Is Amazon’s new Echo all Show and little substance?
Review: Smart speaker comes with 10-inch video screen and smarthome hub
Amazon’s new Echo Show comes with a smarthome hub built in, which means you can add smart devices to your home without having to buy all the hubs to go with them.
Product name: Amazon Echo Show (2nd Gen)
Where to buy: amazon.co.uk
Let’s be up-front: I’m not entirely sold on the Amazon Echo Show. On the one hand it has got a nice display and a great speaker; on the other, it’s another Amazon device with a camera, pointing at us at any time of the day or night.
It’s not that I have any general objection to the concept of a smart speaker or Alexa. That digital assistant has become a vital part of making sure that everything runs smoothly in my home. I have several Amazon Echo devices around my home, mostly the cheaper Echo Dots, and Alexa is regularly drafted in to do everything from controlling my smarthome devices and compiling my shopping lists to pitching in with the kids’ bedtime routine and reading a few stories through Audible. My one year old has even mastered the art of getting Alexa to switch lights on and off for her.
We are getting used to Alexa being an ever-present force in the house. The Echo Show, however, feels on one hand like it’s overkill, and on the other that it doesn’t actually do enough. It’s a bit of a contradiction.
By all accounts, the new Echo Show is an improvement on the original. I can’t say for certain as it was never released in Ireland, so this is the first time I’ve got my hands on one. If you are unfamiliar with it, the Echo Show is Amazon’s smart speaker with a video screen, bigger than the Echo Spot, and far more suited to watching video than its mini sibling.
While the front is entirely screen, the back is a speaker. It has got some powerful sound to it, but the design gives it a possibly unintentional retro feel, a bit like an old portable television if you view it from the back. It’s far from it on the inside. The Echo Show has smarts; like the Echo Plus, there’s a smarthome hub built in. That means you can add wifi bulbs, smart plugs and other devices to your home without having to buy all the hubs to go with them – provided they are compatible with the Echo, of course.
The aesthetics may not appeal to everyone, but that 10-inch HD screen does look good when you start using it. When you aren’t using the device, it flips through some standard screensaver stuff – images with some suggestions about what you can command Alexa to do – and when you are using it you can flip through photographs on Prime Photo, or TV on Prime Video.
You can video call someone with another video-enabled Echo device, or use it to peep in on your Ring doorbell (which Amazon bought a while ago). You can also take you own photos with it, although why you would want to I have no idea. That camera is always there, with no way to block it unless you get handy with some electrical tape.
The trouble I had with the Echo Show was that I couldn’t think of a compelling reason to have it. Lyrics on my music? Meh. Prime Video on a small screen? I prefer watching on a big screen. In between uses, it flips through trending news, displays timers or shows your appointments if you give it access to your calendar – nice but not essential. If you have a Ring or a compatible baby monitor, you could use it to keep on eye on the footage. It just feels a little like overkill though, especially when the bulk of things the device can do can be done by the regular Echo line up, minus the slightly creepy camera.
When I finally did find something I wanted to use the screen for, it didn’t go too well. What I really wanted was Alexa to show me some recipes in the kitchen. But Alexa being Alexa, what I got was a big fat nothing. Alexa listened, then ignored me anyway. It’s just another person in my house who pays little or no attention to me, so you think I’d be used to it. But Alexa is supposed to be listening, ready for commands, so it feels a little more insulting somehow. I’m not saying Alexa is deliberately rejecting my attempts at communication; that would sound weird and slightly paranoid. But she (it?) certainly isn’t making things easy.
The Echo Show should be a hit – and probably will be for many people. And yet, I still feel more than a little underwhelmed by it.
We’ll take Amazon’s word for it that the new Echo Show is an improvement on the original, but that screen is great, and the sound from the speaker is surprisingly good.
The not so good
Is it worth having a video screen for the Show? For the most part, I found that the screen wasn’t essential to how I interacted with the device on a day-to-day basis.
The smarthome hub could open up a world of new devices for your house.
Technically, it’s great. But practically? I’m not sure I want to live with one.