Amazon has been evolving its Echo hardware since 2014, building up the Alexa virtual assistant to be more interactive with each iteration. With five of its first-party products now housing Alexa and one more on the close horizon, it’s evident that the company is eager to get home automation into the life of every consumer on the planet.
So what did Amazon think was the next step towards making your life even more seamless? A 7-inch touchscreen. Okay, so it’s a bit more than that, it’s also a speaker with Alexa built in. And it’s called the Amazon Echo Show. The big question is whether you should buy it or not, and that’s exactly what we aim to do in this Amazon Echo Show review.
The Amazon Echo Show is fairly bulky, especially in its depth. While its front face makes a perfect square at 7.4″ x 7.4″, the Show reaches back 3.5″, creating a stable base for the 7-inch touch-screen and dual speaker system. The Amazon Echo Show’s shape is quite different from other Echo devices, but it manages to maintain a consistent design language with the rest of the family, employing the same matte-black rubberized shell and a glossy speaker grill to house the internals. It’s not the most attractive device in the world, but it does blend in fairly well with a variety of living spaces, which is clearly what Amazon is aiming for with these assistants.
What does adding a display mean for the Echo Show?
The biggest addition to the Amazon Echo Show over its cylindrical cousin is its big, bold 7-inch touch-screen. This is a big change from the purely voice controlled Echo devices of the past, and creates an entirely new dimension of interaction. The screen is a 7-inch 720p panel which looks a bit washed out if you look at it close enough, but handles video fine for something that is supposed to be a complimentary media consumption device.
With a screen plastered to the front of your Echo you can do things like watch the lyrics of your favorite song bleed down the display as it plays, search for videos on YouTube and Amazon Video, and follow step-by-step cooking instructions through skills like AllRecipes. The catalog of visual abilities is currently quite limited, with only primary first-party functions and a small selection of third-party skills adding visual functionality so far. This will change over time as more skill-makers come to the platform, but for now the Show’s screen is of limited use.
The Echo Show is still mostly controlled using your voice, but the ability to consume visual content just by asking is something we’ve only seen with Google Assistant in mobile devices. Even when the content you are consuming uses static images (such as a news briefing from NPR), having a small logo in the corner displaying what you are listening to is surprisingly helpful and tastefully done.
This is especially helpful with smaller tasks, such as setting timers. Since Alexa allows you to set multiple timers to count down different things, seeing a visual representation instead of needing to ask every time you want to know how much time is left is incredibly useful. While the Amazon Echo Show has the ability to do things like play video, it’s the smaller tasks where it really shines.
See also: Smart speakers – what are your options?
Amazon Echo line gets a camera
The Echo Show has another quirk that isn’t available in other echo models – a camera. This 5MP shooter is made for doing quick video calls to other Echos, as well as those using the Alexa app. The camera’s low megapixels and the washed out, low resolution screen don’t make for a fantastic calling experience, but it works pretty well in a pinch.
Because the Amazon Echo Show is angled back about 20 degrees you’ll want to keep it lower than eye level so the person on the other end can see you. Most people will likely be keeping these on their counter tops in places like their kitchen, so as long as you aren’t shorter than that the video functions should work fine.
Dropping in, speaker quality, and what we do/don’t like
Amazon has introduced a feature on Amazon Echo Show called “Dropping In,” which allows any user in your registered list to start a video call with no need for the recipient to manually answer. This could be concerning for those who care a lot about privacy, but it could also be very useful in situations where you need to jump into certain rooms on the fly. If you have an elderly family member that you talk to every day and they don’t answer, being able to drop in on their home to see if they’re ok might be very important. However, those who don’t want the possibility of sudden unexpected video calls will want to keep this turned off, which it is by default.
The Echo Show has two built-in speakers and they sound quite good. They’re significantly louder than the original Echo, but are still lacking in the bass department. In our testing Google Home still did a better job with audio overall, although it is a bit quieter.
The show utilizes eight microphones in the top of the device which are housed in vibration pads. These microphones are really good. So good in fact that they can hear keywords from across the room while the speaker is blasting music. The older Echo and Google Home do this quite well too, but the Echo Show takes this to a completely new level. Amazon clearly considered this a priority in this iteration, and they’ve done a fantastic job at making this better than ever.
What I like:
The Amazon Echo Show adds a new layer of interaction to the already reasonably mature Alexa virtual assistant. Though the video functionality is currently a bit limited, it’s the small bits of added functionality that really give the Show its charm. The animations and graphics presented by the Show have a very defined aesthetic that is very clearly “Amazon” in nature, and it seems like the company is finally refining not only a hardware design language but also one coded into their software. The interface feels fresh but familiar, and makes you smile every time a new little graphic shows up that you weren’t expecting.
While the screen itself isn’t very nice, it adds a ton of functionality. Even though you still primarily control this Echo with your voice, the ability to ask a question about a video and receive a visual answer is intuitive. Having a visual view and audible dictation helps you soak up the information that much better.
Overall, the thing I love the most is just how natural the Echo show feels in your home. It doesn’t feel like you are forcing another piece of technology to your life, but rather that you are simplifying your life by introducing a vessel of nearly unlimited information and entertainment. It’s not perfect, but Amazon has hit the mark with a piece of technology that will satisfy consumers of all levels with its simplicity and elegance.
What I don’t like:
Alexa’s search algorithms seem to work very, very differently from Google’s. When looking up video content on services like YouTube, I often found it difficult to find the content I wanted to watch by only using keywords. Searching for videos on the Show gave me vastly different results than if I had simply typed them into YouTube myself, and it was often difficult to play the content I wanted without using a very specific combination of words.
This device isn’t meant to display visual media like a traditional computer. The Echo Show only works with Amazon Video and YouTube at the moment, but the 720p screen is clearly only meant to display static graphics and words. You won’t get a crystal clear video picture, but it’ll do in a pinch.
The touchscreen doesn’t work for nearly as many applications as you might think. The Echo Show still uses voice as it’s primary input method. While the touchscreen works well for selecting an item you may want to purchase on Amazon, it simply did not work for many other tasks. This may be due to the fact that most people are going to be using this thing in areas where their hands are busy or dirty like the kitchen, but it would have been nice to have the option to input information with your fingers a bit more often.
Amazon Echo Show – My final verdict
The Amazon Echo Show feels like the logical next step in Amazon’s constantly evolving ecosystem of first-party Alexa-enabled devices. As a gadget primarily targeted to be placed in your kitchen, the Show slips into place more elegantly than most other gadgets, and immediately makes itself useful. Whether it’s settling a debate with a simple question, watching a tutorial video on YouTube, or shopping for items on Amazon, the Echo Show does it very well.
For $229, the Show might be a hard sell, especially for those that already own Amazon’s original Echo or even one of the smaller Echo Dots. If you don’t already own one of those devices, the Show is worth the $50 price premium for sure. If you do though, you’ll have to consider how much the screen is worth to you.
Amazon’s done telling us how great Alexa is. Now they’re finally starting to Show it. So that concludes our Amazon Echo Show review. Are you interested in picking one up? Let us know down in the comments.