Lenovo Smart Display Review: Google Home Assistant Grows A Head And It’s Great

The First Google Smart Display To Put A Head On Google Assistant

Lenovo Smart Display with box
The Lenovo Smart display is the first in an assault of Google Assistant-enabled devices set to hit the market this year. They will take on Amazon's Echo Show in a battle for smart home assistant technology, with not only a set of ears, but also a set of eyes and a display face to complete the experience. Priced at $249.99 for a 10-inch version and $199.99 for an 8-inch variant, with identical hardware specs except for the display, these are a new breed of smart home devices that have the potential to give Google and its OEM partners a leg-up on Amazon. Since they're part of the "Android Things" ecosystem, Android users will have direct access to their data and media on Google's many services that are coupled with Android. That tight coupling across platforms and services is one advantage Echo devices can't currently match, except for Amazon's powerful shopping engine of course.

back Lenovo Smart Display
Lenovo Smart Display - 10-Inch With Bamboo Finish

As Amazon's Bezos will attest to, you have to experiment and be willing to fail to innovate. So here we are with the first Google Assistant device with a head on it, you might say. Then again, with AI and search squarely in Google's wheelhouse, devices like the Lenovo Smart Display with Google Assistant seem like more of a natural evolution. And actually, the first device out of the gate feels right at home, so to speak...   

Lenovo Smart Display With Google Assistant
Specifications & Features
Lenovo Smart Display Specs
Find the Lenovo Smart Display At Lenovo.com

Let's talk about the hardware first. The 10-inch Lenovo Smart Display offers an elegant design that some might find a little quirky in spots, but we think will look great on many a kitchen counter or living room end table. The 8-inch version looks similar but instead comes with a soft-touch gray backing that's a bit more subdued. The controls on the device are rather minimalistic, similar to its physical design, in traditional Google form. The intent here is for you to interact with the device audibly, more so than physically.  

AC adapter Lenovo Smart Display

And there-in lies the first rub, but it's a small one really. There's actually no way to power down the Lenovo Smart Display, unless you physically unplug its small AC adapter from the wall or the back of the unit. And you can't ask Google to just power down. No big deal but an oddity none-the-less. Fortunately, from there, you do have a lot more control over your experience, as well as a few buttons to play with.

IO switches Lenovo Smart Display
smart display camera privacy switch

There are a set of two dual-array microphones on the edge of the unit that do a really nice job of picking up your commands from across the room or even in an adjacent room. During the course of our testing and producing the video above, we often activated Google Assistant unintentionally from a voice track on a video clip. It works that well but responds to "Hey Google" or "OK Google" only. Anything even remotely close to that was thankfully ignored. Also on board for controls is a volume rocker, as well as both a camera privacy shutter and a microphone mute button, the latter of which, when engaged, Google will let you know "the microphone is muted." All of these simple controls work quite well and give you a sense of privacy, should you not want the help of your beloved robot overlord listening in, or watching for that matter, with its infrared-capable camera that you see blinking in our video demo above.

Quality Visuals And Audio Are Key - Fortunately, That's What You Get

portrait mode Lenovo smart display Puffin picture Lenovo Smart Display

Then there's the display. A smart display wouldn't be too smart if its display wasn't that hot. Thankfully, the 10-inch version sports a crispy 1920x1200 IPS display with a 16:10 aspect ratio. The 8-inch version is strapped with a 1280x800 resolution panel, also at 16:10. From what we've seen, the 10-inch display is vibrant, bright and offers solid viewing angle capabilities at 86º as specified. Since this device is intended to be seen from across the room from various angles, it better perform and thankfully Lenovo's panel is excellent in this regard. It's also reasonably responsive to touch gestures as well. Another nice touch is that Lenovo equips the device with rubber skids on the side edge as well for portrait orientation, with the speaker on the bottom and the display on top. Unfortunately, there are very few apps that operate in this mode currently, including the home screen, but you can at least make Google Duo video calls, in portrait mode. More on this later. 
Lenovo Smart Display Speakers 2
Finally, with respect to audio fidelity, one might surmise that with a single 2-inch driver (1.75-inch in the 8-inch model Smart Display), you can't possibly drive big sound, but that would be a sincere under-estimation. The Lenovo Smart Display in fact can get loud and do so without clipping its amplifier much, if at all. In fact, we were thoroughly impressed with its sound output, volume-wise. From an acoustics standpoint, its performance is also relatively impressive. Highs are crisp and accurate, radiated from a pair of passive tweeters, along with great midrange for vocals. Bass was ever so slightly thin for our liking in spots but generally satisfying as well. Generally speaking, we would describe the Lenovo's Smart Display's sound reproduction as "natural." If you're a fan of big boom bass, that's not here but it doesn't fall short in low-end response either. Regardless, color us impressed, Lenovo. This Smart Display can kick out the jams just fine.

Let's move on to the user interface experience and the current state of the Android Things ecosystem, along with interacting with Google Assistant and Google Home, next...

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