The best smart displays offer a wondrous fusion of smart home and screen technologies. Unlike more pedestrian smart speakers – which usually require voice commands to interact with – a smart display gives you a visual way to access its reams of information, apps, and services, usually with a fair amount of the audio and voice assistant advantages of a smart speaker baked into it too.
Their screens allow for all sorts of capabilities, such as looking up the weather, looking up your calendar, watching song lyrics play onscreen alongside music streaming services, or simply using them as a digital photo frame for family snapshots.
We’ve come a long way in the past few years, too, with smart displays from such industry heavyweights as Google and Amazon, as well as Lenovo and Facebook (but more on that later).
It can make sense to go for devices that support the same operating system or voice assistant – such as Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri – so if you're already set up with a number of Amazon Echo or Google Home speakers, you may want to specifically check out their smart display equivalents in this list.
In this guide, we’ve run through the very best smart displays available to buy in 2021, to make sure that, if you're after some screen-enhanced smart features in your home, you’re making the best decision for your needs.
- Amazon Echo vs Google Home: which is the smart speaker for you?
The Google Nest Hub Max is a curious creation: the continuation of the Google Home smart display range, but one subsumed within the Nest smart home device family instead.
Unlike the Google Home Hub, the Nest Hub Max comes with a front-facing 6.5MP camera, and a truly sleek design – mounting the display on a slanted speaker stand that lifts it that little bit closer to eye-level.
The audio is much better than you'd get with the average tablet or iPad, and the 10-inch screen offers a notable upgrade to the Google Home Hub's 7-inch display. The 1280 x 800 resolution may not sound like much, in a world of 4K TVs and 1920 x 1080 PCs, but it's plenty of pixels for the relative size of the Nest Hub Max's screen.
You can even use the display as a makeshift security camera, allowing it to record clips of movement in the room around it and adding even more value for money.
It's a clear sign of Google's ambitions for its smart displays, as devices that act as a portal for all the smart gadgets in your home, rather than simply smart speakers with a screen stuck onto them. It even got Netflix support last year, meaning you can binge your favorite shows on the display.
The Nest Hub Max isn't perfect, and smart features could be better integrated, with the display occasionally struggling to source its own clips or access its own camera during our testing. But these are teething issues, and the design and audio capability of the Nest Hub Max make it the deserving recipient of the number one slot on this list.
Read more: Google Nest Hub Max review
The highlight of the latest Echo Show 10 is its rotating screen that can follow you around the room so it’s always within your gaze, whether you’re following a recipe, making a video call, or watching Prime Video .
Gone is the angular shape of previous versions, in favor of a rounded aesthetic, that looks more like an Amazon Studio with a screen attached to the front. There’s a 13MP camera too, that uses the rotating screen to pan and zoom during video calls, so you’re always in the center of the frame.
The touchscreen is 1280 x 800 px, roughly the same as the Nest Hub Max above – and it looks fine from the distance you're likely to be using it, although the screen isn't the main way you interact with the Echo Show: it's optimized for voice activation via Amazon Alexa, and it's great for using while you potter about the kitchen.
The support for third-party streaming apps is still limited, even though you can now watch Netflix on the smart display. It’s also the most expensive smart display on the market, but if you're keen on watching cooking tutorials or making video calls to other Amazon smart displays, it deserves a spot in your home.
Read more: Amazon Echo Show review
The Lenovo Smart Clock is a great addition to the bedroom, as a bedside smart display that aims for small and effective functionality over the larger screens of the Echo Show (2nd Gen) or Google Nest Hub Max.
It has a compact four-inch screen, with various clock face designs to choose from, and a sufficient 480 x 480 resolution – as well as a USB port for easily charging your phone at night. Your own phone charger is probably a bit faster, but it's an appreciated addition nonetheless.
Like Google's smart displays, Lenovo makes use of the Google Assistant here, meaning you can issue voice commands and ask the voice assistant for the news, traffic and weather information, certain apps and services, as well as whatever trivia you wish to know. You can even shout 'stop' to end the alarm in the morning, preventing you having to fumble with the touchscreen before your eyes are open.
It bears a close resemblance to the Echo Show 5, though the latter's UI is a bit more frustrating to use, and doesn't get quite as cheap as Lenovo's model.
Unlike the Nest Hub Max, there's no built-in camera, but you may feel more secure without one in your bedroom anyhow.
Read more: Lenovo Smart Clock review
The Amazon Echo Show 5 isn't the best smart display out there – with low resolution, lack of YouTube support, and a pretty unintuitive UI that makes it harder than necessary to navigate.
However, it was an early adopter of the physical camera shutter, letting you ensure once and for all that you aren't be recorded or watched by accident – something that's increasingly on consumers' minds as various data and privacy scandals rock the tech industry, from social media to hardware gadgets for the home.
There's also a mute button, as with most Alexa devices, to ensure you aren't being listened to when you don't want to be. That said, nothing's quite as private as not having a camera or smart display at all – though those wanting to use a device's features with some safeguards may well be leaning towards the Echo Show 5 or something like it.
Keep in mind that the Lenovo Smart Clock doesn't have a camera, and the Facebook Portal range of smart displays also now features camera shutters privacy-minded users.
Read more: Amazon Echo Show 5 review
Smart displays vs speakers
Finding it hard to choose a smart device for your home? There's now a huge number of gadgets making use of smart and voice functionality, and it can hard figuring out what you actually need or will be useful to you.
Smart speakers hit the market first, with the Amazon Echo rolling out to invited Amazon Prime members in 2014, and slowly building up momentum. By the time the Google Home launched in 2017, there was plenty of appetite for the devices.
If you're largely going to be using a device for music and audio functionality – including chatting to / ordering around a voice assistant – you'll likely be fine with a smart speaker. It's only if the screen functionality is going to be useful that you need to bother with the smart display option.
The display is useful in a number of ways: for cooking tutorials and how-to videos, accessing security camera feeds, watching video lyrics onscreen (as with the Echo Show and Amazon Music) or for easily spotting the time on a clock face. Controlling and connecting to other smart home devices through a centralized portal is also far easier with a screen, and you get far more connectivity features in these kinds of devices.
But if you think you don't want the screen attached, you can check out out best smart speakers guide instead.