(Pocket-lint) - This is the second-generation of the largest Echo Show - Amazon's series of touchscreen Alexa devices.
The original Echo Show marked a step-change for the Echo family - which until then didn't offer a screen-based solution - but didn't quite live up to its billing (woes like not being able to display YouTube videos because of a dispute with Google didn't help).
We've been living with this second-generation for well over a year. There are now several competitors, including Google Home Hub and Lenovo Smart Display - both of which use the Google Assistant rather than Alexa and, therefore, exist in a different family.
There's also increased competition from Amazon's own Echo Show family. The smaller Echo Show 5 debuted in the middle of 2019, intended more for a bedroom or smaller space.
Then there was the Echo Show 8, which misses out the Zigbee smart home controller from the device we're reviewing here. It also doesn't have such beefy Dolby-enhanced audio as this standard-issue Echo Show. But then it is significantly cheaper and is definitely worth a look as well.
This Echo Show ups the ante on the original, especially in terms of the beefier sound and larger display. It was crucial that the Show improved its audio offering, not least because we're all looking for better quality sound from smart speakers and devices. That's what makes it such a compelling smart speaker for the kitchen.
However, for many the cheaper Echo Show 8 will offer enough appeal at a better price point - even though it doesn't have Dolby-enhanced sound or the Zigbee smart home controller.
This Echo Show also has room for improvement and we'll surely see it refreshed in 2020. We'd expect a higher-resolution screen for one thing. There's plenty of work to do on the software side of all the Show devices, too. Many Alexa skills simply aren't optimised to take advantage of the screen.
As such the Echo Show is in an interesting place where Amazon-designed software elements work well (shopping is great as you'd expect) but third-party stuff often doesn't.
Amazon Echo Show (2018)
- Far better audio than original
- Great for simple voice-controlled tasks
- Ring integration (for those with the doorbell)
- Reflective display isn't the brightest
- Lack of native YouTube (workaround via browser)
- Many Alexa skills not optimised for screen
- Echo Show 8 possibly more compelling
Design, display and sound
- Large 10.1-inch HD (1,280 x 800) touchscreen display
- Dual 2-inch Neodymium drivers, passive bass radiator
- 246 x 174 x 107mm, 1.7kg
- White or charcoal finishes
The second-generation Echo Show is more of an entertainment device than the model it replaced. That's thanks to two standout features: its 10.1-inch HD touchscreen display and beefed-up audio.
Although it's larger overall than its predecessor - the screen is 3-inches bigger than the 7-inch panel before - the Echo Show doesn't appear as bulky or clunky looking by design. There's not heaps of space assigned to a front-facing speaker this time around, making for a far better-looking product.
Instead, the second-gen Echo Show features upgraded side-firing speakers with 2-inch neodymium drivers that really can fill a room with sound. Amazon worked with Dolby on the sound processing and it'll be more than enough punch for your kitchen - unless you've got a food preparation area to rival Downton Abbey (presumably yours is a bit more modern though).
As it's possible to stream to Show from your Bluetooth device, this Amazon device remains appealing even if you don't use Spotify or Amazon Music which the Echo supports natively.
However, one disadvantage with the Show's audio is that it can be too bass-heavy. That's fine if you're listening to most types of music - and like listening to it at a decent volume - but at low volumes, the mids and highs get lost, to the point that other members of the family remarked that bass was coming through into another room.
The 10.1-inch display is sharp enough, but we had fully expected a higher resolution at this scale. Our guess is that's nailed-on for the Echo Show's replacement, which will no doubt come in 2020.
But as video playback isn't really a strength of the Show's software offering - more on that later - it isn't a dealbreaker. If high screen resolution is what you want, then the larger Lenovo Smart Display has you covered.
There are other display issues: it's very glossy and thus there are plenty of reflections; it's also not the brightest going. In a bright room - say a kitchen with numerous downlighters - you may find this is a problem when trying to read text on the screen.
Hardware and specs
- Intel Atom hardware
- 5-megapixel webcam
- Zigbee smart hub on board
- Alexa Calling, Drop In, Skype forthcoming
Aside from the new display and audio, the Intel Atom-based Echo Show has a few other new specs and software enhancements of note.
