As much as we love the original canister-shaped Echo speaker, adding a display to the Echo seems like a natural evolution for Amazon's smart assistant, which now sits in a line with a growing number of other Amazon-made Alexa devices (Spot, Echo, Dot, Tap).
Designed to be a voice-first devices, you don't have to worry about an app store or complex interface to fumble your way through, which makes the Show accessible. There's also almost no learning curve: the Show just sits on your counter and answers your questions out loud, 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 easily our favourite Echo. Despite its simple and perhaps divisive looks, everyone we've shown wants one.
A divisive design you'll be happy to live with
- 187 x 187 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 black or 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 probably 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).
The white model of the Echo Show is perhaps the more contemporary in its design; 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. Thus, there's no escaping that this is a design that divides opinion.
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. The only controls sit on the top of the Show, letting you manually change the volume or mute Alexa, to stop her listening all the time.
Making video and voice calls on Echo Show
- 5-megapixel camera used for making video calls
- Drop In permits selected users to view through camera at any time
- Alexa Calling
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 you have to do is register your phone number with your Amazon account in the Alexa app, and then Alexa will scan contacts to see if there are other Echo or Alexa app users. Once found, the assistant adds them to a list of people to call or message - it's seamless and hassle free.
Video calling is supported on the Echo Spot - the smaller bedside version of the Show - as well as within the Alexa app.
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.
Alexa Calling is one of the obvious benefits of the Show and that extends to calling around your own home. You can video call your Echo Spot in another room, or just call any other Echo device using voice, so it basically works like a home intercom system that the whole family can use.
Echo Show sound quality and microphones
- 8-microphone array
- Dual 2-inch stereo speakers
- Supports Echo multi-room
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 some distance away.
It's pretty reliable, working better at hearing your voice over loud music than some of the smaller Echo devices.
And while the smaller, cheaper, Echo has a sound that's not so good, the Echo Show will fill your entire room and then some. The Show is louder than either the Echo or Google Home thanks to a pair of Dolby-powered two-inch speakers. It will give you room-filling audio, but if music quality is your primary concern, then you'll probably want to stick to your more accomplished speakers.
That's likely to only be a concern for demanding music listeners. For us, the Echo Show has the power to deliver a wide range of music types, while maintaining balance for voice too. It's great for radio listening in streaming, which is really where the Echo family is pitched.
Unlike many other Echo devices, there's no Bluetooth on the Echo Show, nor is there a 3.5mm connection option. You can, however, make the Echo Show part of a multi-room group. Through the Alexa app you can easily group devices so they will all play the same music, ideal for parties or social occasions. It doesn't do stereo pairing, per se, but will help you get a bigger sound across more of your home.
Amazon Echo Show features and skills
- 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
When the Echo Show first launched, one of the things we likely about it the most was the ability to play YouTube videos, making this a great portal to the world of online video. That position has now changed, with Google pulling YouTube from Echo Show and it's unlikely that it will return. Google (who owns YouTube) has launched its own screened devices called Smart Displays - which, naturally, will offer YouTube.
At its core, the Echo Show supports everything that other Echo devices can do, in many cases adding a visual element to back it up. 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 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.
When it comes to things like music, Amazon Music will often give you lyrics - so people can sing along - your timers will have a visual display, with a cool countdown as you reach the end.
Of course the display can show videos - and the absence of YouTube isn't the end of the world. Show will play Amazon Prime Video if you're a Prime member. We amusingly 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 and often that's amusing, giving you a response you don't necessary expect.
Another string to the Show's bow is smart home. Like all Echo devices, it's perfectly suited to be a smart home hub, with skills in place to support many major brands - like Hive, Nest, Arlo, Ring, Hue - but with the display being a distinct advantage. Not only can you turn your lights on and off by voice, but there's the ability to view your connected cameras. You can just ask to view from your Ring doorbell or other devices and it all works nicely.
But Amazon's assistant is far from finished and we doubt it will ever stop evolving. Living with an Echo device for a few months sees it develop new skills or new features, so there's always more for you to be doing. We've found Alexa to be stable on the Echo Show - not showing some of the problems we encountered on the new Echo speakers - but sometimes Alexa will confirm a timer and then say there is no timer. If in doubt, set your timer, then check it's actually running.
Was there not another way?
If you want to control playback of music 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 or way 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, more 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 a bit more like Google's Smart Display. 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 cannibalising Fire sales, or maybe it wants Echo Show to be as simple as possible, so while the form or this device could have offered a wider range of functions for the display, there is a lot of merit in not making it too complicated.
Amazon has turned its Alexa voice-control assistant 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 £199/$230, we'd like to see more touch-enabled Alexa skills to make the most of that display. One approach might have been to give it full access to Amazon's App Store, but at the same time, we appreciate the simplicity of the Echo Show's approach. It's simple enough for anyone to use.
Whether you love or loathe its looks, there's nothing else out there right now that directly compares to the Echo Show. That will change with when Google's Smart Display devices hit the shelves through 2018, but right now, the Echo Show is where the action is.
The Echo Show is an interesting device, and Amazon could go in so many directions with it and we have a feeling that 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.
First reviewed August 2017.
Alternatives to consider
Amazon Echo Plus
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. The Echo Plus sounds better than the smaller Echo 2, while also offering easy Zigbee connections for smart home fans.
Google Home Max
Google's answer to weaker sound quality is the Home Max. This is a larger, fuller, speaker that's designed for those who want a smart speaker that's going to really deliver volume, while staying fully smart too. Of course it doesn't have a display so it can't compete with the Echo Show on the visual front, but it will dominate it in straight music playback. Sadly, it's only available in the US.