The diminutive Echo Show 5 has just gone on sale and adds to Amazon's growing Echo device range. It's a small, 5.5-inch version of Amazon's large Echo Show but is significantly cheaper - at less than half the price.

It also slots beneath the Echo Spot in the range, with its circular alarm-clock feel. Amazon seems to be pitching Echo Show 5 as an alternative device for the bedroom, or other occasional rooms where you want Echo with a screen.

We do wonder if we'll see a bit of a realignment of Amazon's Echo series this year – after all this device undercuts the standard Echo without a display. Could we also see other Echo Shows launch with numbers in their product titles – such as Echo Show 7 and Echo Show 10? Clearly, with Google also pushing screen-based devices at the moment, Amazon feels it needs to double-down.

Design, display and sound

  • Measures: 148 x 86 x 73 mm
  • 5.5-inch touchscreen
  • 4W speaker

One of the criticisms of the larger Echo Show is its size – at nearly 25cm wide – and large bezels. Of course, things are somewhat different with the Echo 5, at around 15cm wide. It's much neater, as you can see in our side-by-side gallery below.

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The 5's display appears brighter than that of the standard Show, too, which we felt wasn't of the highest quality. The smaller device does have significantly lower resolution, though, which does makes sense – but as it's smaller it appears clearer and crisper in many ways, at least when comparing the two side-by-side.

As you'd expect, the Echo 5's smaller scale means the sound output – it has a 4W speaker – isn't on the same level as the Echo, Echo Plus or Echo Show. But it's fine for most tasks.

Music sounds decent as long as you have a small-to-medium-sized room. At two-thirds volume it remains very listenable, but turn it up further and the treble is too much. If you want a great-sounding speaker and aren't so fussed about the screen, get the Echo Plus.

Hardware and specs

  • MediaTek MT 8163 chipset
  • 3.5mm stereo audio output
  • 1MP, 720p video calling camera
  • No Zigbee smart home hub support

While the larger Echo Show opts for an Intel Atom processor, the newer Echo Show 5 is based around a MediaTek chipset. There is a bit of lag with some commands and it is occasionally unknown whether Alexa has understood what you've said until several seconds later when the content you've asked for appears. Of course, this is also dependent on the quality of your connection – but we've been testing it on a decent network.

The top of the Echo Show 5 has a standard selection of buttons and five microphones – there are two between the buttons on top of the unit. There's volume up/down as you'd expect, and just as with all other Echo devices there's a microphone (and camera) on/off button – but this is now augmented with a physical shutter that you can slide across the cover.

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Although it's tempting to chalk it off as a victory for the paranoid, privacy is a hot potato and it's an easy add-on to say "hey, we're taking privacy seriously". That said, you surrender a lot of other information to Amazon – not least audio – so it's a needle in a haystack in reality. Still, it will provide comfort to some, while Amazon has recently also introduced the ability to delete the last thing you said to Alexa or all of that day's recordings.

The camera is poor at 1MP – mind you, that's better than the Echo Spot's VGA cam – and we don't really see why it couldn't be a little better, though it is capable of 720p video. The main Echo Show's camera is 5-megapixels. 

In terms of other small features, there's also a 3.5mm output jack should you want to connect up Echo Show 5 to an auxiliary sound system. There's no Zigbee smart home hub support here, unlike the main Echo Show and also the Echo Plus.

Software and Alexa

  • Better video calling options than ever
  • Still no YouTube
  • Skills are getting more video-focused

Of course, Alexa remains an extremely comprehensive assistant that's evolving all the time, while Alexa Skills are continually more plentiful and adapted for the screen. The Echo Show software is also much-improved thanks to updates but there's no getting away from the fact Alexa is still primarily designed for audio and voice interaction.

The 5's screen is, however, very useful for specific tasks – such as connecting to your Ring doorbell, making a Skype call, seeing detailed weather information, or Amazon's latest deals.

Amazon Echo Show 5 review image 9

OK, so you may not want to hear about the deals, but those other examples are where the screen comes into its own versus Alexa voice simply reeling deals off at you. Step-by-step recipes from BBC Good Food are also a great use-case for the display.

There are also quite disparate screen experiences with similar apps. We really like the on-screen lyrics when listening to music, but listening to a radio station – or with Spotify or Apple Music - doesn't give you much on-screen info worth looking at, other than album art.

Amazon has tried to paper over the cracks of there being no YouTube support, with Vevo music videos and WikiHow instructional videos (plus Amazon Prime Video, of course), but it's not enough. Amazon did announce YouTube was returning to Fire TV back in April, so it's odd that it hasn't debuted for Echo Show as yet. Google is trying to push its own smart displays so there could be something in that, but as it makes money out of ads whatever device you use it's a bit churlish to withhold YouTube from Echo Show.

Amazon Echo Show 5 review image 10

As we mentioned there's now Skype support, plus Drop In between Echo devices and the ability to make mobile calls with Vodafone UK. But these features do highlight a continuing issue with Alexa – it can do so much it's difficult to know where to begin. And it's also a challenge to discover new features. As well as a regular Friday email, Amazon is also trying to introduce undiscovered features to users via a swipe-from-the-right gesture from the home screen (above).

As with the Echo Spot, Amazon acknowledges some will use Echo Show 5 as an alarm clock, so the screen can illuminate gradually to wake you up gently. Which is a nice feature indeed.

Verdict

For the price, the Echo Show 5 is a great value device. Sure there are some compromises, such as in sound quality and no YouTube, but you are absolutely getting value for money and, knowing Amazon, the Echo 5 will soon be discounted further.

If you've got a specific use-case in mind for the Echo Show 5, such as Skype calling in the living room or to check your Ring doorbell, then it's an even better product with that in mind. It's on par with Google's Nest offering in this regard, too.

Amazon's Echo range does remain a little bit confusing though. Why would you pay more for the Spot, for example? And the Echo Dot is often discounted down to Echo Input levels. We're hoping that by the end of the year Amazon will give potential purchasers a bit more clarity. But if you want small-scale, a screen and voice control then this Echo is the one you're looking for.

Also consider 

New Amazon Echo Show Review screens image 4

Amazon Echo Show

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It's bigger and way more expensive, but the Echo Show has superb Dolby-enhanced sound and it's much better than Echo Show 5 for entertainment in a family room like a kitchen or living room. The on-screen experience is much the same, but again your Skype calls and how-to videos might demand that bigger screen. 

Google Nest Hub

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Although there's also now a Google Nest Hub Max, this device is most similar to Echo Show 5 - although it's slightly larger at 7-inches. And of course, it's better if you happen to be invested in the Google Assistant rather than Alexa. It has native YouTube and it'll also connect to Nest devices, as you'd expect, making for a competitive alternative.