Lenovo Smart Display review: Is bigger better?

Posted: 11 March 2019 10:00 am News

The Lenovo Smart Display provides a larger display and more impressive speaker than the Google Home Hub, but this is still a niche product.

The good

  • Nice visual design.
  • Speakers have plenty of grunt.
  • Large display works well for YouTube.
  • Integration with smart home devices.
  • Integrated camera for Duo calling.

The bad

  • Expensive.
  • Camera feels a little intrusive.
  • Lack of wider video support.

Smart displays are a relatively new category, with Google only announcing its intent at last year's Google I/O conference. That's where we got the first look at the Lenovo Smart Display, but it took until late last year for Lenovo to actually make them available here in Australia. In the meantime we've seen Google itself launch into the space with the Google Home Hub, and Amazon offer up its own take with the Amazon Echo Show.

Lenovo is by no stretch a "small" company, but how does its own take on a smart display fare against the respective platform holders?

Lenovo Smart Display: Design

  • Unique design for a screen-based product.
  • Large display screen.
  • Prominent speaker.

The Lenovo Smart Display stands out no matter where you put it, thanks to the inclusion of a pretty hefty 10.1 inch display. Where devices like the smaller Google Home Hub hide the speakers to maximise screen impact, Lenovo has instead opted to place the primary speaker array to the left hand side of the display.

From the front, the Lenovo Smart Display actually just looks like a rather cheap small portable TV. However, when you move around it, you get to view the bamboo-backed stand at the rear, which flows out in a pleasant triangular pattern. The reality is that you shouldn't spend that much time staring at the back of the Lenovo Smart Display. However if you're going to place it in an open area, it means it doesn't have that rather harsh look that a lot of technology products do.

The triangular rear base can also be used to place the Lenovo Smart Display into portrait mode, but there's a significant catch here. Portrait mode is only supported for video calling, so if you leave it vertically oriented, all your calendar appointments, weather forecasts and photos will be presented at right angles to their orientation. It's an annoying omission that there's no direct screen rotation feature, given it's an explicit design idea behind the Lenovo Smart Display.

The Lenovo Smart Display has a 10.1 inch 1,920 x 1,200 pixel display that's quite bright and clear, whether you're using it for simple Google queries or watching YouTube video content on it.

The size makes it easier to discern across a wide room than the Google Home Hub, as you'd expect. Physical controls are minimalistic, with top-mounted volume buttons and a switch for disabling the onboard microphone. On the right hand side there's a sliding switch to enable or disable the onboard camera. Otherwise, you're in the territory of using the touchpanel display, or ideally your voice for control.

Lenovo Smart Display: Speaker and video quality

  • Speakers fill a room.
  • Microphone pick-up works well.
  • Display makes a great photo frame.
  • Video is easy to watch, but content options are limited.

The front-facing speaker on the Lenovo Smart Display certainly has plenty of output volume. At full whack it'll easily fill a room, although it's not up to the kind of audio quality you'd get out of, say, the Google Home Max or Apple HomePod. At that full volume level there's a quantity of distortion, but then the real attraction here has to be the display. If all you want is a smart speaker, buy one of those.

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The Lenovo Smart display screen is the same essential size as that on Amazon's competing Echo Show 2nd Gen, but it's got a slightly wider array of video choices, thanks to the integration of YouTube video. If it's on YouTube, you can watch it on the Lenovo Smart Display... or at least try to.
The Lenovo Smart Display uses voice commands, as you'd expect, but when it comes to YouTube video, this means you've got to be extremely precise in your wording, and even then possibly pick from a list of options that it comes up with. If the Lenovo Smart Display doesn't get your wording precise, the results can be rather, shall we say... interesting? There's no capability for an onscreen keyboard, so I ultimately found it easier to search for content on my phone and cast it direct to the Lenovo Smart Display screen.

There's a secondary catch here, and it's the same essential issue I had with the Amazon Echo Show. The display on the Lenovo Smart Display is absolutely the point of the device, but there's no support for other video streaming services. You can queue up YouTube video to your heart's content, but a screen like this is begging for content. Where's Netflix? Where's ABC iView or SBS on Demand? The answer is, sadly, "not supported", or at least not supported at this time.

Where the Lenovo Smart Display does expand its functionality relative to the Google Home Hub is in the inclusion of an onboard camera. This enables video calling via Google Duo only. Again, it would be nice if it supported other calling formats, but if you do live in a Duo world it's a good inclusion with fair pick-up of calls and faces. That larger display screen makes it much easier to manage family video calls, for example, than trying to cram around a single Android phone screen.

Lenovo Smart Display: Smart home quality

  • Wide variety of smart home devices supported.

The Lenovo Smart Display doesn't, strictly speaking, run on precisely the same platform as the Google Home Hub. It's running on Google's Android Things platform where the Home Hub is more of a bespoke platform according to Google. However, at a smart home control level, you're never going to notice the difference, because set-up is still via the Google Home app on a compatible device.

What that means at a practical level is that if it's supported by Google Home, then it will work with the Lenovo Smart Display. The display itself supports quick access to linked devices by swiping down from the top of the screen if you favour touch input, as well as any commands the devices are already linked into. If you're a user of one of Google's Nest Cameras, you can stream video to the Lenovo Smart Display, although other video cameras or video doorbell support is patchy at best.

Lenovo Smart Display: Verdict

  • A good buy if you want a larger smart display device.
  • It still feels like a niche in search of a reason.

The Lenovo Smart Display offers a slightly different suite of features compared to the Google Home Hub, but outside the video calling Duo feature, there's not much more here that can't be covered by the idea that it's the Home Hub, but bigger.

That's great if you're already keen on a smart display and figure the Home Hub's too small for your needs, but it still can't help but feel like a device in search of a purpose. If you want a smart speaker, there's plenty of those available at price points lower than the Lenovo Smart Display. There's definitely scope for a visual display to make smart home accessories even more useful, but it feels like we're still waiting for that functionality to truly emerge.

Where that leaves the Lenovo Smart Display is in the same space as the Home Hub. If you've already got smart speakers and a level of home automation in place, it's a good companion device to build them up, but we're still waiting for that ideal use case for a smart speaker with an inbuilt display.

Lenovo Smart Display: Pricing and availability

The Lenovo Smart Display sells in Australia through Lenovo Online, JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman and Officeworks. The 10 inch model as tested retails at $399, while the smaller 8 inch model will set you back $299.

Lenovo Smart Display

Lenovo Smart Display from Lenovo

With a 10.1 inch display, side mounted speaker and integrated Google Assistant, the Lenovo Smart Display makes controlling your home and managing your life easy.

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Lenovo Smart Display: Alternatives

There's not a whole lot of available choice for smart displays in Australia at the time of writing. If you're happy with a smaller device, or don't want or need the camera, then the Google Home Hub is worth consideration.

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If your smart home platform of choice is Amazon Alexa rather than Google Assistant, you have a pair of options. You can opt for the similarly small Amazon Echo Spot or the considerably larger Amazon Echo Show 2nd Gen.

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Specifications

Product Name
Lenovo Smart Display
Assistant
Google Assistant
Wireless network
802.11b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz/5Ghz)
Weight (grams)
1200g
Height
173.87mm
Width
311.37mm
Depth
67.3mm
Speaker information
2" 10W Full Range Speaker​ 2 x Passive Tweeters
Bluetooth
Yes
Audio out
No
Water rating
NA

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