Lenovo Smart Display, First Take: A flexible camera-equipped design
Smart speakers are starting to gain traction, with Apple, Amazon and Google all vying for our attention. Adding a screen is the next logical step, and as well as producing its own Home Hub, Google has announced partnerships with several third parties to make Google Smart Displays — LG, Lenovo, JBL and Sony. Lenovo recently launched its Smart Display in two screen sizes: 8 inches at £179.99 (inc. VAT) and 10 inches at £229.99. As I write, Black Friday prices are £129.99 and £199.99 respectively.
The design incorporates a stand that allows the screen to be oriented into landscape or portrait mode, although it’s worth noting that the user interface doesn’t swivel and portrait mode is only good for video calling — via Google Duo. The speaker that sits fully along one of the screen’s narrow edges will be either to one side or at the bottom of the unit depending on orientation. Either way round, the 1.2kg unit felt stable.
There’s an on/off button for the device’s microphone, so it can be switched off while the screen is left running, and also a volume rocker for the speakers. The screen is touch responsive, so a swipe up from the bottom calls up volume and other controls (including screen brightness), and, of course, you can just ask it to be quiet (or loud).
Setup was simple, and all done through the Google Home app on an Android device. Even with a firmware update coming down to my review unit, the whole process only took about ten minutes. What took longer, actually, was working out where to put the device, as its mains power cable is short. Longer term that may well be an issue as inevitably the ideal location for kit like this might be some distance from a power socket.
My review model had a 10-inch IPS screen whose 1,920 by 1,200 resolution proved well up to the job of delivering video content as well as text. Automatic or manual brightness settings can be used. As already noted, video calling is tied into Google Duo; when the camera isn’t needed there’s a slider button on the side that pushes a privacy cover over the lens.
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The Lenovo Smart Display runs Google Assistant, and so voice commands and capabilities carry across. The screen also adds value. For example, when I asked for the weather tomorrow I got a verbal response and a visual forecast for the day. When I said “Hey Google, tell me about Mars”, I got some visual information along with the spoken response, and some clickables on the touch-screen to follow up on related topics. When I asked for my nearest Italian restaurant several were returned, a couple were shown on-screen, and I could sweep the screen to see them all, tap the screen to pick the nearest one, and get directions to it. Oddly, to get directions for others I had to ask rather than tap, but the potential is there, and so far in my explorations it feels like the touch-screen opens up a wide range of possibilities.
This doesn’t mean the work is all done. The ‘ambient mode’ when nothing is happening offers a choice of Google Photos (i.e. your own photos), curated art, or a full-screen clock, the selections of which are far from broad. There need to be more choices.
The speaker is remarkably good: I found I wanted to use it as the default for playing streamed music while working, and appreciated the ability to fire questions at random while thinking about work. The microphone array picked up my commands from across the room, even when I spoke quite quietly.
If you have a collection of smart home devices, the home view in the Google Home app is on hand to control things like lighting, heating and security cameras.
The Lenovo Smart Display brings additional value to Google Assistant, and the mixture of voice and visual responses works well. There’s room for improvement though: the physical design is arguably a little clunky, with a maximum depth of 13.6cm to accommodate the landscape/portrait stand, while the speaker seems rather large. A second iteration will doubtless refine the design somewhat.
Still, this marriage of screen and Google Assistant delivers some interesting and compelling goods.