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Best smart home products for 2020 that aren’t made by Google or Amazon – CNET

Google and Amazon dominate the smart home market. Beyond Amazon’s growing roster of Echo smart speakers, the tech giant also owns home security brands Ring and Blink — and Wi-Fi router brand Eero. Smart thermostat maker Ecobee gets funding from Amazon. Google owns Nest and brought the company further under its control this year, rebranding most of…

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Best smart home products for 2020 that aren’t made by Google or Amazon     – CNET

Google and Amazon dominate the smart home market. Beyond Amazon’s growing roster of Echo smart speakers, the tech giant also owns home security brands Ring and Blink — and Wi-Fi router brand Eero. Smart thermostat maker Ecobee gets funding from Amazon. Google owns Nest and brought the company further under its control this year, rebranding most of its connected devices from “Google Home” to “Google Nest,” like the Google Nest Mini and the Google Nest Hub.  Our current list of best smart home devices features 12 products; seven of them are Amazon or Google devices — or devices made by Amazon- or Google-owned (or funded) companies. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They’re all solid gadgets and we heartily recommend them. As much as Google and Amazon (the latter especially) deserve credit for bringing some much needed organization to the smart home category via their popular voice assistants, it’s easy to forget that the smart home industry is bigger than these two companies. Wyze’s $8 bulb is an excellent white light LED. 
Chris Monroe/CNET

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That’s part of the purpose of this post — to look at the smart home in a different way and to see what else is out there when you remove some of the most obvious players. That said, Alexa and Google Assistant are compatible with…well, pretty much every smart home gadget at this point. For better or for worse, this would be an exceptionally short list if we stuck to devices that are totally independent from Google Assistant and Alexa compatibility. It would be even shorter if we left off products that use backend support like Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud.  Larger questions about market consolidation and data stewardship emerge the deeper down the rabbit hole you go on Amazon and Google’s omnipresence in our lives. There’s also the question of privacy. Amazon and Google dot headlines for misusing user information and collecting health care data without informing people. Amazon’s home security company, Ring, has been the subject of numerous CNET reports for its partnership with over 725 law enforcement agencies across the United States.  I had to draw a line somewhere for this story, so for the purposes of this product roundup, Amazon, Ring, Blink, Eero, Ecobee, Google and Nest-branded devices are out. 

Of course, the brands I list here aren’t impervious to data breaches either. Apple, which I nominate below for best smart speaker and best smart display display, had an iPhone security flaw that allowed hackers to gather personal information from websites. And an issue with Apple’s FaceTime app made it possible to listen to a person receiving a call, even if they didn’t answer the call.      Still, this is a particularly great list if you have concerns about the privacy of Amazon and Google products.  Now that all of that is out of the way, let’s get into this list of the 10 top smart home devices that aren’t made by Amazon or Google.   

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Apple’s smart speaker — the HomePod — hit stores in early 2018. It delivers excellent sound quality and solid, albeit limited, third-party Siri voice integrations for controlling smart home devices. Pair two HomePods together to create a stereo pair or set up multiple HomePods throughout your home for multi-room audio. Over the two years since the HomePod launched, Apple has dropped its price from $349 to $299 and added new features to remain competitive. Read more: The best smart speakers | The best wireless speakersEven so, the HomePod — much like Apple’s smart home platform, HomeKit — still lags behind Amazon and Google’s ever-growing lineup of branded smart speakers and partnerships with other companies that enable so many integrations with a simple “Alexa” or “Hey, Google” command. There is one potential benefit to HomeKit and the HomePod’s slow third-party growth: improved security.  Again, this doesn’t mean Apple is immune to privacy breaches, but its smart home has remained relatively untouched when you consider the Amazon and Google headlines. That makes the HomePod a decent option for someone who’s a bit leery of smart speakers, particularly when it comes to user privacy. We’re also keeping an eye on crowdfunded smart speakers, like the Mycroft Mark II, which claims to give “you the power of voice while maintaining privacy and data independence.” Interesting.

Read our Apple HomePod review.

