Google Assistant is everywhere. It’s on phones, TVs, smartwatches, and even inside cars. While Google has been playing catch-up to Amazon’s Echo devices for years now, it’s now taking a big step to expanding its Assistant to even more hardware today. Google is introducing a new Smart Display platform designed for partners like Lenovo to create their own Echo Show-like devices.
Lenovo is one the first launch partners for these new Google Smart Displays, and JBL, LG, and Sony are also producing similar devices. Strangely, Google isn’t making its own hardware like it has done with the Google Home, Google Home Mini, and Google Home Max. It’s leaving it up to partners to create their own displays for now.
These displays are clearly designed to target Amazon’s Echo Show, which is particularly interesting given Google’s removal of YouTube for that particular device. I got a closer look at Lenovo’s two Google Smart Displays, and the company is planning to make them available in the summer. There are two models: an 8-inch version, and a larger 10-inch model. The platform itself is a simple version of the Google Assistant that responds to “Hey, Google” and does all the Assistant stuff you’d expect.
It’s mainly just Google services right now
There’s Duo video calling support, Google Maps, YouTube playback, and even Google Photos. While the software is clearly in an early state right now, I was rather impressed with what you can do with Lenovo’s Smart Displays. Much like an Echo Show, Google has focused on how someone might use this device in the kitchen. There’s smart support for looking up recipes to step through simple instructions, and if you get stuck on preparing a particular ingredient then YouTube comes to the rescue with video help.
The units themselves don’t have any Lenovo or Google branding, and look like they’d fit into most homes. A bamboo finish is available on the larger model, or a soft matte finish on the 8-inch version. Lenovo has even create a built-in stand at the base that allows you to use the devices horizontally or vertically. It’s a nice addition that compliments another good design choice: a physical webcam shutter. It’s something we’ve seen on Lenovo’s latest ThinkPads, and it gives you that added peace of mind if you want to make sure the camera is truly disabled when you’re not using it.
The smaller model is priced at $199
You can pick between the 8-inch or 10-inch display, but the real spec difference is just resolution with one running at HD and the larger model supporting a FHD resolution. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 624 chip powers the experience, with 2GB of RAM and just 4GB of storage. None of these specs really matter, as this is a simple device that will sit there and respond to voice queries primarily. It doesn’t even have a web browser, so you’re not going to be doing anything other than what Assistant provides. Lenovo is planning to release both devices in the summer with the smaller priced at $199 and the 10-inch model at $249.
Google has created one simple gesture of swiping towards the right to go back, and there’s a lockscreen that displays the time and a wallpaper. The main home interface is simply generated by the Assistant, with cards for meetings or the usual weather information you’d find in the Assistant UI on a phone. It’s all very simple, but it’s all very Google. If you’re not a Google Photos user, or don’t use Google’s many services then there’s not a lot here yet. Google has built in routines support, and you’ll be able to control some smart devices like you can through the regular Assistant today.
Where this device might get really interesting is with third-party support. I saw an early version of Nest Cam support on the Lenovo Smart Display, and Google is planning to work with more third parties later this year. This new platform will launch on standalone devices, but I’d guess we might even see this visual version of Google Assistant arrive on fridges, toasters, and other appliances in the future.
Alexa now has significant competition, and Google isn’t doing all the work itself. Google’s big presence at CES this week shows the company is serious about competing with Amazon, and it looks like 2018 is going to be an interesting battle of two tech giants to get a digital assistant into your home.