Amazon Echo Show 5 vs. the Google Nest Hub

Smart displays have become the latest battleground for virtual assistant products, bringing the voice-activated smarts of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant to countertop-sized touchscreens equipped with a microphone, speakers and, in many cases, a video camera for chatting with friends and relatives. The category launched with 10-inch models that usually sold for $200 or more. A second wave of products brought smaller screens, lower prices and more popularity. 

Here’s a look at some of the best sub-$150 smart displays you can choose from. 

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Amazon introduced the smart display category in clunky fashion with the original, sharp-angled Echo Show. A refined update to that 10-inch screen improved matters, but it might be the 5-inch Echo Show 5 that helps Alexa-based smart displays really take off. 

Among sub-$150 smart displays, the Echo Show 5 sits in the middle of the category in terms of screen size, without sacrificing its capability. 

It’s larger than the 4-inch Lenovo Smart Clock, but unlike Lenovo’s bedside display, the Echo Show 5 can show pictures from an Amazon or Facebook photo library, it can serve up a control screen for any Alexa-connected smart home devices and, unique to the lower-end displays, it also has a video camera. Amazon hopes a physical shutter you can slide over the lens will mitigate any camera-related privacy concerns. A feature that lets you slap the top of the Echo Show 5 to snooze any alarms is also a nice touch. 

The Echo Show 5 looks diminutive next to the 7-inch Google Nest Hub (formerly the Google Home Hub). It’s easier to read the Nest Hub’s screen from across your kitchen. On the other hand, the Echo Show 5 takes up a few square inches’ less counter space. That might not matter in a suburban household, but every inch matters in the tiny kitchen of a city apartment. 

The biggest difference beyond screen size is the fact that the Echo Show 5 has a video camera built into it. The idea is that you will use the camera to conduct video chats with family members and friends who also own an Echo Show device. That sounds harmless enough, but Amazon has come under scrutiny for its privacy policies and its intentions for camera-based facial recognition technology. If the camera makes you feel uncomfortable, a physical shutter built into the Echo Show 5 can obscure the camera lens. That might not be enough to make everyone happy with the idea of the Echo Show 5 as a bedside alarm clock, though, which Amazon clearly has in mind.

Angela Lang/CNET

When it debuted as the Google Home Hub in October 2018, this 7-inch device invigorated the nascent smart display category for two major reasons. First, its $150 price tag came in $80 under Amazon’s $230 Echo Show. Secondly, Google read the room early in terms of consumers’ suspicion about smart home gadgets and left off the video camera that seemed so key to the smart display concept, at least as defined by Amazon. (Although it had previously allowed third-party, camera-equipped smart displays using Google Assistant to come to market.) 

With no camera, Google’s smart display can’t rely on the emotional lure of easy video chatting with friends and family to succeed. Yes, it supports a photo feed and it’s hard to resist that steady drip of kid pictures, but this is more than just a digital photo frame. Now called the Google Nest Hub after a rebrand this spring, this 7-inch display isn’t shy about putting forward its interface and the superiority of Google Assistant to win you over. 

The differences between those core features of the Google and Amazon displays are subtle, but the more you use them the more you notice them. Among other things, the way the Nest Hub can walk you through a recipe and remember the steps you’re on, even when you shift to another task halfway through, is particularly useful. A very well organized control screen for any smart home devices also makes the Nest Hub an accessible, but unobtrusive smart home control center. Amazon’s equivalent page doesn’t have the same depth of options, like organizing your devices by room. 

Google also introduced a welcome quality of life feature to Google Assistant this spring. When an alarm goes off, you can simply say “Stop,” instead of “Hey Google, stop.” It’s a user-friendly nod to expediency and getting out of its own way that anyone can appreciate.

Compared with the Echo Show 5, the Google Nest Hub is too large for most people to accept it as an alarm clock. If you really want a stationary little screen to facilitate video chatting, the Echo Show 5 is also the obvious alternative among the sub $100 screens. Google isn’t ceding video chats entirely to Amazon. The $230 Nest Hub Max comes out in just a few weeks. 

I’ve found my phone more convenient than digital displays for talking with relatives face-to-digital-face, so I don’t take too many points away for the fact that the Nest Hub lacks a camera. The most important feature for these smart displays, which promise a light-touch way to organize your day, is how much information they can put forward and how easily. Thanks to its overall polish, and the robustness of Google Assistant, the Google Nest Hub is the better device.

Chris Monroe/CNET

While it’s not as fully featured as either the Amazon or the Nest displays, Lenovo’s $50 Smart Clock is still worth a mention. It doesn’t have a video camera and the display won’t even show photos. Instead, the Smart Clock is designed to sit on your nightstand and give you just the right amount of information to start your day, either through the screen or via Google Assistant. 

The screen can show you the time, the weather and your personal calendar. You can even give it a whack to put it into snooze mode once the alarm goes off, and it also has a sunrise mode that gradually dials up the brightness on the display. 

It can show you live video from a Nest Cam if you have one and you can assign smart home scenes to a few programmable buttons, but there’s no smart home control screen like there is with the Google Nest Hub. The Lenovo Smart Clock tries to find the right balance between contemporary features and pared-down bedside tech. It mostly hits the mark, but your phone makes a lot of its features redundant. It’s a good fit if you rely on Google Assistant, but you also want to minimize the presence of screens in your bedroom. 

In terms of the next steps for smart displays, most imminent is the $230 Google Nest Hub Max, a higher-end model due out Sept. 9 with a 10-inch screen, a 4K video camera that works as a Nest Cam and can track whoever’s on screen (sounds creepy, but it was cool when we saw a similar feature on the Facebook Portal display) and speakers tuned for better audio output. 

The rumor mill hasn’t produced much concrete information about what’s next for lower end smart displays. We saw a prototype of a 3-inch E Ink display at CES 2019 built around Google Assistant Connect, a product development program Google is working on that it hopes will add lots of new, simple satellite products to the Google Assistant family. The E Ink display we saw was more of a tricked out Post-It note than anything else, since it lacked a microphone and speakers, and required another Google Assistant device nearby to feed it the time, weather, and other information for easy viewing. Perhaps we’ll see its next iteration, or something similar from Amazon by way of its own Alexa Gadgets Toolkit, at CES 2020. 

Amazon Echo Show 5

Echo Show 5

Google Nest Hub

Google Home Hub

Lenovo Smart Clock

Lenovo Smart Clock

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