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Netgear took a significant departure in price from the inaugural Orbi it introduced back in 2016 with this new Orbi Mesh Wi-Fi System. We liked the original model, but it cost a whopping $400. Fast-forward three years and Netgear is back with a whole new Orbi, this time for just $150. For your money, you get a two-pack Orbi system that’s designed to cover up to 3,000 square feet and works with Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands. 3,000 square feet isn’t quite enough to blanket the large CNET Smart Home in Wi-Fi, but Netgear does offer three- and four-pack kits for $230 and $300 if you have more ground to cover. Read more: The best mesh Wi-Fi systemsAt close range, the Orbi clocked the fasted top speeds during our testing, impressing us with its signal strength and general ability to keep up with the pricier Nest Wi-Fi and Eero systems. The Netgear app could use a redesign, but the Orbi Mesh Wi-Fi System offers a great overall value and is well worth considering if you’re not quite ready to make the move to Wi-Fi 6 (but want a solid Wi-Fi connection throughout your house).

Read our Netgear Orbi review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

If you’ve overlooked the lowly smart plug up until now, you might want to reconsider. The $30 TP-Link Kasa Smart Plug Mini, available for less on Amazon (as of writing this, it’s just $15), makes it incredibly easy to control everyday household devices. Connect your smart plug to a wall outlet, then plug in a desk fan, lamp, or other small electronic device for easy on/off control straight from your phone — or with an Alexa or Google Assistant voice command. In addition to the Kasa Smart Plug Mini’s reliable performance, I really like that this particular smart plug doesn’t block any other outlets — something that strangely isn’t always the case (including with TP-Link’s own Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug with Energy Monitoring). Read more: The best smart plugsThe Kasa Smart Plug Mini can also be set to control a device automatically on a schedule. For example, if you want your entryway lamp to turn on at 6 p.m. and off at 10 p.m., just go to the app and schedule it. As long as your Wi-Fi connection is solid, your TP-Link Kasa Smart Plug Mini will control your devices for you, so you can focus on more important things.

Read our TP-Link Kasa Smart Plug Mini review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The Wyze Bulb is an unassuming choice for best light bulb. It only costs $8, a fraction of what Philips or Lifx charges — and yet, it earned top marks in our testing. That only makes its incredible value all the more impressive.Wyze’s smart bulb is a dimmable white-light LED with a scheduling function and an adjustable color temperature. Download the Wyze app, screw in the Wyze Bulb and follow the simple setup steps — and you’re just a few minutes away from having app-controlled lighting. Wyze Bulbs work with Alexa and Google Assistant as well, if you want to use a voice command to adjust them. Read more: The best smart bulbsWhile the app is easy to use and the dimming, scheduling and color temperature settings work well, I do wish the app had a sunrise/sunset setting that automatically adjusted the schedule based on the time of year. I have three Wyze bulbs in covered outside light fixtures and have to occasionally adjust my schedule to account for the changing seasons. Still, they’re excellent bulbs at a great price; we highly recommend them. Note: Wyze Bulbs are technically indoor lights, so make sure to follow Wyze’s guidelines when you install these yourself.

Read our Wyze Bulb review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The $200 Honeywell Home T9 is a nice-looking smart thermostat at a reasonable price — especially because it comes with a remote sensor that tracks temperature, humidity and motion. The remote sensor, called a “Smart Room Sensor,” is powered by two AAA batteries and is supposed to have a 200-foot range. Additional sensors cost $40 each (steep, I know) and you can add up to 20. If you aren’t interested in buying the T9 bundled with a Smart Room Sensor, the thermostat costs $170 on its own. Read more: The best smart thermostatsThe Honeywell Home T9 Smart Thermostat is easy to install and the app provides straightforward step-by-step instructions to get it connected to your Wi-Fi and paired to the app. As always, make sure to consult an electrician if you have any questions about how this thermostat will work with your particular home setup. If you want to branch out from the app, the T9 thermostat also works with Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands.

