Amazon now sells an Echo with a touchscreen. Yes, everyone's favourite voice-controlled smart assistant is evolving.
As much as we love the original canister-shaped speaker, adding a display to the mix seems like a natural evolution for Echo, which now sits in a line with four other Amazon-made Alexa-enabled devices (Echo, Dot, Tap, Look).
The Show has no app store or complex interface to fumble your way through, which makes it accessible. Saying that, there's also no learning curve – this thing just sits on your counter and answers your questions out loud, all the while displaying the time and any relevant requested information, alongside various slides with suggested Alexa tips to encourage more interaction. For some it will be a step beyond necessary.
Yet, for us, the Echo Show is our favourite Echo. Despite its simple looks, everyone we've shown wants to get one. Here's why we think you, too, will want to spend $50 extra to buy the Echo with a touchscreen (sorry UK readers, the Show is yet to launch in the UK).
Amazon Echo Show review: Design
- 187mm x 187mm x 90mm; 1.17kgs
- 7-inch 1024 x 600 resolution LCD touchscreen
- Included 6ft power adapter/cable
The Show is a wedge-shaped device with a matte white outer casing and a 7-inch touchscreen with the same resolution as an Amazon Fire 7 tablet. This screen is bright and viewable from different angles, but you really won't spend too much time looking at it – just a glance here and there throughout the day – so Full HD or higher would've been overkill (and unnecessarily upped the price).
We've reviewed the white model of the Echo Show and couldn't be happier about that. The black model looks kind of dated, oddly boxy, and just downright blah to us – whereas the white one has an air of modern about it. Some will call it the ugliest tech launch of 2017, but having slotted it into our home we disagree.
Surrounding the display is a decent-sized black bezel, which extends down to the flat speaker grille at the wider base of the device, which we can't help but wonder what it would look like if all-white. Nevertheless, this white Show manages to satisfy our love of clean Scandinavian design, so no complaints here.
The minimal appearance is (ahem) echoed in the controls: unlike the original Echo, the Show has no light ring – the bottom of the screen glows blue when you awake Alexa – and there's no flash or volume dial either. It is a minimal device.
Amazon Echo Show review: Making video and voice calls
- 5-megapixel camera used for making video calls
- Drop-In permits selected users to view through camera at any time
- 8-microphone array and dual 2-inch stereo speakers
So, about that touchscreen: the number one obvious reason for it is for video calling. Because at the top of the Show, you'll find a 5-megapixel video camera, which you can use to make FaceTime-like video calls. Just be aware that there's no light, if you want to make calls at night.
We personally enjoy hands-free, voice-activated video calls with other Alexa users. All we had to do was register our phone number with our Amazon account in the Alexa app, and then Alexa scanned the contacts in our phone to see if they also own Echo devices or use the Alexa app. Once found, the assistant adds them to a list of people to call or message.
We could ask Alexa to video chat with any one of them, and they could answer using the Alexa app on their phone or via the Echo Show. If they didn't own the Echo Show, we could always voice call another Echo they had or their phone via the Alexa app. We could even block unwanted callers.
But the coolest feature is "Drop In", which you'll almost certainly want to use if you have elderly loved ones. When enabled, you can allow specific contacts to call you and view your Echo Show's camera feed at any time. You don't have to pick up the call for this feature to work. You'll hear a chime, and they'll see a blurred screen for 10 seconds, giving you enough time to disable the camera or reject the call (an on-screen notification appears when someone is viewing your feed).
Drop In also works with a motion sensor inside the Echo Show. This combo allows your Echo Show to detect when you're nearby and notify authorised contacts. Yes, that might seem like a privacy concern, but just think about the use-cases here: imagine giving one of these to your grandma, who lives alone at home, and then being able to "drop in" at any time via your Echo Show to check on her.
Don't worry about grandma not being able to hear you either. Like Amazon's existing Echo speakers, the Echo Show has a microphone array with far-field beam-forming technology, which, in our experience, means it can pick up your voice from two rooms away.
And while the original Echo had a quiet, tinny sound, the Echo Show will fill your entire room and then some. The Show sounds louder than either the Echo or Google Home thaks to an audio upgrade, with a pair of Dolby-powered two-inch speakers. But we wouldn't recommend tossing out your Sonos speaker for an Echo Show – it's good, but it's not that good.
Amazon Echo Show review: Hardware and software
- No app store or app icons
- Interface has surface-level home screen with slides
- You can swipe between slides for more information
- Dual-band Wi-Fi (supports 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5 GHz))
- Intel Atom x5-Z8350 processor
We really like the voice-enabled YouTube search feature, too. Ask Alexa to play movie trailers and music videos, and they'll pop up, a la YouTube. It's not the fastest experience though, but it's quick enough and has yet to glitch out on us.
