Google vs. Amazon: Smart screen reckoning

Enlarge / Other than Amazon’s rotating base, the two main product lines look pretty similar.

If you’re looking for a plug-and-play smart display, Google and Amazon are basically the only games in town, but companies have come up with similar products from very different directions. The usefulness of a smart display is mostly dependent on which ecosystem you are connected to, making recommendations not simply a matter of course. If you’re on the Apple Team, you’ll have to hope that Tim Cook will one day announce the Siri smart display.

Both products are pretty rigid and will expect you to adapt to them rather than vice versa. Google Screen will only work with Google Assistant and push you towards Google products, while Amazon Screen will only work with Alexa and push you towards Amazon products. There are several partners that provide various features such as music and camera, but these products are not as infinitely configurable as a smartphone. Smart displays often require commitment to an ecosystem.

Echo Show 10

Since all of these smart displays run the same Amazon or Google software on various screen sizes, the specific hardware is not so important, perhaps with an extra header feature. I spent most of my testing time with the $249.99 Amazon Echo Show 10, which has a 10-inch screen and super cool rotation. There’s also the fixed $64.99 Echo Show 8, the $39.99 Echo Show 5, and if you want to get really crazy, there’s the $249.99 Echo Show 15 with a wall-mounted picture frame form factor.

SCREEN 10.1 inch, 1200×800 LCD
OS fire operating system
Processor Octa-core Mediatek MT8183
Four Cortex A73 cores and four Cortex A53 cores
GPU Arm Mali-G72
networking Wi-Fi 5 (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac), Bluetooth, Zigbee
CAMERA 13MP front camera
SIZE 251×230×172mm
WEIGHT 2560 g
Speakers 2x 1-inch tweeters and a 3-inch woofer
STARTING PRICE $249.99 (Currently $185)

The Echo Show 10’s party trick is its ability to spin around itself, a feature Amazon calls “Smart Move.” The screen is mounted on a heavy circular base disguised as a large speaker. There are three small speakers at the base, but no room-shaking subwoofer as you might expect from its size. Most of the base is a weighted turntable with a large electric motor that allows the Echo Show 10’s entire body to make a 360-degree turn.

The engine can “lock” and “unlock” the screen at various times. You can hold and move the screen at any time, which will disable the motor and allow it to spin freely. The Show 10 weighs an incredible 5.5 pounds, so it’s not going anywhere. If you talk to him, the engine will kick in and the screen will turn to show you. You can also have it creepily follow you around the room via front camera monitoring, or remotely control it as a 360-degree security camera.

On the one hand, any extra functionality such as 360-degree remote camera use is welcome. On the other hand, mounting it on a rotating base compromises the touchscreen experience quite a bit. The mechanism that makes the screen rotate has a lot of kickback, so even if the screen has to be locked in one position, you’ll never feel like a solid object under your finger taps. Every time you poke it, it will swing in one direction or another.

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