4 things that'd make the Lenovo Smart Display even better

I've been living with the Lenovo Smart Display for a few weeks now, and during that time, it's quickly become one of my favorite gadgets of 2018. As a huge fan of the Google Home, it's been a dream come true to have that same functionality brought over to a form factor with a large, crisp 10-1-inch screen.

I genuinely love using the Smart Display, but for all the things it gets right, there are a few pain points that I'd like to see get worked out sooner rather than later.

Without further ado, here are 4 things that'd make the Lenovo Smart Display better!

Portrait orientation for the entire UI

One of the most unique aspects of the Lenovo Smart Display is its wedge design on the back. Because of this, you have the option of standing it either horizontally or vertically on your kitchen counter, table, etc. Unfortunately, at the time of publishing this editorial, the vast majority of the interface can only be used in that horizontal orientation.

You can set the Smart Display vertically during Google Duo calls and have the interface rotate as it should, but outside of these calls, everything is set to the standard horizontal layout no matter how the Smart Display is sitting.

Lenovo's already said that this will be fixed in a future software update, but for the time being, it makes the wedge aspect of the Smart Display feel underutilized.

Support for audio groups

If you've got a Google Home, Home Mini, or any other smart speakers that are powered by the Google Assistant, you can add them to audio groups and play music on all of them simultaneously — allowing you to hear your music or podcast no matter which room you're in.

It's an incredibly handy feature and one that I use daily, but for whatever reason, the Lenovo Smart Display can't be added to these groups.

Although the form factor is different due to the display, there shouldn't be anything holding it back from playing music with other Assistant speakers. The Lenovo Smart Display lives in the Google Home app along with your other speakers, uses the Assistant, and has access to all of the same voice commands/features.

Yet, for some unknown reason, Google still doesn't allow it to to be added to audio groups.

That may not sound like a huge deal to some readers, but it makes the Smart Display feel entirely separate from its speaker cousins when it should feel like an extension of them.

Deeper app controls

As it currently stands, the Lenovo Smart Display doesn't run traditional apps. There are UI elements that are designed specifically for Spotify, YouTube, Google Express, and more, but you get to all of these via voice commands rather than tapping on an app icon.

That implementation is fine, but for the interfaces we do get for these services, I'd like to see more controls added at some point down the road.

Being able to pull up recipes is great, but it'd be even better if there was a way to quickly add all of the required ingredients to my shopping list. YouTube videos stream without a hitch, but I'd like to be able to browse through my subscription feed and manually choose what video I want to watch. The Google Express interface that we do have is fine, but there's no way to easily peruse through all of the available products like there is on the Android app.

The idea of Google's Smart Display platform is to have UI elements that complement your voice controls rather than being entirely touch-focused, but some of the experiences that are available right now feel a little too barebones at times.

A more consistent ambient mode

When you aren't actively using the Lenovo Smart Display, you can swipe to the right and set the display to an ambient mode where the screen turns completely back and just shows the time in the bottom-left corner. It's a great mode for when you're sleeping and know you won't be using the Smart Display for a while, but in my experience, the performance of this has been all over the place.

Manually swiping over to this screen works fine, but I've noticed that it occasionally goes to this mode on its own, too.

For example, if I turn off all the lights as I'm heading out of my apartment, the Smart Display will gradually dim its brightness and eventually go to the ambient mode on its own. If I walk by the Smart Display while it's like this, the screen will magically come to life without having to touch it or anything.

Unfortunately, these automatic transitions are incredibly inconsistent.

I've noticed that they properly work maybe 50% of the time, and for the times that it doesn't work, it does this for no rhyme or reason. This certainly isn't a deal-breaker or anything on its own, but the inconsistency can quickly become rather annoying.

What do you want to see?

If you've got a Lenovo Smart Display, what would you like to see added/fixed? Most (if not all) of my complaints can be resolved with software updates, so here's to hoping those make their way to the device in a timely manner!

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Joe Maring

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.