Read our Honeywell Home T9 Smart Thermostat review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Let’s get the annoying stuff out of the way first. At $500 for a two-camera pack, the Arlo Pro 3 is expensive (it’s currently discounted to $450 on the Arlo online store). That $500 kit also includes a required hub that you have to connect to your router. Arlo claims the hub helps extend the Wi-Fi range of its Pro 3 cameras and improves the battery life of each camera’s rechargeable battery, but feel superfluous compared to all of the non-hub Wi-Fi security cameras out there. Read more: The best home security camerasThat said, the Arlo Pro 3 is my favorite home security camera. It’s weatherproof and can go anywhere, as long as your Wi-Fi network reaches it. It has easy-to-remove rechargeable batteries that can last for months on a single charge (battery life will vary based on use). And the camera itself has a built-in spotlight and siren to startle potential intruders. With an Arlo Smart subscription, starting at $3 per month, you’ll receive custom motion alerts that tell you whether it sees a person, a car, an animal or a package — and get 30 days of access to recorded motion clips. Arlo cameras are compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant.

Read our Arlo Pro 3 review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Simplisafe bridges the gap between professional security systems like Vivint or ADT and standalone home security devices like the Arlo Pro 3 camera. It’s a complete, scalable home security system you install yourself. The $229 “Foundation” security kit comes with basics, including a hub, a keypad, a door/window sensor and a motion sensor. Add extra sensors and other devices as needed.Read more: The best home security systemsFor $25 per month, you get professional security monitoring from a remote call center and access to the Simplisafe app where you can also check in on things yourself. Unlike professional security companies, Simplisafe doesn’t come with an “early termination” fee — or otherwise lock you into a contract. If you decide to cancel, or decide to move, you can either move your system to your new home or cancel without extra charges. Simplisafe’s security system recently underwent a design overhaul, too, making it much easier on the eyes than the last version. Overall, it’s an ideal system for someone craving the accessory options of an ADT without the contract.

Read our SimpliSafe Home Security review.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Unlike the pricey (but awesome) Arlo Pro 3, the $150 Arlo Video Doorbell is reasonably priced for a smart doorbell. The Arlo Video Doorbell has all the basics, including HD live streaming, motion alerts, night vision and two-way audio. It also has a wide 180-degree field of view in a 1:1 aspect ratio (meaning it’s easier to see packages left on the front porch than a traditional landscape view). Read more: The best video doorbellsWhen the doorbell detects motion, or if someone rings the bell, a motion alert goes to your phone so you can see who’s there — and talk to them. The doorbell also comes with prerecorded messages if you don’t want to talk to them directly. This hardwired doorbell has a built-in siren like the Arlo Pro 3 camera and offers the same optional Arlo Smart cloud subscription plan, starting at $3 a month. With Arlo Smart, you’ll get 30 days of saved custom video clips that specify whether the motion was a person, a car, an animal or a package being delivered.

Read our Arlo Video Doorbell review.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The $229 August Smart Lock Pro is a Bluetooth-enabled smart lock. It comes bundled with a plug-in Connect Wi-Fi module so you can also control your lock beyond Bluetooth range from the August app. Like other locks from August, which is owned by the same company as Yale, this model retrofits over most existing deadbolts and makes for a simple installation. Read more: The best smart locksIn addition to the lock and the Connect module, the Smart Lock Pro kit includes a door sensor and a related feature called “Door Sense.” With this feature, you can confirm whether your door is open or closed, as well as locked or unlocked straight from your phone. The app is easy to use, from following the step-by-step instructions to install your lock, to checking whether your door is open or closed — and customizing your lock’s feature in the settings menu. The August Smart Lock Pro supports Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri voice commands.

Read our August Smart Lock Pro review.

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Amazon Echo review: The best Alexa smart speaker in years – CNET

The new Amazon Echo boasts a striking spheroidal design. Chris Monroe/CNET Amazon’s fourth-gen Echo smart speaker is a ball to use — literally. Alexa’s new countertop speaker is spheroidal, a striking departure from the soft-cylindrical speakers of past generations. And honestly, six years after the first Echo launched 10,000 (or at least a few dozen)…

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Amazon Echo review: The best Alexa smart speaker in years     – CNET

