design and larger frame.
For me, the 8-inch model is the only one worth buying, the 10-inch model is £200 and I am not sure the larger screen will provide enough benefit to justify the price jump.