A Google-powered Lenovo Smart Display tries to rival Amazon’s Echo Show. It needs work


If the Google Assistant is primed to compete against Amazon’s Alexa in a game of show and tell, it has its work cut out for it.

Lenovo becomes the first of Google’s consumer tech partners to bring out a Google Smart Display smart speaker, which has a screen to visually complement whatever you ask the Google Assistant, woken up with a familiar “OK Google” or “Hey Google” voice command.

In so doing, Google (via Lenovo) is pitted against its most obvious direct competitor, the Echo Show from Amazon, which was the first of the Alexa-based smart speakers to add a display.

I was able to use the Lenovo Smart Display to surface my Google Calendar and Google Photos, watch news from CNN and Reuters, set timers, play music on Spotify, make a video call through the Google Duo app, and check out YouTube videos on such topics as making sushi.

As with the Google Home speakers without a screen, you can use Smart Displays to control such things as your Nest thermostats and Philips Hue light bulbs. You can combine the two to set up smart-home “routines” by stringing multiple requests into a single command, allowing you, for example, to lower the temperature and turn on the lights when you get home from work.

You also can train the system to recognize your voice as opposed to other voices in your household to prevent others from, say, seeing your appointments.

At the same time, though, I encountered serious glitches and a lack of navigational polish, which makes it difficult to recommend the Smart Display out of the gate.

Until now, Google has competed in the voice-activated smart-speaker space against Amazon’s various Echos with its own Google Home speakers, which lack a screen.

But rather than brand its own Smart Displays, Google is relying on other partners such as Lenovo, JBL and LG, the latter two of which plan to release devices in the future.

Google first announced the Smart Displays back in January at the CES trade show in Las Vegas, so they’ve taken a while to get here.