Just like with the Echo Plus, the Show offers a built-in Zigbee smart hub, so you can now ask Alexa to discover and control new smart home devices, providing they're Zigbee compliant.
This is a definite advantage over the Echo Show 8 and Echo Show 5.
You can also access those smart home devices directly with a swipe on the display, to turn on and off lights, for example, if you don't want to use your voice. You can also access Alexa Routines here, another recent addition which will you automate various processes on your Echo devices.
There's a 5-megapixel camera for HD video calling - as with the original device you can use it for Drop In calls to friends and family - and Skype is also available. If you regularly use Skype to contact friends and family it's a welcome addition, as you'll be able to just ask for your Skype contacts by name. What Amazon isn't yet offering is anything to rival the Nest Cam integration that will appear on the new, larger, Google Nest Hub Max.
There are eight microphones on the Echo Show, but just like all Alexa devices there are times when Echo Show doesn't hear you - usually through talking too fast or too quietly. Generally, though, the mic pick-up is pretty decent and you'll be heard most times you say the "Alexa" activation word.
Software and Alexa
- No YouTube integration
- Step-by-step cooking instructions
- Two-way Ring communication
It's still an elephant in the room that the Echo Show can't fully play YouTube videos. Amazon has worked to circumvent this by striking a deal with Vevo to stream its music videos. Good as that is, it's not YouTube, right?
There's another slightly clunky workaround though. As the Echo Show now offers browsers - Silk and Mozilla Firefox are now on board - it's possible to access YouTube.com.
Thanks to touchscreen controls, it's possible to navigate your way around the browser, so you aren't needing to ask Alexa to navigate you around as you are with many Alexa skills. This does solve the problem, just not in the most eloquent of ways like a dedicated skill via an app would.
The Echo Show is great for visualising some of the simpler commands you can give Alexa: weather comes alive; a run-down of your calendar in spoken word; and more. It's much like Google's Home Hub in this regard.
But it's where the third-party skills come in that things go awry. There are stacks of Alexa skills, of course, but many of them aren't optimised for Echo Show and the overall impression is still of patchy support for Amazon's touchscreen devices.
The marriage between Alexa as a voice assistant and Show as a screen-based device isn't quite aligned and you'll find yourself trying to touch your way through a skill when you actually need to give the next command with your voice. This can feel a lot more laboured than just getting your phone out and finding the information another way.
A lot of this is due to the poor information and graphics displayed on screen. A basic example of this is if you ask "Alexa, play Radio 1", then the BBC skill opens and you just see the letters BBC on screen. There's no indication of what station it is or what show. Ask "Alexa, play Radio 1 from TuneIn", and you'll see the station logo and name. It's here that Alexa has started to get a little fractured as it has grown: the BBC offering isn't actually better, which irritating messages about signing in; the same happens on Global player (covering many commercial radio stations), which always nags for postcode details - even if you've given them.
In this sense Google Assistant is now a lot more polished and, in reality, seems to have a lot more information at its disposal. Alexa does learn and evolve, but Google is clearly smarter.
You can watch Amazon Prime video content but we don't think Show is the ideal device for consuming content for any length of time – it's fine to play the kids a cartoon while you're making dinner, but you're not going to stand there and watch the entirety of The Greatest Showman on it. And it's excellent for Amazon Music – the screen will even show you lyrics now for many tracks.
Amazon now owns smart doorbell company Ring. You can currently view what's happening at your door by saying "Alexa, show me the front door", but a future update will also offer two-way communication through the Show itself. If you have a Ring doorbell already, that's a compelling reason to buy an Echo Show and we only expect this integration to expand.
Hands-free recipes were another selling point of the original Show. Amazon has now partnered with several cooking sites to provide instructional videos for the updated Show, as well as step-by-step instructions should you need them.
The Echo Show is a super additional device for a kitchen or communal space, while the audio has been given a much-needed boost. There are some foibles - such as lack of YouTube, a slightly reflective display, and some skills lacking screen-based optimisation - but all-round the second-gen Show is a notable improvement.