(Pocket-lint) - Since the launch of the original Echo Show, Amazon has been expanding its offering in the smart display category - a category which, let's face it, Amazon basically created.
For 2021 the Echo Show 5 enters its second generation, making minor updates to the version that first went on sale back in 2019.
Design and build
- Dimensions: 148 x 86 x 73mm / Weight: 410g
- New colour option: Deep Sea Blue
- Recycled materials
The Echo Show 5 is exactly the same size and scale as the previous model. So you'd be hard pressed to tell the old Show 5 apart from the new Show 5, except that there's now a Deep Sea Blue colour which joins the black or white options.
The only design differences is that the camera opening in the bezel of the display is now square rather than circular, and the 3.5mm audio output on the rear of the old Echo Show 5 has now been removed - so there's no option for connecting to existing speaker equipment here.
Otherwise, the big change in this device is the shift over to using more recycled materials in its construction. That gives this device a greener footprint, as Amazon attempts to make its operation a little more environmentally responsible.
There's a rubber foot on the bottom of the Echo Show 5 to reduce surface vibration and keep it securely planted. The controls all lie across the top, with a physical privacy slider for the camera (so you can hide from view as you please), along with volume and a mute button.
The last consideration is that this Echo Show - like the Show 8 - has a wedge-like design, meaning it sits with the screen leaning backwards. That gives visibility when it's sitting on a desk, table or surface; it's an angle well suited for viewing and calling when sat at your desk, for example.
Overall, while the Echo Show 5 is affordable, the quality is decent. As most of the design is covered in fabric there's very little plastic to look at. About the only design gripe we have is that the bezel is still pretty wide - but that's similar to Amazon's tablets, so it feels like it's a family design, rather than Amazon just being lazy.
Display and sound
- 5.5-inch touchscreen display
- 960 x 480 resolution
- 1.65-inch speaker
The name of this device is derived from its display size. At 5.5-inches the Echo Show 5 is hardly massive, hence it's best placed on a desk or bedside table. The screen is really too small for a full room experience - you'll want the Show 8 or Show 10 for that.
The display is your interface into the visual side of Alexa, very much reflecting the experience you'll find on the other Show models, designed to give you easily digestible information. That will extend as far as playing video - from the likes of Netflix or Amazon - but we doubt many people would settle down to watch movies on such a small device.
It loses out to the likes of the Nest Hub devices in not offering a native YouTube app (although it will play through the browser) and YouTube is the sort of service that's useful for watching those adhoc videos.
The Show 5's display isn't up to the quality you'll find on modern smartphones, dimming pretty quickly when viewed from an angle, but again, at this price and on this type of device, we can't see that really matters. The resolution is pretty low too, but it fits the big graphics it displays. This might limit more detailed user interface ambitions in the future, because there's not a lot of resolution to make things more detailed if Amazon wanted to later down the line.
It also doesn't dim quite as well as you might like at night - there's still a glow to the panel and the night view could certainly be improved, but we didn't find it disturbing when sleeping.
The speaker has a 1.65-inch driver that's what we'd call "local" rather than room-filling. But what's great about it is that Amazon has managed to implement it without the tinny sound that has plagued so many clock radios of yesteryear.
No doubt the experience of designing devices like the Echo Dot have had a role to play here, with all Amazon devices capable of producing decent sound despite their size, with enough bass to give some richness to the audio. Just don't push the volume up too loud as that'll reveal its limitations, but as a bedside or desk companion the performance is pretty good.
However, the real charm of the Echo Show 5 lies in its Alexa performance, such as being able to ask to play music from a full range of sources, where it performs really well.
Camera and calling
- 2-megapixel camera
- Alexa Calling
So nothing has significantly changed with the second-gen Echo Show 5 compared to the original version, but when it comes to the camera, something has.
The Echo Show 2021 has a 2-megapixel camera on it - double the resolution of the 1-megapixel camera on the previous edition - which means there's greater resolution when it comes to video calling, home monitoring or, if you wish, taking photos.
Those photos aren't a patch on anything you'd take on your phone, while the "home monitoring" - viewing the camera via the Alexa app - isn't anywhere near as dynamic as you'll get from a dedicated connected security camera, so it's a bit of an emergency feature only.
If someone in your household monitors the Echo Show then you'll see a notification on the display, so it's not a spy camera, but we also found this feed would regularly stop and say that live video wasn't available.
Video calling makes more sense: calling between Echo devices in a household is easy - "Alexa, call my Echo Show 5" - while Alexa Calling is also an option, although it's hardly refined when the voice recognition confuses who you want to call. Alexa will often interpret a name it hears as a request to call someone, so it can feel edgy at times.
The other question is whether you want video calling on such a small device. The display isn't a patch on what you'd get from something larger. And while the camera has been boosted, most people will find the performance from their smartphone considerably better.
Of course, if you don't want that, you can slide the privacy cover closed and no one will be able to see you - and as a bedside device, that might be the option that lots of people choose.
A sluggish interface
One of the things that hasn't changed on the Echo Show 5 is the core hardware driving it. That's also apparent when you start trying to touch the screen to interact.
Most voice requests are pretty slick - especially when you're just asking Alexa to do a core task. "Alexa, play BBC Radio 1" will see the rapid commencement of that radio station. But some of the tasks that require a hardware response - "Alexa, take my photo" - are much slower.
In fact, there's a lot of confusion when you utter that last request, because Alexa will respond "swipe left for stickers" and then take your photo. Make this request when the Echo Show 5 is doing something else and you'll probably find yourself looking at a black screen.
That brings the general feeling that the Echo Show 5 has been given abilities that it's struggling with. Certainly, the voice experience around music far surpasses the touch experience - and this is a long way behind the experience of the Google Nest Hub, which by this point has a user interface (UI) that's a lot more refined and useful.
But let's see the Echo Show 5 for what it is: most likely a bedside Alexa device and not a lot else. At this size most people will take advantage of Alexa's offerings, with the lower price reinforcing its purchase potential.
There are control options on the device itself, but you'll need to use it in partnership with the Alexa app on your phone to get the best experience from it. For established users of Alexa, the biggest gains really come from the fact that once you've signed into your Amazon account, you'll be able to control all those smart home devices that you've previously setup, so things really are quite simple.
Amazon has always designed to a price, making its devices really competitive and knowing that Alexa voice control will drive the experience.
Alexa continues to deliver in the Echo Show 5, so for those already fans of the system it's a great small-screen experience. For those just looking for something even simpler then the Echo Dot with Clock is a viable alternative.
As a bedside device the Echo Show 5 performs nicely, setting alarms, giving voice control to smart home devices, and being ideal for ad hoc music control and playback.
Alternatives to consider
Lenovo Smart Clock
The Lenovo Smart Clock sits in a similar position, but based on Google's system instead. It lacks a camera for video calling, but otherwise offers a similar overall range of functions.
Echo Dot with Clock
The Echo Dot with Clock lacks that screen and has no camera, but will offer you the same Alexa functions such as music control, while the clock is great for bedside tables.