The new Amazon Echo boasts a striking spheroidal design.
Chris Monroe/CNET
Amazon’s fourth-gen Echo smart speaker is a ball to use — literally. Alexa’s new countertop speaker is spheroidal, a striking departure from the soft-cylindrical speakers of past generations. And honestly, six years after the first Echo launched 10,000 (or at least a few dozen) smart speakers, a reimagined design was overdue.The big question of the new Echo is, well, how reimagined is it? Voice assistants are growing and changing all the time, but for the most part, they do what they’ve been doing for years already: answer questions, set timers, control your smart home gadgets, play music and so on. So why buy a new Echo?Amazon has faltered recently with its core smart speaker, as the more budget-friendly Dot has become a better entry point to the market and 2019’s Echo Studio offers higher-end sound for audiophiles. That’s left the $100 Echo as a sort of undefined middle child in the growing family of Alexa-powered speakers. But 2020’s Echo is genuinely different, and it’s not just because of the new spheroidal profile. This Echo has turned up the sound quality and added higher-end smarts than the competition, all for the same $100 price tag, leaving it one of the most forward-looking smart speakers released in years.

LikeImproved sound quality and powerful bassBetter smart home connectivityEasy and quality stereo pairing

Don’t LikeA bulky designNo revolutionary upgrades

Getting the ball rollingAmazon’s 2020 Echo boasts two important upgrades that should inform your decision to buy it or not: improved sound quality and smart home hardware.When it comes to sound, the Echo represents a significant improvement over the third-gen speaker from 2019, likely in part to the fact that the third-gen Echo essentially copped its design almost wholesale from an older device. In addition, the Echo has adaptive sound, so it can adjust to the acoustics of the room in which you use it. I personally didn’t notice dramatic differences in output from room to room, but the speaker sounded good in the various rooms and on the various surfaces I used for testing.The Echo sounds better than the last generation, but how does it sound compared to the direct competition? Google’s $100 Nest Audio, which dropped only a couple of weeks before the Echo, is a solid device. But the Echo simply boasts more power: the Echo’s volume at 85% is about equivalent to the Nest’s max.What’s more, between the Echo’s 3-inch woofer and dual 0.8-inch tweeters, bass and lower-range mids are richer and stronger. Listening to bass-heavy music, like Lil Wayne’s A Milli or Travis Barker’s recent Run the Jewels collaboration, Forever, the Echo keeps the low end thunderous even at high volumes, whereas the Nest Audio ends up feeling treble-heavy as the bass begins to drop out.

