Amazon Echo Show 2018 review

Echo Show grows up – but still has a lot to learn

Amazon Echo Show 2018

The Amazon Echo Show caused ripples in the smart speaker world, and we’re now in a second arms race, that of tech giants gunning for the smart speaker with a screen. But while the Google Home Hub and Google Smart Displays are all just getting started, Amazon is back already with its second Echo Show.

And this time around, it’s beefed up the tech. No comparisons to propped-up Fire 7 Tablets here. The Echo Show has grown in every respect – aiming to bring a better audio and visual experience, and attempting to stake an even bigger claim to your home. But is it worth the money? We lived with it to find out.

Echo Show 2018: Design, screen and sound

So what is the Echo Show? That’s a decent question to start – to make sense of what this device is, and why you might want it.

Essential reading: Best Amazon Alexa devices

Simply an ordinary Echo but equipped with a screen, it’s a re-engineered Alexa experience, aimed at being a media and smart home hub. Just like the Echo Spot is pitched as a bedside clock (although can be used anywhere), the Echo Show is constantly presented as a kitchen device.

Amazon Echo Show 2018 review

The screen has grown since the first generation, and it now has a 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 display. It’s not the sharpest by any means, and full HD wouldn’t have gone amiss, but we don’t really have any complaints. Visuals are nice and sharp, and TV shows played from Amazon Prime Video look decent.

And it’s not just the screen that’s grown. We were surprised at how deep the Echo Show is – with its almost cubic rear, adorned in a soft fabric mesh. That houses dual 2-inch drivers and a “passive bass radiator” for a punchier sound for music and video watching. And it produces a big sound, with particularly booming bass, which we ended up turning down using the new Alexa equalizer – accessible by swiping down from the top.

We wouldn’t say that music sounded particularly great with this dual driver set up, but it will fill a big, busy room – when music is a background noise than a premium listening experience.

On the top are three buttons, and we actually found we used these more than we expected. There’s volume up and down, as well as the standard Echo mute and privacy button. Using the Echo Show in the kitchen, we often reached out to use the screen and physical buttons, and they’re conveniently placed on top.

Echo Show 2018: Smart home hub

Amazon Echo Show 2018 review

The Echo Show is a smart home hub in this iteration and Amazon has opted to add a Zigbee hub inside, just like the Echo Plus. That means that Zigbee smart home products (such as Philips Hue) can be added directly, without using their native apps/hubs – a good thing.

Predominantly smart home control works the same way as every other Echo device: you bark the command at Alexa, and stuff turns on/off. It works the same here, and there's no need for further explanation really – it’s still the best smart home experience out there, but you could get that with a £50 Echo Dot.

However, the Echo Show adds physical aspects to the smart home control.

Like the Echo Spot, if you ask Alexa to turn on some lights, for example, you will get an on-screen slider to control brightness. And this is always accessible by swiping down from the top and choosing Lights & more. From there you can see all of your groups and devices, quickly turning things on and off, as well as running Routines manually. It’s kind of cool, reminding us of those posh Control4 style hubs in footballer’s houses, and we could see it being a popular feature.

Echo Show 2018: Alexa and the screen

Amazon Echo Show 2018 review

The big story of the Echo Show is, of course, what it shows via that 10.1-inch screen. And it surprises us a little that Amazon is still working this part out itself.

Alexa is now a fully formed product/service in its own right, but the transition to a display is still very much a work in progress, and the experience is regularly more clunky than you might expect.

First, there’s still no dedicated YouTube app, but you can now open it in a browser and play stuff – which works OK. It’s a fudged experience, and the web pages doesn’t render all that well on the Echo screen, which is probably a factor of why a full HD screen wasn’t included.

Amazon still hasn’t perfected how it tells Echo Show (and Spot) users which Skills are optimised for the screen, so there’s even bigger confusion about exactly what this device can do. And many of those Skills are buggy and just don’t work the way you’d want.

Even integral Amazon experiences are a bit wonky. Asking Alexa to set a timer while you’re watching a TV show on Amazon Prime Video, for example, will open the visual timer, and it’s awkward to resume playback. And a couple of times this switching between apps just caused the playback to stop, and resume from the beginning.

Answering the door via our Ring doorbell also returned us to the homescreen too. And if this wasn’t evidence enough of the patchy way screen features are being implemented, Ring (which Amazon now owns) still won’t alert your Echo Show, nor offer two-way audio.

Amazon Echo Show 2018 review

Cooking – which is constantly demo’d by Amazon as a key part of the Echo Show experience – is also an example of how this isn’t quite a polished experience. You can ask Alexa to show you recipes, and she will ask you what kind of food you want to cook. That’s normal in Amazon’s weird insular world, but it just doesn’t work in practice.

The recipes returned from Recipedia are mostly not appealing (to me personally), and it’s hard to search. “Show me a fajita recipe” returned one very poor option, and it’s painful to browse more using Alexa.

Amazon Echo Show
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The cooking instructions are also hard work. Alexa bellowing out instructions is just stressful. It would be much easier if you could send recipes to the Echo Show once you’d found them somehow – but that seems a long way off.

That might feel like a damning report on the Echo Show, but there are positive aspects to the screen. The news headlines are kind of nice, the wallpapers are cool, the video chat works well, and stuff like weather reports are nicely displayed. But Amazon has not perfected porting Alexa to a screen, and there’s much work to be done.

Amazon Echo Show 2018 review

Echo Show 2018: Video calling and camera

The Echo Show has a 5MP front-facing camera, which can be used for video calling. And this part works well. You can ask Alexa to video call friends, or other Echo Shows/Echo Spots around your home.

Video quality is fine, without being stunning, and audio is clear – although you do seem to get some audio distortion during silence. Speech itself was extremely clear, however.


Amazon Echo Show (2018)
The Echo Show’s hardware is a big improvement on the last generation, and has the power to be a decent central hub inside your home. The beefy speakers make the Echo a decent music playing option for large, busy rooms and the generous 10.1-inch screen is decent for catching up on TV shows or video calling friends. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it in this regard. But Amazon has still not managed to marry Alexa and a screen in a coherent way – as yet. The experience is a little frustrating; few of the “killer apps” the company likes to demo feel polished and the visual skills suffer from a lack of quality. Alexa is still an audio and voice assistant, and so long as you remember that, your expectations of Echo Show will be realistic.​
PROS
  • Decent, bigger screen
  • It's still Alexa
  • Booming sound
CONS
  • Sparse skills
  • A bit buggy
  • Still a work in progress

TAGGED   amazon   speakers   smart home

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