Amazon clearly sees huge potential in its Echo Show range and in a visual experience for Alexa in general. In late 2018 it refreshed the main 10-inch Echo Show. In the middle of 2019, it launched the Echo Show 5. Subsequently, it announced this model, the Echo Show 8. It sits in-between both of those older models.

Therefore, the Echo Show 8 is a compromise between the compact Show 5 and the larger second-generation Echo Show. That latter device is large for a reason, because of its display, Dolby-enhanced audio and Zigbee smart hub (the Echo Show 5 and 8 don't have those two latter features). 

Design

  • Standard Echo buttons on top
  • Privacy shutter for the camera
  • Available in black or white

The Show 8 is more like a larger Show 5 rather than a smaller Echo Show.

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That's because the standard Echo Show has over-large bezels and a very chunky design to accommodate the beefer audio. Although smaller, the Show 5 and 8 refine this, with a more appealing screen-to-body ratio on the front. 

There's also a less chunky rear design, while the standard Echo button controls are joined by a physical privacy shutter on top. Again, that's like the Echo Show 5 rather than the larger Echo Show (which doesn't have the physical shutter) - although as with every Echo device you can use the mute button to disconnect the camera and microphone. Amazon says that user feedback led it to implement the shutter.

Dennis Stansbury, Amazon's UK head of Alexa experience and devices told Pocket-lint during the UK Echo Show 5 launch that "we want to give customers choices over [privacy], you can always press the button on the top which disables the microphone and camera - disconnecting power from them - and then if you just want to interact with voice you can use the camera shutter."

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Like the Show 5, Show 8 is available in white or black.

Screen, sound quality and specs

  • 8-inch 1,280 x 800 display
  • Dual 2-inch speakers with passive bass
  • Based on a MediaTek platform

The larger second-generation Echo Show has a 1280 x 800 resolution - and it's this that drips down to the Echo Show 8, even though the display is 2.1-inches smaller.

That means the display is pretty crisp - something we can't say the same about the larger Echo Show, which we think needs beefing up. It's one of the reasons we reckon the larger Echo Show will be refreshed in 2020.

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The audio prowess of the Show 8 is a significant step up from the Show 5 - and that alone could be worth shelling out for versus the Echo Show 5. It doesn't quite have the punch of the main Echo Show - which has Dolby-enhanced audio - but for significantly less it makes the larger device look poor value. 

Both devices offer 10W per channel, while Show 8 has dual 2-inch speakers with passive bass. That makes it perfect for music in a kitchen or family room, though don't expect to use it as a main music device. It's certainly no Echo Studio or Sonos One

The original Show and Show 8 run on different chipsets - the larger Echo Show is Intel Atom based, while the Show 8 is based on a MediaTek platform. 

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The only other feature of the larger Show that the Show 5 and 8 don't have is a Zigbee smart hub built-in (like the Echo Plus). If you don't need that though, then the Show 8 is probably the Echo Show you need. 

Software

  • Fire OS operating system
  • Many Alexa Skills not suited for the display
  • Basic Alexa functions work well with a screen

Once again, Amazon's own adaptation of Google Android - called Fire OS - is used to power the device. It works fine and shows information clearly, especially for basic Alexa commands such as checking the weather, viewing the latest deals on Amazon or pulling up your calendar. But it falls apart with more complex Alexa features, such as Skills. 

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That's because so many Alexa Skills remain audio-based. Alexa is still - we'd argue - designed to be talked to rather than interacted with on-screen.

There are so many Alexa Skills and even some reasonably simple features (like playing the radio) that display next-to-nothing or too basic information on the display. They simply aren't ready for visual presentation.

Playing from Spotify (like other Echo devices, this is Spotify Connect capable) gives a basic experience on the screen, yet with Amazon Music you get lyrics and nice-looking backgrounds. 

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As we've observed before, there's a constant tension between Alexa as an audio assistant and Alexa for the Echo Show - and it's this that prevents the Echo Show 8 from being a five-star device.

However, it must be said that this situation is improving all the time, while many Alexa users will only want the basic features that are baked-into the device. And there are some applications - such as showing a Ring video doorbell - that make the screen come into its own. Making Skype calls is also really good. Step-by-step recipes from BBC Good Food are also really very good to follow along.

There's still no YouTube app on Alexa devices, despite Amazon and Google supposedly having made up, which remains a big miss. How do you watch videos online? Of course, you use YouTube. You can watch it through the bundled Firefox or Amazon Silk browsers, but it remains a messy hack.

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Amazon has introduced native support for WikiHow instructional videos, Vevo music videos and, of course, there's Amazon Prime Video. But it's not quite enough. 

Verdict

At a significantly cheaper price than the larger Echo Show, the Show 8 has most of its appealing features and is also a significant step up from the Echo Show 5.

Could it be that Amazon will replace the larger Echo Show with a better-quality screen-based model to justify the extra expense? Watch this space. In the meantime though, the Show 8 is the best Echo-and-screen experience you can get. 

But as we mentioned, the Alexa-on-screen experience is one of occasional compromise. With no native YouTube app and many Alexa Skills not being optimised for the display it can feel a bit half-baked. 

However, as a kitchen or family room device there are none better than the Echo Show 8.

This article was originally published December 2019

Also consider 

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Amazon Echo Show

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The Echo Show has superb Dolby-enhanced sound and has even beefier sound than the Echo Show 8. As you'd expect, the on-screen experience is much the same but Skype calls and Prime Video look decent, even if the next version must boast an improved screen resolution. 

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Google Nest Hub

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This 7-inch device is only a little smaller than the Echo Show 8 and is naturally better if you want Google Assistant instead of Alexa. There's native YouTube, too, and it'll also connect to other Nest devices, as you'd expect. Also, check out the larger Google Nest Hub Max as well.