I really like Google’s Smart Display platform, but a recent functional addition really puts it over the top.
I’ve been meaning to review Lenovo’s Smart Display for months, but incessant travel has gotten in the way. That may be for the best, however: In the past couple of weeks, Google made major changes to its Smart Display software and Google Home mobile app, and the results have transformed our usage of this display.
Like many display-based devices, the Lenovo Smart Display—and other Smart Displays like the recently-released Google Home Hub—offer an ambient mode that appears on-screen when you’re not using the device. The Lenovo’s ambient mode is smart: The screen basically turns off (sans the time, date, and weather) when it’s not in use, but if it senses motion nearby, it will provide a configurable display.
The problem until this past week is that that display wasn’t particularly compelling. You could show a full-screen clock, for example. Or a curated slideshow of artwork.
What I really wanted all along, of course, was to see our own photos. And not just random photos but our best photos. And with the most recent upgrade to the Smart Display software and Google Home mobile app, that functionality has finally arrived.
The key is a Google Photos feature called live albums. Right now it only works with photos of people and pets, which is actually pretty great. (But I expect it to be expanded to places, dates, and events in the future as well.) So instead of manually adding photos to an album, you can automatically add photos of people and/or pets to a live album, using a selection grid of the people it has recognized in your photos.
So I created a new live album that includes everyone in my immediate family, plus the cats and the dog. As you add new photos of these people and animals to Google Photos, they will, of course, be added to the live album as well. (Apparently until the 10,000 photo limit is reached. My Family live album now has 9997 photos in it.)
Once this is done, you open the Google Home app on your phone, select the Smart Display, and then choose Personalize Ambient. Then, choose Google Photos and then your live album.
Voila. Suddenly, your Smart Display will show you the photos you really want to see.
And, for us, this display in the kitchen that we’ve been mostly ignoring has suddenly become a focal point, and a trigger for smiles, memories, and discussion.