Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Best smart displays in 2020: Echo Show, Nest Hub, Facebook Portal, and more

We've hand-picked 11 smart displays that will satisfy a range of wants and needs.

Smart displays running Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are often pitched as the perfect accessory for an island or counter, as you can use them to find nearly any recipe and then watch how to cook it, step by step. You can also use them to set timers and play music. But, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can't help but think of these devices as more than kitchen helpers.

You can use a smart display to video chat with your loved ones who may be social-distancing or self-isolating. Experts are recommending that everyone separate and stay home as much as possible, especially the elderly and immunocompromised. If you're looking for a way to stay in touch with others, even if it's just to check-in on a friend, browse our list below.

We've hand-picked 11 smart displays that will satisfy a range of wants and needs. We first looked at all the top brands, then combed through all the listings at different price points across several retailers, absorbed what the user reviews had to say, and ultimately landed on this bunch, which we believe are among the absolute best smart displays you can buy online.

Disclosure: ZDNet may earn an affiliate commission from some of the products featured on this page. ZDNet and the author were not compensated for this independent review.

Amazon Echo Show 8

Best Alexa smart display for under $100

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This is the latest version of Amazon's Echo Show.

It checks just about every box you'd want for a smart display. It has Amazon's Alexa AI assistant built-in, so it works with smart home devices like the Ring Video Doorbell. It also has an 8-inch HD screen with 1280 x 800-pixel resolution, a 1MP front-facing video camera, and a built-in stereo sound with two 2-inch speakers. You can use the Echo Show 8 to video call friends or family using either another Echo Show or the Alexa app.

If you're nervous about letting Amazon have a camera and a mic in your home, you can always disconnect the two far-field microphones with the press of a button, plus the camera comes with a built-in shutter for privacy.

$100 at Amazon

Google Nest Hub Max

Most premium smart display with Google Assistant

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The "best "smart display depends on you and what devices you already have in your home. 

If you want devices that are compatible and work seamlessly together, the Nest Hub Max might not be the best choice if you've already invested in the Amazon ecosystem of Alexa, Echo, and Ring devices. But, if you're already using a Pixel phone and prefer Google Assistant over Alexa, try the Nest Hub Max. 

There are two reasons it's worth considering: It has a large 10-inch screen, and it offers a superior sound quality thanks to stereo speakers at the front and a 3-inch subwoofer at the back. The Nest Hub Max also has two microphones, and the selfie camera features a 6.5MP sensor. While the device doesn't come with a shutter, the camera and mics can be disconnected via a button on the rear of the Nest Hub Max. 

We like that you can call Google's smart display using another Nest Hub device, the Duo app, or Google Assistant. Another nifty feature is Face Match. Basically, it will surface relevant information on the screen depending on who's looking at it -- so one person might see the weather, while another might get sports.

$229 at Best Buy

Facebook Portal Plus

Smart display with the best camera and screen

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Yes, we'll admit no one really wants to let Facebook put a mic and a camera in their home -- except maybe grandma and grandpa. Admit it... They love Facebook! 

In that case, perhaps the best way to video chat with them will be over Messenger using one of Facebook's smart displays, such as the Portal Plus. Facebook is also well aware of its public perception, so it included a handy little cover for the camera and made it possible to disconnect the four microphones in the device by pressing a button on top. 

The Portal Plus is Alexa compatible, and it has its own AI you can summon with "Hey Portal."

Portal Plus stands out to us because of its smart camera. The lens is a 12MP sensor with a 140-degree field of view. It will automatically follow people around the room, shifting to either focus on a speaker or to include all the faces in the room. It's also capable of amplifying your voice from across the room. There's a monstrous 15.6-inch 1080p touch display, too, which can rotate between landscape and portrait modes so you can clearly see whoever is calling. 

As far as speakers go, Facebook packed the Portal Plus with powerful sound, thanks to two 10W drivers and two 20W tweeters with a 4-inch bass. 

$249 at Amazon

Amazon Echo Show 5

Most affordable smart display with Alexa

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If you're looking for a cheaper version of the Echo Show 8, there's the Echo Show 5 -- also from Amazon. The screen is smaller, coming in at 5.5 inches, compared to the 8-inch screen on the Echo Show 8. The resolution is a little lower (960 x 480 resolution), as well, and the sound system is just one 1.7-inch 4W speaker.

Other than that, this smart display offers many of the same features -- such as Alexa, video calling courtesy of a 1MP camera, and a built-in camera shutter -- as the Echo Show 8. 

Better still, it's $30 cheaper.

