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Google vs. Amazon: The smart display showdown

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

Google and Amazon are basically the only game in town if you’re looking for a plug-and-play smart display, but the companies arrived at similar products from very different directions. A smart display’s usefulness mostly has to do with which ecosystem you’ve committed to, making recommendations no simple affair. If you’re on Team Apple, you’ll have to keep hoping that Tim Cook announces a Siri smart display someday.

Both products are rather rigid and will expect you to adapt to them rather than the other way around. The Google Screen will only work with the Google Assistant and will push you toward Google products, while the Amazon Screen will only work with Alexa and will push you toward Amazon products. There are a few partners out there that provide various features like music and cameras, but these products are not as infinitely configurable as a smartphone. Smart displays will often demand adherence to an ecosystem.

The Echo Show 10

The specific hardware doesn’t matter too much since these smart displays all run the same Amazon or Google software across various screen sizes, maybe with one extra headline 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 feature. There’s also the stationary $64.99 Echo Show 8, the $39.99 Echo Show 5, and if you want to get really wild, there’s the $249.99 Echo Show 15, which has the form factor of a wall-mounted picture frame.

SCREEN 10.1-inch, 1200×800 LCD
OS Fire OS
CPU Eight-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 13 MP front camera
SIZE 251×230×172 mm
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 the ability to spin around, a feature Amazon calls “Smart Motion.” The display is mounted on a heavy circular base disguised as a big speaker. There are three small speakers in the base, but there’s no room-shaking subwoofer, as you might expect from the size. A big chunk of the bottom is a weighted turntable with a wide electric motor that lets the entire body of the Echo Show 10 do one 360-degree rotation.

The motor can “lock” and “unlock” the screen at various times. At any time, you can grab the screen and move it, which will disengage 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 it, the motor will engage and the screen will turn and point at you. You can also have it creepily follow you around the room via tracking from the front camera or control it remotely as a 360-degree security camera.

On one hand, any extra functionality—like 360-degree remote camera usage—is very welcome. On the other hand, being mounted on a rotating base does compromise the touchscreen experience somewhat. The mechanism that lets the screen spin around has a lot of backlash, so even when the screen in supposed to be locked in one position, it never feels like a solid object under your finger taps. Every time you poke it, it will wiggle in one direction or another.

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