Sometimes it's easy to forget that the Amazon Echo or smaller Echo Dot are even in your home. The Echo Show, Amazon's first smart home hub with a screen, is a very different story. The Echo and Dot are purely voice-based devices, which encourage you to shot out into the ether and get a response. Sure, you know where they are at all times, but you don't need to pay any attention to them.
Instead of melting into the background, the Echo Show almost feels like a bull in a china shop. It's hulking, with its big face angling - literally - for your attention.
Get started: Your guide to Amazon's Alexa
You can't fault the name choice though - Amazon's latest toy constantly wants to you show things, craving for you to see and interact. There's also a camera so that you can do video chats and, even more creepy/futuristic (depending on how you feel about these things), drop in to other people's home and rooms.
So, with a fairly hefty price tag and a whole new dimension, is the Echo Show something a worthy addition to the diversifying lineup of Alexa devices?
Amazon Echo Show: Design
Plenty of jokes have been made about the Echo Show's design, but yes, it does look like the portable TV my gran used to keep in her kitchen. The Show is the smartest but ugliest of the Echo household, but if the movies of my childhood taught me anything, it's that this means the Show has the potential to blossom into something truly wonderful, right?
It's an angular slab of plastic (matte-black or white) with a chunky bezel framing a speaker grille and a 7-inch, 1024 x 600 resolution touchscreen. I'd go as far as to call the Amazon Echo a good looking device; the Show is far from elegant. Does that matter? Well, unless you're watching video on it, chances are you're not going to be staring at that screen for lengthy periods, but it's also made to be placed for all to see and hear, so you'd hope for something a tad more, well, inspired.
The face of the Show is angled upwards, the obvious thinking being that it's probably going to sit on a kitchen counter or table below head height, so this way it's both easier to read and interact with. The angled design also means you won't be craning your neck to so dad can see your face on the video chat, which will happen via the 5-megapixel camera sat on the top.
Speaking of interactions, the touchscreen is pleasantly responsive, making it easy to swipe through videos, music tracks, or just your home screen messages. For now, there aren't a lot of skills making use of the screen, but hopefully that will change before long.
It's a nice and vibrant screen too, making it easy to read from afar (important), and compensates a bit for an otherwise outdated aesthetic. It's not as sharp as we'd like for watching video, but then the only time I used this for video was when cooking, and in those instances I don't think people will fret too hard over resolution. Otherwise, surely you'd just stick on the TV instead.
Along the top of the Show you have three buttons, two for volume and one to mute the microphones at any moment. And that's it. It doesn't inherit the Echo's blue light system to let you know Alexa is listening - instead this is indicated on the screen.
The Show is also surprisingly heavy with a large power brick, but those points matter less given you won't be moving this around once it's found a home. The Show is designed to be a hub, and if you place it with its back to a wall, the unexciting design blends away a bit, and you're left with something that can just about fit in. Just.
Amazon Echo Show: Features
While video and video chatting are the two big features that display uses, Amazon has gone ahead and given Alexa some small, video-based nips and tucks. Mostly. She shows you information now.
It starts on the home screen, which has pretty backgrounds married to the time and weather. Below that is a carousel of rotating news, video and suggestions. While a small addition, it proves abundantly useful. Every time I walk by the Show, I see something interesting that I need to know about. A German man swam to work to avoid traffic? "Alexa, tell me about the German man." MTV TV show Teen Wolf is turning into a podcast? That sounds dumb, "Alexa, tell me about Teen Wolf."
The things that you know that Alexa can do, like tell you the weather or your commute, also get additions. It's nice to see a visual version of the weather report Alexa is telling you, or seeing the news report she's reading. It's much more useful, however, for things like the weekly weather report, or seeing what movies are playing near you. This is information that works much better in visual form than audio form. If you've ever used an Echo, you know that there are certain interactions that Alexa takes forever with. She just drones on and on and on. Now, thanks to a display, you can get some of that information much more quick.
Then there's maybe the most useful Alexa feature of all, especially in the kitchen: the timers. Now you can actually see how much time you have left in the timer. There's a specific timer view, which makes that timer big and easy to see. When it goes to the home screen, it'll tuck itself near the bottom of the display. When you're getting toward the end, you'll get a neat animation that visually counts down until the timer goes off.
