Does Amazon’s new Echo hit the right spot?

Tech Review: Amazon Echo Spot is a video-enabled smart home device for €137

Amazon Echo Spot: not only does Alexa help you out in her nice, polite, slightly unnerving way, but now it has a built-in display.

Product name: Amazon Echo Spot

Price: £119.99

Where to buy: amazon.co.uk

Website: amazon.co.uk

Thu, May 17, 2018, 06:00

   

Unless you’ve been avoiding all tech news for the past couple of decades, there is a good chance you know who Amazon is. And if you are a regular user of the retail site, you might have heard of Alexa, the brains of Amazon’s smart home devices.

Officially Amazon launched the Echo range of smart speakers in Ireland in January, when the Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Plus went on sale. Now, we have the Echo Spot.

The Echo Spot is a video-enabled Echo device. Not only does Alexa help you out in her nice, polite, slightly unnerving way, but now it has a built-in display. Why would you need a display? Many reasons. First of all, if you are a smart-home adopter, then it’s likely you have an internet-connected camera of some description in your home. Baby monitor? Video doorbell? Motion-triggered video camera? The Spot hooks up with (some of) these devices to display your video feeds on the screen. If you use recipedia or AllRecipes for cooking, you can display the recipes on screen instead of waiting for Alexa to read them to you.

Setting up the Echo Spot is as simple as the rest of the Echo devices. Switch it on, follow the prompts on screen, connect it to your wifi and your Amazon account, and it will be ready to go – after a quick search for any software updates, of course. It’s a two-minute job and then you are good to go. You can change the wake word that kicks Alexa into action – Echo, computer, Alexa or Amazon – and customise the background with one of your own photographs, all through the app.

It essentially does the same as the regular Echos, but you can watch video or read from the display.

Quick procedure

Setting up the Echo Spot to work with the Ring doorbell – also now owned by Amazon – was a quick procedure. Ditto for the baby monitor. Watching video on the app wasn’t that enjoyable for TV shows – the screen is too small for my liking – but as a connected recipe book, it was better reading the recipe myself on screen than having Alexa repeat it.

All that is great, but there is one thing that people should be aware of. The Echo Spot has its own camera. If you are putting this in your bedroom, as I did, you might want to consider the placement, if you are in any way conscious about pointing a camera at your bed. At the very least, a friend with an Echo Dot could “drop in” on your Spot with a video call, provided you have enabled the function for the device. You get a few seconds warning, but honestly? That’s not enough.

I wouldn’t consider myself the most paranoid – although I occasionally unplug the Echo Dots around the house, and have my webcam covered on my laptop – but I had a serious think about whether I was comfortable with a camera in my bedroom. The compromise is that it’s angled pointing away from the bed. Like other Echos, it needs the wake word to activate anything, but it feels like we’re heading down a road here where the constant presence of cameras is entirely normal.

The good

The Echo Spot currently lives in my bedroom – strategically angled – and has replaced my alarm clock. The screen dims at night, on a schedule set by the user, and each morning the screen displays the weather alongside the time. It’s a useful feature. It also works with the baby monitor and my Ring doorbell, so I can view the video feed without having to look at my smartphone, even if the screen is quite small.

The not so good

Does the video screen add much for Irish users? If you have a Spotify account, you can get lyrics – not always the correct ones, mind you – and if you have a Prime video account, you can watch shows on the tiny round screen, but many of the skills you can do without. Basically, most people will be paying more for a fancy alarm clock. But also, a fancy alarm clock with a video camera in it. The question is, with the Echo putting a microphone in your room, do you really want to add a video camera into the mix?

The rest

The speaker in the Echo Spot is far better than the Echo Dot, so if you are looking for a compact Echo that isn’t the Dot, the Spot is your best bet. It’s more expensive though. Also, disable drop-in for everyone except your own household.

It’s for your own good.

The verdict

If you feel the addition of the video screen is worth the extra money, go for the Spot. Otherwise, the Echo Dot is still a decent, cheaper option for Alexa fans.