Big • sharp • and responsive touchscreen • Excellent far-field microphones • Good clear speaker • Physical camera privacy shutter • Retro design
Kinda big for kitchens • Only has a single speaker
Lenovo’s Smart Display is a perfect example of how voice-controlled smart speakers are better with a touchscreen.
It’s also similarly pricey at $200 for the 8-inch display and $250 for the 10-inch version, which I’ve been using at home for just over a week.
I wish there was a simple answer, but it all comes down to how much you value the information that gets displayed on the screen. A display is great for showing information that can’t be conveyed verbally, but it’s also not a necessity for everyone.
Fits right at home
I think most people agree the Echo Show is more functional than beautiful. Sure, the design is less of an eyesore the more you use it, but that doesn’t mean we should just accept ugly design. Anyone who’s seen the knows what I’m talking about.
The 8-inch model comes with a white frame around the display and a gray backside. On my 10-inch device, the frame’s also white, but the rear has a bamboo finish.
The Smart Display is meant to be stood up in landscape, but you prop it up vertically for making video calls using Duo, Google’s FaceTime clone. Don’t bother trying to stand it up vertically for regular use because the interface only works in landscape.
The smaller Smart Display has a 1,280 x 800 HD resolution and the larger one has 1,920 x 1,200 full HD resolution. I can’t speak for the smaller screen, but the 10-inch Smart Display’s IPS screen is bright, sharp, and has nice wide viewing angle. It’s comparable to a decent tablet display.
The 10-incher comes with a single 2-inch 10-watt speaker with two passive tweeters and dual array microphones. For buttons, there are just the essentials: a volume button, a physical mute switch, and — this one I really like — a physical camera privacy shutter that blocks the 5-megapixel camera.
Honestly, any camera-equipped device that’s always “looking” at you should have a privacy shutter just for peace of mind. Extra points to Lenovo for including one.
Lenovo really nailed the Smart Display’s hardware, but the size might be a problem for some people. The 10-inch model’s nearly twice the width of an Echo Show and can dominate a smaller kitchen counter or bedside table.
If you’ve used a Google Home or Google Assistant-powered smart speaker of any kind, you’ll know exactly what capabilities to expect from the Smart Display.
Everything you can do with a Google Home you can also do on the Smart Display. That means asking the Google Assistant to tell you the weather, play your music, control smart home devices, set alarms, make phone calls, search for things, etc.
The dual 2 x 2 microphones work really well. The Smart Display was able to pick up my “Hey, Google” requests even when it was playing music at the highest volume. At close range, it could also pick up the wake word if I whispered it.
The single speaker has decent range, too. Side-by-side with the Echo Show, the Smart Display sounds a lot clearer. Music sounds less muffled, and the bass isn’t as distorted at higher levels. On the Show, the speakers crackled as they tried to push more air. The only edge the Show has over the Smart Display is that it’s capable of louder sound. But that’s not really much of an advantage since it’s rare you’ll ever crank these kinds of tabletop smart devices to full volume.
The value of the Smart Display, like the Echo Show, is of course its screen. The touchscreen interface is extremely stripped-down — there’s no grid of apps or app drawer — and serves as a reminder that the Smart Display isn’t a tablet. As such, it’s for short voice and bite-sized screen interactions.
On standby, the screen shows the time and weather. Tap it and it takes you to a home screen with an expanded weather forecast. Swipe to the left to scroll to access features like music. A right swipe from the left bezel returns you to the home screen. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen brings up controls for adjusting brightness, volume, and toggling Do Not Disturb mode.
All of these touch controls can also be performed with voice controls. So instead of swiping on the bezels, you can just say say “Hey Google, go back” or “Hey Google, go home.”
Voice controls are super convenient, especially when your hands aren’t free, but there are many times where visual information is either more useful or augments the digital assistant experience.
For example, Google Maps. It’s great that a Google Home can tell you how long it takes to go somewhere, but it’s even better when you can see the route and all the additional info that comes with Google Maps such as street names, nearby restaurants, etc.
Same goes for showing information such as your Google Calendar, the upcoming five-day forecast, album art, Google Translations, to name a couple of things. These are all things that are better with visual info.
The most obvious use for the screen is for playing videos and displaying photos. If you have the Smart Display set up in your kitchen, the display’s really handy for showing recipe instructions (Google’s even condensed popular recipes from various independent online sources into easy-to-follow step-by-step slides) and for watching tutorials on YouTube.
I can’t stress enough how convenient it is to have YouTube videos on the Smart Display. It’s infinitely more valuable than watching Amazon Prime Video on the Echo Show. While chopping veggies one night, I simply asked the Google Assistant to show me Mashable’s MacBook Pro video without ever lifting a finger off my knife.
Similarly, you can tell the Google Assistant to show you photos. By default, it’ll pull photos from your Google Photos gallery first. I asked to show photos of my mom and because I had her face ID’d and tagged in my Peoples & Pets section within Google Photos, it pulled up all her photos.