Beyond video calls and YouTube, the display comes in handy when tapping into Amazon's vast library of Alexa skills. Echo Show supports many smart home video cameras, so you can view your camera's feed on the screen with a simple Alexa command.
Honestly, there are tons of things you can do. You can ask Alexa to show you options when adding stuff to your Amazon shopping cart, for instance. You can read the local forecast when you ask Alexa for a weather update. You can ask Alexa to pull up a recipe video. You can play Jeopardy and see the questions written out on those iconic blue cards. And if you need a little inspiration, the display constantly rotates slides with suggestions on what you can do or ask.
Our Echo Show knows us well, as it's suggesting things relevant to us. "Ask Alexa about the Clooney foundation." So, we asked, and it told us the actor, George Clooney, and his wife, Amal, will be donating money through their foundation to open up schools for children in Syria and Lebanon. Cool. "Ask Alexa to show you kittens." See, it really knows us. In no time the Show selected a random livestream of a bunch of kittens rolling around. Where has this been all our lives?
Echo Show essentially displays information related to whatever you ask. Ask it a question, and you'll hear an answer, but sometimes the screen presents additional details. For instance, if you ask Alexa to play a song, you'll not only hear the song but also see song lyrics scroll by on the screen. Ask Alexa about a celebrity, and you'll see their picture.
The Show will also show you videos on demand, including Prime Videos if you're a Prime member. We, jokingly, asked it to play some Creed, and instead of playing the band, it played the movie from Prime. So it's not impervious to mistakes; sometimes Alexa gets it right, sometimes she gets it wrong.
But Amazon's assistant is far from finished. It sucks if you can't remember the exact right keywords for skills, but basic phrases – "show me", "find", "search for" – work like a charm, and if nothing else, it is fun to poke around and explore what else Alexa can do. For instance, you can control smart home devices with it.
Amazon Echo Show review: Was there not another way?
If you want to control playback, you can ask Alexa or, of course, tap on the screen. But the latter is hardly ever necessary, given Alexa's voice control. Plus, many Alexa skills haven't yet been reworked for the Show's screen. That means you'll find yourself trying to use one command, then getting excited about maybe being able to tap on the screen, and quickly figuring out there's no need to interact with your fingers.
Remember, Echo Show doesn't have a traditional app store or even a desktop with app icons on it. It's just a home screen that automatically flips from slide to slide (though you can swipe through them, too). At this moment in time it's not really an input device, but that could change over time.
Amazon's Alexa ecosystem is growing super fast, so the Echo Show has a lot of potential. Before you know it, Netflix and Hulu will be adding video skills. Popular games and apps will be available. There's absolutely no reason why Echo Show can't become as useful as an always-on, always-charged, voice-activated tablet.
That said, Amazon could have easily made this a speaker with an Amazon Fire 7 attached to it. It could've allowed access to the Amazon App Store, an Alexa Skills library, a web browser, and everything. It could've used the same version of Fire OS that's found on its tablets. But it didn't. Maybe Amazon just doesn't want to risk cannabalising Fire sales?
Amazon has turned its Alexa voice-control assistat into a wider platform. And the Echo Show, which is essentially an Echo with a touchscreen, expands what you can do with Alexa and how useful the service is.
However, for $230 (no UK price until the device is available here), we'd like to see more touch-enabled Alexa skills to make the most of that screen. We'd also prefer a device with higher-end speakers, a fully-fledged operating system, and an app store. If the Show was a store-and-charge facility for an Alexa-enabled Fire tablet, then we think Amazon might be onto something even bigger.
But, remember, we're in early days still. Whether you love or loathe its looks, there's nothing else out there right now that directly compares to the Echo Show. There are plenty of voice-activated speakers with assistants, but none with a touchscreen.
The Echo Show is an interesting device, and Amazon could go in so many directions with it. We'd like to check back in a couple years from now, because we have a feeling this is only the beginning. We already love it more than any of Amazon's other Echo devices and we think it's totally worth the extra 50 bucks over the original Echo – on account of its better sound quality alone.
Alternatives to consider
We think hands-free voice control is a godsend and that Alexa, Amazon Echo's personal assistant, truly distinguishes this Bluetooth speaker from the competition. It's blown our minds – whether for listening to music, adding to our shopping list, adjusting the heating or asking other apps to do their thing. It's just a shame that, in terms of audio quality, Echo doesn't quite blow our minds.
Read the full article: Amazon Echo review