The smart display is the natural evolution of the smart speaker, adding a screen that lets you see how the weather will look instead of only hearing about it, look at your route to work on a map, or simply video call your family and friends.
Like smart speakers, smart displays mostly run either the Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. That means most of the best displays are those made by either Google or Amazon under their Nest (formerly Home) and Echo brands, but other companies have manufactured competing products that still run either Google or Amazon's voice assistants.
Smart displays look a bit like tablets, but it's worth noting that they're fixed into their stands and run off mains power - these aren't portable devices with their own batteries. The notable exception is the Lenovo Smart Tab P10, a tablet that ships with a dock that turns it into an Alexa smart display.
Having a screen unlocks the potential to use a smart display not only for finding out the weather or checking your calendar, but also using the screen as a digital photo frame.
You can also often use them for video calls, but take care: not every smart display includes a camera, so check that video calls are supported before you put your money down. You might also want to use them to watch videos, but remember that Amazon's devices don't support the YouTube app, so it's much easier to watch video on one of the Google smart displays.
This is why apart from the individual specs of each display, you really need to choose between Alexa and Google Assistant. We can't outright tell you which to go for as it will come down to things like whether you have other devices in that ecosystem and if the other smart home devices you have, or are planning to buy, are compatible with that system.
Best Smart Displays 2020
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1. Google Nest Hub Max - Best Smart Display
The Google Nest Hub Max is the best smart display we've tested to date.
It brings along a larger, more useful display as well as a camera which is far more useful than simply making video calls. It can recognise different users, be used as a security camera and supports gestures for playback.
Futhermore, the audio performance is excellent so well worth the upgrade if you want to listen to music. The JBL Link View has better audio but we prefer the Max as an all-round device.
Read our full Google Nest Hub Max review
2. Echo Show 8 - Best for Alexa
It may not have the Zigbee hub that's built into the more expensive - and larger - Echo Show, but this model offers the best compromise of features, screen size and audio quality.
And at this price, those aren't compromises you'll ever regret making: Alexa is just as capable here as she is on the most expensive Echo Show, able to show the video feed from compatible cameras, show you lyrics for many songs from Amazon Music and more.
Read our full Amazon Echo Show 8 review
3. Echo Show 5 - Best for the Bedroom
This smaller Echo Show is a little small for watching video, but it's a great size for a bedside table.
It includes a couple of key features you might want that the Lenovo Smart Clock (below) lacks, such as Bluetooth and a camera - with a privacy cover.
There's no Zigbee but otherwise there's full support for Amazon's Alexa voice assistant.
Read our full Amazon Echo Show 5 review
4. Lenovo Smart Display - Best Third-Party Smart Display
The Lenovo Smart Display is an impressive third-party Google-powered smart display that comes with a choice of two sizes (8in or 10in) and the inclusion of a camera for video calls - though it does cost a bit more than Google's own offerings, which holds it back slightly.
The larger screen is seriously welcome when looking up travel, reading recipes, or watching YouTube videos, and it's also given Lenovo space to fit in a surprisingly solid speaker. It's hardly world beating, but there's plenty of bass and enough volume to fill the room, which is more than we expected from a device led by its screen.
Ultimately, the irritations here are mostly on Google’s side, and mostly software - so we hope they might improve over time anyway. Lack of support for the vertical orientation and the frustratingly stripped back touchscreen controls are undeniably annoying, and highlight the occasional failings of the voice controls.
Read our full Lenovo Smart Display review
5. Lenovo Smart Clock - Best Small Google Screen
The Lenovo Smart Clock is a fairly simple concept - a Nest Mini with a screen - but slick design, a simple interface, and clever features that manipulate screen brightness to keep it dim during the night and slowly brighten it as a light alarm make the device a surprisingly compelling offering.
The only real downside is the lack of Bluetooth speaker support - the main Nest Mini feature missing here - but everything else about this does exactly what you want it to.
Most importantly, at £80/$80 it’s not all that much more than the regular Nest Mini, making it all too easy to justify the jump from smart speaker to smart clock.
Note that there's also the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential, a cheaper follow-up that has a much more limited display with a stronger focus on being a clock.
Read our full Lenovo Smart Clock review
6. Google Nest Hub - Best for the Basics
It might not be flawless but we feel Google's Nest Hub (formerly Home Hub) with Google Assistant inside is an excellent option for a smart display. It's affordable and the compact, stylish design will ensure it fits almost anywhere in your home.
There's no camera and audio quality isn't the best but this is reflected in the price. What Nest Hub does have is an excellent screen on which Google Assistant can show as well as tell.
You might find it a little too small for some rooms, but it generally works very well for all manner of tasks including streaming music, watching video and simply providing useful information.
Read our full Google Nest Hub review
7. Amazon Echo Show - Big Screen Echo
It's expensive, but the 2nd-gen Echo Show is a good upgrade on the original. If you want Alexa with a screen this is a good option. It lets you call other people with Alexa devices, look up stuff online and watch Amazon Prime video. Just remember that it needs to be plugged in, it's not a tablet.
Audio is decent and the screen is a good size but unless you really want the visual element or ability to call other Shows, you'd be better off with the Echo or the Echo Plus. And if you do want a screen but a more affordable price, look to the Echo Show 5.
Read our full Amazon Echo Show (2nd-gen) review
8. Lenovo Smart Tab P10 - Tablet/Smart Display Hybrid
The Smart Tab P10 is ultimately a fairly budget tablet, with lightweight specs, old software, and a simple feature set, masked in part by slick-but-simple design that leaves it looking and feeling more premium than it really is.
The included speaker dock automatically activates a dedicated mode for Amazon Alexa, turning the tablet into a makeshift Echo Show while it's docked.
Without the dock the P10 would be fairly unremarkable, so it's really only worth buying if the idea of a tablet that doubles as an Echo Show really speaks to you, or if you know you'll make use of the dock's built-in speaker, rather than simply connecting it up to another sound system anyway.
Read our full Lenovo Smart Tab P10 with Alexa review