The Lenovo Smart Display - More than Meets the Eye

Adam Matlock

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Jul 24, 2015
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"The Smart Display is like having a digital life-assistant concierge service in your home, and I appreciate it more and more each day."

Have you ever wanted to live like the Jetsons? Well Lenovo is finally giving us a glimpse into what a futuristic world can look like, if even at a fraction of what we have to look forward to one day. No, I’m not talking about flying cars or a robot that cleans your house and walks the dog, but I am talking about the Lenovo Smart Display. If you’ve ever dreamed of being able to listen to music while you’re following along with your favorite new recipe on Pinterest, and then make a Duo video phone call at the same time, then this is the product for you. It’s a fantastic little device that I think finally pushes beyond gimmicky, into real world applicability and quality of life enhancement – which is really what we all want. I still haven’t found a way to get it to wash my windows, but maybe next iteration… but for now, let’s talk about the Lenovo Smart Display.

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TL;DR: It’s cool, I love it, and it’s $200-$250. It’s more than just an alarm clock, the voice assistant features are accurate and top-notch. The integration is seamless and it really does offer a lot of convenient day-to-day features, and the icing on the cake is the ability to make video calls and stream your favorite TV shows through the Google Home app on your phone. The price isn’t overly attractive, but it feels worth it, especially if you’re into these sorts of things and want to be on the cutting edge of home connectivity. The Smart Display is like having a digital life-assistant concierge service in your home, and I appreciate it more and more each day.

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Smart Display vs. Smart Tablet – What’s the Difference?: There is a really important reason that Lenovo named this product the Smart Display, versus referring to it as a tablet… because it’s not a tablet. If you think you’re going to be playing games and using apps on this guy, then you’ll probably be in for a world of disappointment. It’s not designed to be a tablet, even though it has a touch screen interface. Think of this as the physical embodiment of Google Home, almost like when Jarvis got a body in The Avengers. This is the big brother to those cute little Google Home devices that you can talk to, but also incorporates a nifty little screen to show all of your cool notifications, interactions, schedule, calendar, YouTube, etc… It’s very novel in its own right, because it’s a logical progression in the future of the “connected home”, but it also gives you a little bit more comfortability and feedback than just talking to a gray hockey puck with a speaker built into it. It feels more natural, it looks cool, it has advanced capabilities like video phone calls through Duo, and a host of other visual integrations through the Google Home app on your phone.

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Overview: The Lenovo Smart display is fully integrated Google Voice Assistant, that does most anything you can think of, or works through the Google Home app on your phone to pick up the slack. You have YouTube, Hulu, Duo, Spotify, and so much more at your fingertips, or by uttering a “hey google”, or “OK google”, and then “play some Linkin Park”, or “set an alarm for 6:30pm.” The Lenovo Smart Display is familiar, yet groundbreaking at the same time. Sure, there are other voice assistants out there. There’s Siri, Bixby, Alexa, and Google Assistant. Of course, you’ve probably interacted with one of these guys/gals while you’ve used your phone over the past few years, or if you’ve picked up an Echo or Google Home device recently. But, the Smart Display takes the voice assistant concept to the next level by integrating it into a touchscreen display (it comes in two different sizes, 8” and 10”), and even connecting to other smart devices in your home such as the Phillips Hue, and the Nest Thermostat (and many more!). I have been hesitant to pick up a voice assistant device in the past because I really didn’t find them practical, or feel like it would really enhance my quality of life at all, but the Lenovo Smart Display Changed my mind.

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Under The Hood: Even though this isn’t your traditional Android device or experience (it’s running Android Things – a simplified version of the OS without the App Store or much of the typical functionality), the Lenovo Smart Display has plenty of power to keep up with you, without a hitch. It’s powered by a Snapdragon 624, which is a more than capable 8-core processor. Complementing the display is a well-paired 2GB of RAM, three speakers (one 10W full range speaker and two tweeters) that sound amazing, two dual microphones for precision speech recognition, and a 5MP camera for video calls. Both models have sharp LCD displays with a different resolution based on screen size (8” = 1280x800, and 10” = 1920x1080). I am using the 8” model, which lacks the full HD display, but I don’t feel like it takes away from the experience. The video quality is more than adequate and compliments the form factor and size very well. Additionally, the speakers are really impressive. I really didn’t think that it would sound all that great, but after firing up the speaker and playing some sweet tunes, it almost sounds like Bose quality to me. The three speaker setup goes a long way in producing depth, and quality, all while being able to duplicate realistic vocals and clear treble as well. The speaker offers a really smooth and enjoyable listening experience.

