I’m a big Amazon Echo user, I basically have an Echo in every major room in the house. I have two Echo Shows one in the Kitchen and one in my office. The Echo product line is pretty good, but it does have some issues. For instance, when Amazon licenses their platform out—like they did for the Sonos One and Sonos Beam—they reduce the number of features so, while you get a better speaker, you don’t get as advanced an Echo experience. One obvious missing feature is the ability to rename the product so that when you say the wake-up word, “Alexa,” only the Echo you want to talk to wakes up as opposed to one in the room you aren’t in.
Google, on the other hand, appears to license out the entire stack so that third party products pretty much work as well as the Google Home. Google has a stronger virtual assistant than Amazon has at the moment and—while it doesn’t have the depth of remote control capability—much of what is on the Echo doesn’t work that well yet, so this isn’t as big a problem as you’d think.
One other advantage Amazon has is the breadth of products. For instance, they have two with built in displays and Google has yet to bring out one. This takes us to the Lenovo Smart Display, it uses the Google Home platform and positions well against the Amazon Echo Show.
Let’s compare both products.
Smart Display vs. Show
In an Echo house the very first thing I noticed was that when I said “OK Google” only the Lenovo speaker responded. The inability to focus commands has been particularly annoying of late because I set an alarm for 3AM the other morning and instead of the Echo Spot next to my bed setting off a quiet alarm the Sonos Beam speaker alarmed and could have woken the dead. My wife was not amused. So being on a different platform actually made the Lenovo Smart Display more useful in the bedroom.
Adding to this the Smart Display has a camera cover. Both the Echo Show and Smart Display have cameras you can turn on mostly for video conferencing. But having a camera in the bedroom or bathroom that can’t be covered easily is asking for an experience most of us would like to avoid like seeing our aging parents or grandparents naked. Or having our kids see us. There are just some things you can’t un-see. I generally believe that products like this that have cameras should naturally come with camera covers. Apparently, Amazon missed that meeting. For the record, you can tell the Echo show to turn off the camera and it has a microphone camera off button, but the camera could be turned back on remotely.
Sound out of both products is surprisingly good for devices this small. The speaker on the Lenovo is offset to the left suggesting you might miss stereo more with it but I really couldn’t tell if I wasn’t right in front of the product. You can add Bluetooth speakers to either device through the control panel on a smartphone or tablet running the requisite application, but most won’t do this. There is no provision in either device for a wired speaker. But if you are really into sound you’d be better off moving to a Sonos speaker which is far better than either product is anyway given it is more of a dedicated speaker.
With the displays, size does matter if you want to watch videos. As you’d expect, it is generally easier to navigate YouTube with the Lenovo Smart Display, but both will play videos nicely. However, the screen on the Smart Display is substantially larger (8-inch vs. 7-inch) making it far more likely you’ll use it for watching video than the Echo Show. You can also flip the Lenovo Smart Display into Portrait mode which is far better for things like Video conferencing (the camera is positioned well for either mode).
Both products are reasonably attractive, and you can have any color you want as long as that color is black or white for the Show and white for the Smart Display (I prefer black myself). Personally, I think both products should come in both colors.
When it comes to home security, right now the Echo show will integrate with the Amazon Cloud Cam for security and monitoring your kids while the Lenovo will integrate with the Nest line of security products. Amazon has more partners, but Android is the more common platform. For those technically inclined, you will likely find the Google experience slightly better here even though the reach isn’t as broad.
I think there is some irony here because part of what makes the Lenovo Smart Display good is that Google doesn’t cripple it. Given Amazon uses these things as kind of a dedicated interface into the Amazon ecosystem I can’t explain why Amazon doesn’t license the entire Echo platform—but they don’t and that weakens they ecosystem intentionally (I’m guessing someone in Amazon really needs to get a clue or work someplace else). As a result, the Lenovo Smart Display is generally better than the Echo show both inside and outside of the Echo ecosystem with one exception. That is that if you want “party mode” where all speakers in the house work at once the Echo Show can participate but no non-Echo product can. This would be a bigger deal if this was a dedicated speaker but, since it isn’t, I doubt it matters to most.
The Amazon Echo Show lists for $229 but you can get it much cheaper on Prime day (typically it is unwise to buy any Amazon branded product on any day but a Prime day). The Lenovo Smart Display lists for $199 making it a better buy on any day but Prime day (though, I expect, Lenovo will discount on Prime day as well).