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That said, if you prefer more acoustic music, the Nest Audio provides marginally better performance of complex, midrange-heavy songs. Both speakers, though, really capture the texture of vocal-heavy music. The Echo, with its slightly better low range, sounds slightly better to my ear when playing Johnny Cash’s gravelly baritone in Hurt, whereas the Nest Audio sounds slightly crisper in its treatment of Lianne La Havas’s subtle vibrato in No Room for Doubt.As with Google’s new speaker, a pair of Echoes can be set up to work in stereo format. The effect is great, particularly with songs that take full advantage of stereo panning or asymmetric sound, such as The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army or Pink Floyd’s Money. Unlike the Nest Audio, the Echo has a 3mm line in/out port for connecting to other speakers.Both Amazon’s and Google’s smart speakers offer great sound quality for the $100 price tag, but after side-by-side testing with dozens of songs, the Echo takes the prize by a small but significant margin. It’s more powerful, and if you like hip-hop or trap music, the Echo will treat you well. Otherwise, they’re fairly comparable, with the Nest boasting a slight edge when it comes to some acoustic and classical music.A-round the houseThe Echo’s sound quality is admirable, but Amazon has distinguished its midrange smart speaker even more from Google’s Nest Audio and Apple’s HomePod Mini with its built-in hub, which features a Zigbee receiver and Amazon Sidewalk Bridge. If those things don’t mean anything to you, don’t worry. Essentially, Amazon has built in two new ways for smart home devices to connect to its smart speaker.The Zigbee receiver lets the Echo connect with countless smart home devices, from lightbulbs to flood sensors, without the need for an additional hub — the middleman device that translates various types of radio signals so your low-power sensors can communicate with your WiFi network. This small design decision has seriously broadened the range of gadgets Echo users can install in their house without the extra hassle and expense of a smart home hub.I tried installing a couple of Zigbee devices and found the process to be totally painless. This isn’t revolutionary — in fact, Amazon included Zigbee receivers in their $150 Echo Plus and their $230 second-gen Echo Show — but it is bringing better home connectivity to a broader audience, and that’s a clear win for Amazon customers.Plenty of window, flood and motion sensors rely on low-power communication protocols like Zigbee to extend their battery life.
Chris Monroe/CNET
What’s less clear is how Amazon Sidewalk, which Amazon says will launch later this year, will affect Echo users. According to a recent Amazon blog post explaining it, Sidewalk will allow users to “contribute a small portion of their internet bandwidth, which is pooled together to create a shared network that benefits all Sidewalk-enabled devices in a community.”Practically, that could mean a larger functional network for devices toward the edges of your property — say, outdoor lights or Tile tracking devices — or even beyond. It’s a cool idea, though how much you benefit from it will largely depend on where you live, and how big of a change it will represent for most customers remains to be seen.Home theater in the roundThe other home feature I was excited to try with the new Echo was setting up a home theater group. Connecting a voice assistant to your entertainment system feels like a real improvement, if you haven’t done it before. And the new Echo, using Alexa, works pretty well here.I used a 4K Fire TV Stick to create the group, and it felt great to be able to simply say, “Watch The Boys,” to Alexa, only to have your TV turn on and begin streaming the Prime show. The speakers worked fairly well, though I had one drop out of the group while I was testing it. If you have fast Wi-Fi, then it seems this setup would work well. In a house with multiple people streaming or using bandwidth in other ways, although relying on your Echoes for stereo sound might lead to more frustration than it’s worth.Amazon’s Fire TV Stick can join two Echoes in a home theater group in the app in under a minute.
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The other big problem I ran into was streaming music. I expected to be able to stream music as usual from the Echo speakers while the TV was off, then flip it on to stream video when I wanted. Alas, streaming music on the connected Echoes automatically turned on the TV, which scrolled lyrics to the songs. And when I manually turned off the TV, the music also stopped.Using Alexa to control your TV and dual Echoes for stereo sound as you stream is cool — it’s much better than you could do a few years ago. But the kinks still aren’t worked out to the extent I want them to be, so I still wouldn’t recommend picking up new Echoes for your entertainment center unless you have fantastic Wi-Fi and don’t plan to use the speakers for music, too.

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Ball is lifeThe best changes to the fourth-gen Echo might be sound quality and home smarts, but the most obvious change is its spherical design. Of course, this design isn’t some aesthetic revelation: Most smart speakers look basically interchangeable at this point, with a layer of fabric mesh over soft geometric shapes. Google’s recent Nest Audio is vaguely rectangular, and Apple’s soon-to-launch HomePod Mini is similarly spheroidal.The new Echo has a larger footprint, which isn’t ideal for kitchen countertop usage.
Chris Monroe/CNET
The ball-like profile, according to Amazon, enables the improved sound output, but it also comes with a few practical drawbacks — chiefly a larger footprint. If you’re planning to replace the third-gen Echo or an Echo Dot with this speaker, you’ll probably have to slightly reorganize your shelf. It’s a small complaint, but the kitchen countertop is some of the hottest real estate in many homes, and dedicating more of it to a smart speaker might not feel ideal for those of us with limited space.The Echo comes in three colors: the standard charcoal (black) and glacier white, plus a muted twilight blue. That’s a bit more conservative than Google’s array of pastels, but again, many of these aesthetic distinctions feel like minor quibbles.Those criticisms aside, the 2020 Echo feels like a much more worthwhile gadget than last year’s third-gen Echo. The powerful sound and smarts distinguish it from the competition, and with an ever-improving Alexa, buying a smart speaker hasn’t felt this good in years.