$70 at Amazon

Lenovo Smart Clock

Cheapest smart display (but it can't do video calls)

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The Lenovo Smart Clock is a third-party Google Alexa smart display. It really is a great budget option, so long as you understand what you're getting. At $60, it's among the cheapest smart displays, but since there's no camera, you can't do video calling with it. It does have a 4-inch touchscreen, however, and it supports Google Assistant commands, allowing you to control your smart home. It also has a 1.5-inch 3W speaker. 

Lenovo is really pitching this thing as a smart bedside alarm clock more than anything else.

$60 at Best Buy

Google Nest Hub

Best all-around smart display with Google Assistant

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The Nest Hub is the more affordable version of the Nest Hub Max. It's also not a third-party Google Assistant device, meaning it's made directly by Google and is guaranteed to get the latest Google Assistant features.

It offers a smaller touchscreen than the Hub Max, coming in at 7 inches versus the Max's 10-inch screen. The sound isn't as stellar as on the Max, either, but you're saving $100 overall. You can still access and control all your smart home devices and watch all your favorite YouTube videos (there's even a free three-month trial of YouTube Music Premium that comes with the device). It has a full-range 40mm driver for a speaker. 

The main difference between the Nest Hub and the Nest Hub Max is that there's no camera. This might be a non-starter if you're focused on video calling, but it does have two microphones, so it will still pick up your voice and supports audio-only calls from other Nest devices, Google Assistant, and the Duo app.

$129 at Walmart

Lenovo Smart Display 8

Best third-party Google Assistant smart display

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Lenovo makes another third-party Google Assistant smart display, called the Smart Display 8, naturally. It is a great budget option that, of course, works with Google Assistant and controls compatible smart devices. It has an 8-inch 720p HD display, front-facing 5MP camera for video calling, and a built-in shutter for privacy. 

The device can be used in both portrait and landscape, as well, just like the Portal Plus. It has a four-microphone setup to boot, with two in the front and two in the back. If you're looking for an even larger smart display from Lenovo, there's the Lenovo Smart Display 10 for $150. 

$100 at Best Buy

Lenovo Smart Display 7

The latest smart display from Lenovo

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This version of Lenovo's Smart Display is also the newest.

It brings much of the same functionality as the Smart Display 8 and 10 models. However, it can't be rotated into portrait mode. It also has a 7-inch touchscreen display. To complement that, you get a front-facing 2MP camera with a built-in shutter, two 1.5-inch 5W speakers, and dual-array microphones. 

Basically, the Smart Display 7 is the slightly smaller but newer version of the Smart Display 8. 

$100 at Lenovo

JBL Link View

Best smart display with a splash-proof design

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The JBL Link View is a pretty impressive smart display, but it cost $300 at launch. Thankfully, you can get it half off from Best Buy. It has a unique egg-shaped design that houses two 10W speakers built around an 8-inch 720p touchscreen display. It works with Google Assistant, too, and it has built-in Chromecast. 

It also has a privacy switch to disconnect the 5MP camera and its two microphones. Perhaps the one thing to help JBL Link View standout from the pack is that it features a splash-proof body, making it ideal for kitchens. 

$150 at Best Buy

LG XBOOM AI ThinQ

An alternative Google Assistant smart display

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LG's version of a third-party Google Assistant display comes in the form of the XBOOM AI ThinQ. It has an 8-inch HD 1280 x 800-pixel touchscreen, which is positioned between two 20W speakers made by the company Meridian. It also offers video calling, with a front-facing 5MP camera, and it's compatible with all your devices that work with Google Assistant.

The only problem with the XBOOM AI ThinQ Smart Display is that nothing about it is really better than the Nest Hub Max or the Link View, which each cost about the same price. We merely included it for those of you who wanted a different brand to choose from when shopping for Google Assistant displays.

$220 at Amazon

Amazon Echo Show (2018 model)

Top-of-the-line Echo Show

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The largest Echo Show is actually the second-generation 2018 model. It'd probably be our No. 1 pick if it wasn't getting a bit long in the tooth. This is still a top-of-the-line Echo Show device, however, which is reflected by its $230 price tag. For that extra money, the Echo Show offers a 10.1-inch 1280 x 800-pixel resolution touchscreen, which is two inches larger than Echo Show 8. 

It has two Dolby 10W 2.2-inch speakers and a 5MP camera -- the latter of which is a vast improvement over the single-megapixel camera in the Echo Show 8 and 5. It also features a four-microphone array. One negative is it does not have a physical shutter for the camera, but there is a button to disconnect it and the mics.

$230 at Amazon