Oh, by the way, there's also a Photo Booth app. You can take a single shot, a four-shot collage or something called sticker mode, which basically lets you overlay graphics and stickers and such onto the real world. The quality isn't as bad as you expect, and it's kind of fun! But it also loses its luster pretty quickly. Plus, because the camera is angled upward, it's pretty difficult to frame your photos. If you're taller - I'm 6'0 - you may need to crouch down a bit depending on where you put the Show. If you're shorter, you may need a little boost. If you've got tall and short people in the photo together, good luck!
Amazon Echo Show: All in the screen
What can you use a 7-inch display for in the smart home? The most obvious use, of course, is video, and Alexa has gained some new abilities to take advantage of that new touchscreen display. She can now bring up video from YouTube and Amazon Prime. All you have to do is ask.
You can ask Alexa to search YouTube for videos, and when she presents the results to you you can either use the touchscreen to scroll through the results or tell Alexa to play the video corresponding to a certain number. Alexa, you see, can't understand the video titles in the search results. So instead of saying "Alexa, play the funny cat compilation 2017" you have to say "Alexa, play number 1."
Movie trailers are the other big thing here. You can simply ask Alexa to bring up a movie trailer and she'll do it. "Alexa, play the Thor: Ragnarok trailer" for instance, works perfectly. However, it is a little finicky. "Alexa, play the Black Panther trailer", for instance, is something Alexa struggles with for some reason.
If you have Amazon Prime, you can also bring up content from Amazon Prime Video. It all feels a bit weird though. YouTube videos and movie trailers, in addition to news reports, tend to be short and bite-sized. You can easily watch or listen while you work or do whatever you need to do. TV shows and movies, however, are longer and require more attention. Plus, video content tends to feel a bit squished on that display. Sound quality also leaves much to be desired, but that's because the speaker at the bottom feels mono since it all points in one direction. If you're used to the speakers on other Echo devices, this one might feel like a disappointment.
The Echo Show can also use its display, and the camera above it, for video calls. You can video call anyone with an Amazon account enabled in the Amazon Alexa app, even if they don't have an Echo Show. Similarly, the reverse is possible. Anyone with the Alexa app can call your Echo Show. In our tests, video calling worked pretty well. It sounds good and looks clear.
How useful video calling is to you is a completely different story, however. If you place your Echo Show in your kitchen, as I did, it might just be a big old distraction. It's a little odd taking video calls in your kitchen, and distracting to do so while you're trying to cook. If you place the Echo Show in another room, like a bedroom, living room or office, then it might be a lot more useful. Those are places you can relax a little easier, kick back and chat with someone. In the kitchen though? Audio is perhaps a better option.
And then there's Drop In, which allows you to instantly start a video chat with someone who has an Echo Show. You can either kick it off by using the companion app or asking Alexa on the Show itself. You'll instantly get connected to someone, and they'll be able to see you straight away. Your view of their room or home, however, will have a translucent fog for a couple of seconds. There's also a loud noise that alerts people that you're dropping into their lives.
This feature is creepy, sure, but you can customize who is allowed to "drop in". More than that, however, is that it feels rude. Even if you've set it up with people you know extremely well, it's the equivalent of showing up to someone's house unannounced. If you're that comfortable with someone, then Drop In could be useful, letting you into their lives much easier. If you're not, then you should stay away from this feature.
Amazon Echo Show: Skills
The biggest potential for the Echo Show's new abilities are in its skills. Unfortunately, right now there isn't a whole lot of things that take advantage of it. The most useful implementations have - surprise, surprise - been in the kitchen.
The AllRecipes and Food Network skills have both been updated with Echo Show abilities. The Food Network skill will play short videos that walk you though how to cook your meal. The AllRecipes app, on the other hand, will display the ingredients and directions. You'll have to scroll through them yourself. Two different implementations, but both are useful. AllRecipes is more omnipresent while Food Network will have you replaying the video until you undert what you're supposed to do. Both, however, are far more useful than before.
There's also implementation with smart security cameras, like the Ring Video Doorbell. It's far more convenient to ask Alexa to open up your live feed than to pull out your phone, get out the app and look at it there. However, the skill - right now - is not where it could be. You can see your live stream fine, but it also feels limited. You're not receiving notifications when someone rings the doorbell or your motion detector is set off, for instance.
Thus far, the skills built for the Show are useful, but it's hard not to feel like developers need a whole lot more time to build out a little mini-ecosystem just for the Show, its camera and its display. It'll get there eventually.
- It's still Alexa
- Video chatting
- Speaker disappointing
- Sparse skills
- A bit ugly