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Acer’s new smart speaker is a colorful contribution to the market – CNET

Acer’s new smart speaker will be available in early 2021. Acer If you’re interested in smart speakers, but not impressed by what you’ve seen from Amazon, Google or Apple, there are third-party speakers out there. Acer on Wednesday announced the Acer Halo, a $109 smart speaker with DTS sound, LED display and more.The Acer Halo sits…

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Acer’s new smart speaker is a colorful contribution to the market     – CNET

Acer’s new smart speaker will be available in early 2021.
Acer
If you’re interested in smart speakers, but not impressed by what you’ve seen from Amazon, Google or Apple, there are third-party speakers out there. Acer on Wednesday announced the Acer Halo, a $109 smart speaker with DTS sound, LED display and more.The Acer Halo sits on a base lit up by RGB lighting you can customize. The glowing lights can sync with streaming music, too. That music streams from a speaker with DTS sound designed to project in 360 degrees to fill the room.

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On the front of the speaker’s gray fabric cover, an LED light display provides visual information like weather or time. Acer is working on an app that will let you personalize the message or image displayed via LED.An LED display on the front of the speaker displays information.
Acer
The smarts behind this speaker come from Google Assistant. You’ll use the usual “Hey, Google” voice command to request music, podcasts, news and answers to questions. The Acer Halo is equipped with two far-field omnidirectional microphones to detect ambient noise and voice commands. A physical switch is available to mute the microphones.Acer isn’t the first third-party manufacturer to try its hand at a smart speaker. We’ve seen successful models from Bose and Sonos, among others. The Acer Halo Smart Speaker will be available in North America in early 2021 starting at $109. Its European price of 119 euros converts to about £110 or AU$200. 

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Google smart displays are getting a makeover, dark mode included – CNET

Google smart display interfaces are getting a new look.  Google Smart displays are just a few years old, but updates and redesigns are already in the works. Google just announced a brand new look for the user interface of its Google Assistant-enabled smart displays such as the Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max. Keeping tabs on…

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Google smart displays are getting a makeover, dark mode included     – CNET

Google smart display interfaces are getting a new look. 
Google
Smart displays are just a few years old, but updates and redesigns are already in the works. Google just announced a brand new look for the user interface of its Google Assistant-enabled smart displays such as the Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max. Keeping tabs on your homeThe overhaul starts with several new screens. The home screen now displays a quick glance at your day. In the morning that section is called “Your Morning” and it progresses throughout the day, displaying information like news, events on your calendar and the weather.

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Other new tabs across the top of the home screen will direct you to specific categories. Those tabs include Home Control, Media, Communicate, and Discover. Each tab holds tappable cards and widgets. On the Media page you’ll find music, videos, shows and recommendations. You’ll also be able to see and control what media is playing on other connected devices in your home. Media widgets will be customized to show content from your preferred streaming service. The Home Control tab displays a dashboard of all the connected devices in your home and tappable cards to adjust any device settings, like dimming lights or viewing the doorbell camera.The Communicate tab houses cards for video and chat settings, and the Discover tab displays ideas for things to do with your smart display like playing a game, hear a joke or find a new recipe. Dark mode and ambience settingsIn addition to organized tabs, Google-enabled smart displays are also several new ways to wind down in the evening and wake up each morning.Relaxing ambient sounds are coming to Google Assistant-enabled smart displays. 
Google
With dark mode on, your smart display’s color scheme changes, reducing light emission. You can set dark and light modes to activate automatically depending on ambient light of the sunrise and sunset. A selection of ambient sounds is also coming to smart displays for added relaxation options. A Sunrise Alarm feature is also making its way to smart displays, gradually increasing the brightness of your screen for 30 minutes before your alarm time. You can manage alarms on your display, set different alarms for weekdays and weekends, as well as choose alarm tones. Meetings and calendarsIn recent months, the team at Google improved Google Meet and Duo on smart displays and announced plans for Zoom to come to the device. Now smart displays will be able to link multiple Google accounts, so you can see personal and professional meetings all in one place. You can also cancel or reschedule meetings on your smart display. If you use Google Meet on the camera-enabled Nest Hub Max display, you’ll be able to move around the room while staying in frame. Google smart displays will support multiple accounts for calendars and meetings. 
Google
These new features and the new interface design will be rolling out in the coming weeks to all Google Assistant-enabled smart displays in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Spain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, and US.  

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