Google's smart displays bring the power of search home

Technology Editor
Yahoo Finance
Lenovo’s Smart Display is the first of four new Google Assistant powered smart screens.
Lenovo’s Smart Display is the first of four new Google Assistant powered smart screens.

Google (GOOG, GOOGL) is bringing its AI-powered Assistant from the smartphone to the small screen with its new line of smart displays, and the first such device to make its debut here at CES 2018 is the aptly named Lenovo Smart Display.

If it sounds like this device is aimed squarely at taking on Amazon’s (AMZN) Echo Show, then, well, you’re absolutely right. I spent some time with the Smart Display, which will be available for $199 in an 8-inch model or $229 in a 10-inch model late this summer, and it’s both better looking than Amazon’s offering, and has one key element the e-commerce giant’s gadget is missing: YouTube.

A screen with smarts

The Smart Display — man, I wish it had a better name — is essentially a screen and speaker that take advantage of the power of Google Assistant. Like Amazon’s Echo Show, you can ask the Smart Display to pull up your schedule, check the weather and play music. But the Smart Display also plugs into all of the pieces of Google you have scattered through your life.

For example, you can ask it for directions to work, and it will pull up the best route to your office. And thanks to Google’s Voice Match, results are tailored to whoever is asking a question. So your directions to work will be different than your husband’s directions.

Voice Match also works for Google Photos, so when you ask to check out pictures from New York, you’ll see your own specific photos, and not those taken by your wife, kids or roommates.

More importantly, Assistant-powered smart displays like Lenovo’s will offer YouTube functionality, something Google stripped from Amazon’s Echo Show and Fire TV in retaliation for Amazon not selling Google’s hardware products.

The joys of cooking

One of the impressive use cases Google showed off during my short time with the Smart Display was how well it works when cooking dinner. You can ask the Smart Display what you want to have for dinner and it will automatically pull up a list of suggested recipes.

The Smart Display has an angled back allowing you to use it in horizontal or vertical positions.
The Smart Display has an angled back allowing you to use it in horizontal or vertical positions.

You can then either tap on the display or say which recipe you want and it will provide you with a list of instructions for cooking mac and cheese or pheasant under glass. Better still, if you need help doing something like chopping rosemary, you can ask how to do just that and your smart display will pull up an appropriate YouTube video.

That’s actually a huge help, as I frequently find myself looking up videos explaining how to properly dice chicken or just what a garlic clove is.

Searching for … everything

No Google device would be complete without the ability to search for, well, everything. And while you can do that with ease on your Google Home or using the Google Assistant app on your smartphone, doing so with a smart display is a different story. So Google has created custom search results for the smart displays that appear as interactive graphics.

You can, for example, ask your smart display to find a nearby bakery and it will pull up results for bakeries in your area. You can then either tell Google Assistant which result you’d like to see or select the result you want by tapping the display.

The Lenovo Smart Display comes in 8-inch and 10-inch versions. The 10-inch, seen here, gets a beautiful bamboo back.
The Lenovo Smart Display comes in 8-inch and 10-inch versions. The 10-inch, seen here, gets a beautiful bamboo back.

Once you select the bakery you’re looking for, you can dive in to see its Google reviews star rating, store hours, phone number and location. You can even ask Google how to get to the bakery and it will send the directions to your smartphone.

Call me, maybe

Like Amazon’s Echo Show, Google smart displays will let you make video calls. And while the Echo Show lets you call anyone with the Amazon Alexa app, smart displays let you call anyone with the Google Duo app.

Google says smart displays can’t make voice calls just yet, but that might change by the time the products hit the market later this summer.

The search giant also says you can cast content to smart displays using devices like your smartphone similar to the way you use Google’s Chromecast. For now, you can only cast Google Play Movies and TV, however, that will likely change as companies like Netflix and Hulu enable the feature for smart displays.

Stay tuned for more.

More from Dan:

Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

What to read next