OUR EARLY VERDICT
Google’s new Smart Display platform holds a lot of potential as does the LG WK9 Wireless Speaker, one of first devices part of the program. While there are still a number of unknowns concerning price and release date, if LG plays its cards right, it could have a serious contender for the Amazon Echo Show on its hands.
- 8-inch HD touchscreen
- Two forward-facing speakers
- Google Assistant and Chromecast
- Built-in Bluetooth
- Perhaps a bit too similar to the Amazon Echo Show…
- Unknown price and release date
Watching Amazon and Google duke it out in the smart home space is a lot like watching the Cold War play out in technology: every time Amazon seems to have the lead, Google races to catch up – sometimes creating something even better than Amazon’s original device.
This happened with the Amazon Echo … which was countered by the Google Home; then the Amazon Echo Dot was met with the Google Home Mini. And now it’s happening to the Amazon Echo Show by the all-new Google Smart Displays.
But, instead of one single product from Google, the Mountain View, California-based company has plans to unleash an army of products all developed by external partners. The LG WK9 Wireless Speaker with Google Assistant is one the first of those new products.
While the LG WK9 Wireless Speaker clearly borrows a few elements from the Amazon Echo Show, it’s far from being an exact clone – the WK9, for example, has two separate speakers instead of one center driver and the 8-inch LED touchscreen is a full inch bigger than the Amazon Echo Show’s.
If the additional speaker wasn’t enough to give the WK9 a leg-up in the audio arms race, LG’s partnership with legendary audio manufacturer Meridian surely seals the deal: Not only can Meridian-tuned speakers be found here on the WK9 but on nearly every audio product coming from LG’s AV catalog in the new year as well – a potentially game-changing addition to the usually poor-sounding audio that usually comes alongside smart assistant speakers.
Ignoring the speaker and extra inch on the touchscreen, though, and what you see here should look pretty familiar. Like the Amazon Echo Show, the WK9 has a front-facing camera and forward-firing speakers. There’s a mute switch located near the top edge of the front panel, which stops Google Assistant from listening in to your conversations.
At the center of it all is Google Assistant which has finally a received a screen to call home.
While we weren’t allowed to give Google Assistant any commands ourselves, a guided demo of the product played up the key functionality that you can expect from the WK9.
In it, we saw Google Assistant perform all the usual tasks: it was able to check a schedule, find nearby restaurants on Yelp, get directions on Google Maps and play videos from YouTube. We’ve heard this all before from Google Assistant, and have even held that power in the palm of our hands on some Android devices like the Pixel and Pixel 2, but this is the first time seeing Google Assistant on a dedicated smart speaker.
In fact, this is probably the WK9’s greatest strength: it doesn’t use Amazon Alexa.
Speaking from experience with hundreds of hours with both in my home, Google Assistant has, time and time again, shown itself to be the smarter AI of the two. It understands more requests phrased in more natural ways thanks to its deep integration with Google Search. Sure, both will stumble from time to time, but it’s always felt like Google stumbles less and understands more than Alexa ever has.
But Google Assistant isn’t the only trick the WK9 has up its sleeve – it also works as a Chromecast-capable device and, according to the demo we saw, will support voice and video calling, a feature that has been sorely missing from third-party Google Assistant speakers up until now.
With both Assistant and Chromecast by its side, the WK9 could pose a very potent adversary against the Amazon Echo Show.
Should it launch at an affordable price point and sometime in the near future (LG couldn’t provide those details during our brief demo), the WK9 could be a fantastic, visually-rich new smart assistant.
If it fails on either front, though, Amazon Echo Show might just be able to retain its top spot in the video-enabled smart speaker world.