The Amazon Echo Show takes the Alexa voice assistant and squeezes it into a cross between a digital photo frame, small TV and smart speaker for something that's more than just an interesting novelty.
What Is It?
The Echo Show is effectively what you get if you took an Alexa-integrated Fire tablet, put a powerful speaker on the bottom and framed it with glossy black plastic. The result is a rather monolithic look.
For such a small thing it looks fairly imposing, and has split opinion of visitors to my house 50:50 on whether it's attractive, but placed in a corner or on a shelf, it can easily blend in with the surroundings. In fact, when it's not actively doing something, the Echo Show can operate like a smart, internet-connected version of those digital photo frames that quickly went out of fashion.
You can pick from a rotating catalog of Amazon's images, a single photo or a whole album of photos from your Amazon Photos library to show on the 7in touchscreen. I was surprised by how nice it was to have a rotating selection of choice memories on display -- I wouldn't have bought a digital photo frame to do the job, but a multi-purpose device seems easier to justify.
The time and a series of cards showing latest headlines, calendar appointments and other customizable bits and pieces are displayed over the top of the image, plus suggestions of what you can ask Alexa. Having the time constantly visible is great, but I wish you could remove the "Try Alexa …" suggestions.
The at-a-glance information is handy, particularly if you have your calendar hooked up to your Alexa account, and formatted to be readable from across the room. You can turn off the screen manually, just by asking, or holding the mute button on the top for a few seconds to turn the device off completely. The screen will automatically dim when it doesn't detect your presence or isn't on a set schedule.
Setting It Up
Most Echo devices are set up through the Alexa app on Android, iOS or browser, but the Echo Show's screen means you can do all the wifi and account set up on the device itself. Put the power cable in the back and simply follow the on-screen instructions. The touchscreen typing experience was surprisingly solid, meaning the Show took a little over five minutes to get everything set up and watch the useful introductory video that runs you through the basics of using it.
All the settings, brightness controls and other bits can either be accessed by asking Alexa for the settings or swiping down from the top. Along the top of the Show are a row of buttons. The mute button, which turns off the microphones and the camera, is on the left and volume controls are on the right. Surrounding the buttons are the holes for the mic array, which like other Echo devices, hears you over pretty much anything, even when the Show is blasting out music.
What Does It Do?
The Show does everything you'd expect of an Alexa smart speaker, from answering questions to controlling smarthome appliances, giving you the weather or the latest news. The twist is that most things come with some visual information.
For instance, if you ask Alexa for your flash briefing, if your chosen news source has video it'll show you video instead of just audio. BBC News, for instance, pops up with an hour-applicable update taken from the BBC News channel or similar. It's played in such a way you don't need to look at the screen to get the gist, but it's more interesting if you do.
Information cards are also displayed for certain questions, such as the weather, which give further at-a-glance information. My favorite is the display of the list of timers you currently have on the go, which makes it invaluable in the kitchen.
The screen also enables one of the things that I've been longing for ever since installing smart cameras in my home. With the Ring Video Doorbell 2 hooked up, I can simply ask "Alexa, show me the front door"” to see the feed, which is a lot quicker and easier than digging out my phone.
Another good example is the playback of music. It works just like the original Echo, with support for a range of music services. If you use something like Spotify, the screen shows album art and play controls. If you use Amazon Music you can also get lyrics up and other bits. It's not necessary, but the screen adds another element to the smart speaker experience.
There are other skills that use the screen too, and more are being updated to use the screen, meaning the Show is one of those devices you buy and keep finding new uses for.
There are a couple of things the Echo Show can do that other Echo devices cannot for obvious reasons. The first is video playback. Amazon Video is supported along with YouTube, but there is no Netflix. Watching an episode of the Grand Tour is as easy as asking for it and picking the correct episode. You can control playback via the touchscreen or your voice, which is handy when cooking. YouTube support has been ropey since Amazon and Google appeared to have a spat in September. A browser-based system was implemented on 21 November, which works but isn't as well integrated as it used to be. A similar system exists for Vimeo and Dailymotion videos too.
The Echo Show can also do video calling, either between Echo Show devices within the home or to Echo Show devices owned by others, or between the Android or iOS Alexa app and the Echo Show. It works surprisingly well, with a good video from the front-facing camera and clear audio through the speakers. All you need to do is say, "Alexa, call [name of your contact or device]" and it fires up.
The Echo Show is the best-sounding, loudest and most direct Echo device yet. It's two speakers facing forward below the screen easily fill a room. It doesn't have a tremendous amount of bass, but is easily able to compensate for the din made by all that goes with cooking with powerful, full-range sound.
• The Echo Show body is pretty shiny.
• Alexa can't say "pasta" when you set a timer for the pasta, calling it "paster," but then correctly calls it "pasta" when the timer goes off -- weird.
• You can use it like a Bluetooth speaker.
• A strip along the top or bottom of the screen acts like a light bar showing when Alexa is listening or muted.
The Amazon Echo Show costs [$199.99 US] and is available in black or white.
The Amazon Echo Show is a great little device with a lot of potential. Fitting a smart speaker with a screen adds another dimension to the experience, enabling things such as video calling and watching video -- all controlled via voice -- that just wouldn't be possible without a screen.
But at more than twice the price of the excellent second-generation Echo, it's also expensive for an Echo device, and the features and functions that the screen adds are just that -- value add-ons that aren't necessary for the regular functions of Alexa. How much utility you get out of it depends on your particular setup.
For anyone with compatible smart cameras in their homes, it feels like a no-brainer. Or if you're looking for a device to simplify the video-calling experience. The Echo Show is arguably the best smart cooking companion, offering visual guidance as well as voice, and it is the best sounding Echo too.
Pros: Screen, Alexa, Amazon Video, YouTube, can always hear you, Bluetooth, video calling, excellent smart home control, great sound
Cons: Always-listening object in your house, can activate accidentally, limited number of music and video services supported, expensive compared to Echo