The screen’s also essential for video calling over Google’s Duo service. Video and audio quality is alright. I used the Smart Display to video call Mashable Tech Editor Pete Pachal’s iPhone X and though the connection was solid, the video call picture quality was average.
For almost all screen info, the Smart Display also includes a handful of actions that you can take either with touch or voice. But sometimes, actions aren’t clearly labeled. For instance, I pretty much guessed at using voice controls to scroll through this recipe’s steps, and it worked even though it wasn’t clear how to do so:
It’s also worth mentioning that you don’t quite get all of Google search just because the Smart Display has a screen. There’s no Google app where you can manually search the web like you can on Android or iOS. Which kind of sucks because when Google doesn’t understand something, it’d be great to have the option to perform a manual search.
One good example was when I asked for a meatloaf recipe. It worked the first time with the Smart Display showing recipes from a couple of publications. But for whatever reason, the time I asked for meatloaf recipes, the Google Assistant apologized and said it couldn’t understand what I wanted. After a handful of fails, it finally understood the command again.
Then again, Alexa fared way worse. When asked for meatloaf recipes, it just messed with me — every single time:
Paying for the display
After trying out the Smart Display, I’m convinced that smart speakers are better with screens. There’s no doubt in my mind that certain information is better shown than spoken. With the Lenovo’s Smart Display you can the best of both voice and touch.
You don’t have to use the touchscreen if you don’t want to. It’s there to augment the experience, which is still primarily voice-based.
The Smart Displays aren’t cheap at $200 for the 8-incher and $250 for the 10-incher. But they’re also not outrageously priced when compared to the $230 Echo Show.
Regardless of the model, you’re getting what is arguably a richer and more meaningful experience than you get with the Show. The Smart Display is prettier and has a larger screen. The Google Assistant is smarter and does more than Alexa. It also plays YouTube videos, which the Show can’t.
That tablet and dock combo, however, is powered by Alexa. With the Google Assistant, the Smart Displays are more intelligent, but if you can make do without the deep Google services integrations, it’s a much better buy for something that’s probably going to end up as kitchen toy.Read More
A few years back, in that now-forgotten time before Instant Pots were a thing, I reviewed an electric pressure cooker and struggled mightily with it. It was supposed to be a safe, fast way to speed up cooking and promised to make slow-cooker style dinners appear in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, stovetop pressure cooker cookbooks didn't really work for their slightly-less-powerful electric counterparts, and this one came with a mini-cookbook with recipes that tended to flop.
Flash forward to last fall when Instant Pot Mania was in full swing and I put the company's Ultra cooker (a souped up version of their classic Duo) at the top of my Christmas list. Once I popped it out of the box, though, I quickly realized that sub-par manuals and not-so-great included recipes are par for the course.
Turns out that Instant Pot is notorious for this, so much so that it's rumored to be reworking its manuals. The Instant Pot Community group on Facebook is too much of a jungle for beginners, and while my friend Lylah secured an invitation for me to Facebook's secret Instant Pot for Indian Cooking group, it was clearly over my head.
While there is a mushrooming number of electric pressure cooker cookbooks out there (many with those awful, mansplainy covers), it's hard to know which one will allow you to kick the tires and give you the foundation you need to bring this new tool into heavy rotation in your kitchen while making tested, tasty recipes.
Yet here we are with our own electric pressure cookers, or, more precisely, "multicookers" (they also do things like sauté and slow cook), and our excitement to make everything we can in them, and I was still missing the manual I needed.
All that to say that I was excited to see America's Test Kitchen had a new book in the works.
I am a full-on cookbook devotee and faithful to my favorites: Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories, Cook's Illustrated's Best Recipe, and almost any cookbook with Naomi Duguid's or Julia Child's name on it. If I were looking for common threads running between them, they would be trusted palates and fail-proof recipes. They may be simple or complicated, but follow them to the letter and you're guaranteed success.
My short-term goals with the America's Test Kitchen book were to find similar success making chicken stock, cooking a pot roast at warp speed, whipping up risotto for lunch, and understanding how to quick-cook dried chickpeas, beans, and lentils. From there, I hoped I'd have the hang of it well enough to wing it and pressure cook something adapted from Hugh Acheson's The Chef and The Slow Cooker.
America's Test Kitchen's new Multicooker Perfection spends the first 15 pages of the book both educating users and setting expectations. It should also be pointed out straight off that the Instant Pot Duo is not ATK's favorite. The fact that it's "recommended with reservations" is a mighty blow to the hallowed brand. Instead, among the six multicookers reviewed, it's in fourth place, behind two Fagor models and one by GoWISE USA.