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Real world Applicability: The integration between the phone and the display is seamless, and the capabilities of this device still surprise me even though I’ve been using it every day for a week now. Mine is conveniently located on my nightstand, where I get the most benefit out of it. When I get home, I say “OK Google, turn on some relaxing music.” In the morning, I say “OK Google, turn off my alarm.”, followed by “Ok Google, tell me what the weather looks like today.” As I’m walking by my bed in the afternoon, sometimes I even ask what time it is. If you really want to have some fun, you can say “OK Google, what does this fox say?” This was a favorite on Siri a while back, but I was able to have some fun the other evening by asking the Smart Display to tell me what at least 30 different animals sounded like, much to my dog’s chagrin. Another favorite of mine is “OK Google, tell me the latest news.”, while I laze around in bed playing on my phone, or, playing Fortnite. However, the Smart Display is as versatile as our lifestyles, in that its purpose is variable and adapts to the environment that we need to use it in. For instance, I may use it in the morning time for the alarm clock and news features, but then I can tote it into the kitchen for lunchtime and set it on the counter so I can listen to music and follow the directions of a new recipe while I make lunch. It’s really quite handy, or un-handy, if you’re using the voice features – which is pretty much a must!

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Smart Device Capabilities: One of the extra cool features on the Smart Display is the ability to connect to your various smart devices in your home, if you have them. Some of the ones that make the top of the list are the Phillips Hue, and the Nest Thermostat, which is nice because it’s really easy to adjust the brightness on your lights, turn down the temperature on the A/C, and adjust other various features on your connected devices.

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Built-In Functionality vs. Phone Apps: The smart display actually has very few apps built into it other than YouTube, Spotify, Connected Device support, and Google Music. Where it makes up for this is through the Google Home app on your phone. The Smart Display works via screen cast, and Google Home connectivity to enable you to watch Hulu, YouTube, and so much more. I was a bit confused and disappointed at first when I fired up the Smart Display and realized that it’s very bare, and seems like just a large screen for the Google Assistant (which it mostly is), but rest assured that you can still lay in bed at night and watch HULU on the Smart Display through the Google Home app on your phone – thank goodness!

Privacy: This is a big elephant in the room for me. I have been hesitant about having a connected device/home assistant because a) they’re always listening, and b) well, I just don’t trust the government or other people who may be interested in hacking into my device and listening to me while I’m at home. Of course, we all have to give up a certain amount of privacy to have all of the latest and greatest tech, especially when our phones are essentially an extension of our lives and contain our deepest, darkest secrets – I’m talking about passwords and the secret to Grandma’s famous key lime pie of course. But in all seriousness, who wants something in their house that’s potentially always listening to you and watching you? Well, relax. It’s really not any more intrusive than the camera and microphones that are already on your cell phone. In addition to that, there is a mute switch which will disable the microphones so they can’t listen when you don’t want them to, and there’s even a switch to close shutter over the camera when you’re not using it. So, put away the strip of tape, it’s safe. Even though I feel like these features aren’t really “needed”, it really goes a long way with me in helping me to feel more safe about having the Smart Display hanging out in my house.

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Is it worth it?: I think this is the million-dollar question when it comes to the Lenovo Smart Display. And to that I say “Sure. I think…” While I can’t go around and say that the Smart Display is an essential piece of tech that you need to have in your house, I can say that it’s really nice to have and I thoroughly enjoy using it. So, if you have $200 to spare and want to get your foot in the door with the 8” model, I say go for it. Honestly, the nostalgia in me loves having it next to my bed for an alarm clock, and the ability to say “play rain sounds” or “turn on white noise” when I go to bed at night. It’s so convenient and I think it’s a great enhancement to your daily routine. The best way to maximize your value and investment in the Smart Display is if you have a Google Music account, and also enjoy steaming services like YouTube, Hulu, and and several other services – which are really nice to watch hands-free while you’re laying down at night. I don’t know how much more enjoyable the 10” model is, but for an extra $50 bucks, it seems justifiable if you want a larger, full-HD screen.

If you’re interested in picking up one of these sweet Lenovo Home Displays, they’re available on Amazon, Best Buy, and other various retailers. The MSRP is $199.99 for the 8” model, and $249.99 for the 10” model. Each model only comes in one color. The 8” model comes in Gray, and the 10” model comes in Bamboo. The front of the device looks the same regardless. The only thing that looks different is the back plate. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please leave them down in the comments section.
 
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