Everybody breathe. ATK's big beef with the Duo is that it slow-cooks poorly. In short, the testers found that Instant Pot's slow cooking temperature is so low that slow cooking becomes extra-slow cooking. In fact, ATK both customizes recipes for the Duo or it just says, "Do not use Instant Pot to slow cook this recipe." Ouch!
It's not the main reason you buy a pressure cooker, but slow cooking with a multicooker can be useful as it's occasionally more practical to let something bubble away all day than to have to be around at the end of a short cook to let off the pressure.
Knowing this, I read all of those 15 first pages in Multicooker, picked out a few tasty-sounding recipes and started making tortilla soup. I sautéed tomatoes, onions, and garlic, added broth, whole chicken thighs, sealed the lid and set the pressure cooker function for five minutes.
Wait, what? Five minutes from onions to almost-done soup? Holy cow! All is forgiven!
It's not quite that quick—multicooker users know that the countdown doesn't begin until the unit is pressurized, which can be a couple minutes for meals without much liquid in there, or a while longer if you're waiting for six cups of broth to heat up enough to build the pressure.
No matter. After those five minutes were up, I let the pressure out, shredded the thigh meat and put it back in the pot, sprinkling Cotija cheese and cilantro over my bowl, then adding a dollop of sour cream and a squeeze of lime. Along with some toasted tortillas, it made for a fantastic dinner.
I switched gears for the next meal, this time opting to understand the fuss around pressure cooker mac and cheese. The key here is that it's not a quantum leap forward in macaroni technology, but it's a dinner that allows you to dump uncooked pasta in cold water with some mustard powder and cayenne and hit start. After five minutes under pressure you stir in evaporated milk, cheddar, and Monterey Jack cheese, make sure the pasta is al dente, and Bob's your uncle.
The more I cooked, the more I learned. Two keys I figured out were to get all the prep done ahead of time, and read the recipe all the way through before you do anything. Yes, you should do both of these anyway, but they're more urgent with the pressure cooker. Things often move quickly from one step to the next in pressure cooker recipes, so it was particularly necessary to have everything ready for something like the Thai-braised eggplant, where you sauté several ingredients then add 1/2 cup of broth, which halts the browning and provides the liquid to make the steam and build pressure. If that half-cup isn't measured out, you could end up with a scorching problem.
Cooking through these recipes also taught me what to watch out for and the limitations of multicookers. I learned to make extra sure to scrape all of the flavorful fond off the bottom of the pot after sautéing or browning food, especially if it was a dish with a thicker sauce, otherwise I'd get an unwanted "burn" message on the Ultra's screen during the pressure cycle.
Speaking of searing, temper your expectations. My Ultra, which has the same searing capability as the Duo, left me wanting more. It could capably sauté onions but browning something like chicken legs was slow enough that I asked the manufacturer to ship me another Ultra just to make sure it wasn't just mine. Unfortunately, it wasn't.
This isn't just an Instant Pot problem. America's Test Kitchen points out that some cookers have low, medium, and high sauté functions, while others have a "brown" option, and that you should use the hottest one. Regardless, an ATK spokesperson told me that "once you take that into account, the models all perform about the same."
Now I know two things: it's not my fault—yay!—and for a nice sear without a lot of waiting, I'll use a skillet on my stove and transfer the browned food to the pot when it's done.
I plowed on, picking up the pace, gaining confidence, and even riffing a bit. I made a pot roast from ATK's 2013 Pressure Cooker Perfection, which hit the market before stovetop pressure cookers had been overtaken by the electric models. Since stovetop pressure cookers can build up a bit more pressure, they cook faster, so I cross-referenced what I was doing with Multicooker Perfection and it worked out very well. I also made Multicooker's chicken broth recipe, a classic of the pressure cooker genre, as it's fast, flavorful and done in an hour. One very nice touch? After browning chicken wings and onions, the 12 cups of water that the recipe called for brought it right up to my six-quart pot's fill line for pressure cooking.
Risotto was next, another pressure cooker classic since there's no need for constant stirring. In fact, it goes so quickly that you can have the whole yummy shebang on the table in half an hour.
My only quibble with Multicooker Perfection is the curious omission of short sections for rice and grains, beans, and cuts of meat or vegetables cooked on their own. These were right up front in Pressure Cooker Perfection, and having that reference is a invaluable, especially for weeknight dinners.
Still, I'd run through enough recipes in the book that I felt comfortable enough to start spreading my wings. I had other recipes and cookbooks I wanted to explore, like the tamarind baby back ribs in Melissa Clark's Dinner in an Instant. I also wanted to cross reference recipes in The Chef and The Slow Cooker, using the timing for similar food done in Multicooker.
You might find another book that does a great job getting you up to speed. For me, after making a host of recipes in ATK's new book, the wilds of pressure cooking didn't seem so wild anymore. I'd built the foundation I needed and was ready for more. So ready, in fact, that I logged into the secret Instant Pot for Indian Cooking group and looked up a recipe for dal makhani.
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