Amazon Echo Spot review

We struggle to place Amazon's cutest smart speaker

Amazon Echo Spot
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There’s something easy to love about the Amazon Echo Spot. Amazon’s latest edition to its range of Alexa-powered Echo smart speakers is so wonderfully niche, so cute in its design, it’s hard not to want one.

But the fact it’s so niche makes it tough to understand. Seemingly a bedside alarm or a connected desk clock with a screen for video calls, it’s surprisingly difficult to place in the home. In every instance its rich features seem either under-utilised or slightly inadequate.

We’ve spent time with the Amazon Echo Spot – and this is what we’ve learned.

Amazon Echo Spot review
The microphone array is impressively sensitive

Amazon Echo Spot: Design and features

We sat on our sofa with the Echo Spot in our hand, fresh from the box, paralysed with indecision. On one hand desperate to plug our Echo Spot in and get started… but exactly where to place it? But before we reveal exactly where our Amazon Echo Spot ended up, let’s run down exactly what it’s all about.

Measuring just 3.8 x 4.1-inches, the Spot is a tiny Alexa orb with a 2.5-inch screen that dominates the front. The display is circular and most Echo functionality fills the screen rather pleasingly. The resolution is only 480 x 480, but because it's so small it feels sharper, so there’s no complaints here in terms of quality.

Essential reading: Amazon Alexa complete guide

It looks undeniably like a bedside clock, which is slightly inconvenient given that Amazon is at pains to convince buyers that it’s more than that. “Designed for ANY ROOM” shouts the product page, picturing the Spot on a bedside table.

But aside from just telling the time, the Echo Spot is a powerful communicator. There’s a front-facing camera for Alexa-powered video calls and Drop Ins (Amazon hasn’t disclosed the quality, but the Echo Show features a 5MP one – and we wouldn’t expect the Spot’s to be any different.) On the back is a 3.5mm jack, so you can plug it into a set of beefier speakers via an aux cable, which should be an improvement on the 1.4-inch speaker inside.

All in all, the Spot matches the Amazon Echo Show feature for feature – but does it all on a small circular screen, rather than the Show’s more useful HD display.

Amazon Echo Spot review
Weather alerts come with added context on the screen

Amazon Echo Spot: Features

So what does the Amazon Echo Show do? Well, as you’d expect the Echo Spot is a fully fledged Alexa speaker, and doesn’t hold back due to its form factor. If you’re not sure what Alexa does, you’ll want to check out our full Alexa missing manual… there’s too much to go over here. The good news is that when you set up your Spot it will automatically carry over any skills, smart home devices and routines from any Echo devices you've already configured.

If you've already got Echo Dots dotted around the place, don't worry - it uses the same ESP (Echo Spatial Perception) tech to work out what Alexa device is the best option for responding to a voice command. The microphone array is impressively sensitive and you should have few issues with Echo-double-trouble - although occasionally our Echo Dot in the living room responds with a "sorry, cameras don't work on this device," if she picks up the, "Alexa, show me the [camera]" command.

Essential guide: What is Amazon Echo Connect?

But what of specific, Amazon Echo Spot features that make use of that built-in screen?

Well, out of the box, Amazon Echo Spot will show clock faces, alerts and Alexa skill suggestions on its display. By default it rotates through these screens and, although you can set the rotate cycle to just once, it's still a weird quirk of the Alexa visual world that we're still reminded to say things like, "Alexa, what is the population of the world?" Seems like overkill now, we all know what Alexa can do at this point, right?

Reaffirming its use as a bed side clock, it’s nice to check the time on its screen when you wake up, and the Echo Spot does a great job of dimming the screen at night, emitting next to no light, yet remaining visible. If you’re worried about having a screen next to you in bed, the Spot has you covered - and there are some nice clock faces (both digital and analogue) out of the box.

In fact, the Echo Spot can do anything the larger Echo Show can do – and doesn’t pull punches because of its little, round 480 x 480 display.

Amazon Echo Spot review
We watched The Grand Tour on the Spot's tiny screen. Not recommended

You can summon footage from the Ring connected doorbell or ask for a live feed from Works with Alexa smart security cameras, such as Nest – brilliant if you’re using one as a baby monitor. However, the feed only stays live for half hour - so you'll need to remember to call it up again for constant monitoring - "Alexa, show me the baby's room," for example.

What’s more, you can watch stuff on it. You can ask for shows from Amazon Prime Video and display recipes shown as well. The only issue is that, as you’d expect, Amazon hasn’t solved the problem of watching 16:9 video on a round screen, so you only get a letterbox sized area. On security cameras, you can zoom in to focus on an object but that doesn't really work for movies.

Buying guide: The best smart speakers with displays

There are a growing number of specialist skills for Echo Spot, but these are a little hard to discover. There's no specific Skills section for Echo Spot/Show, so it's a little hard to know which are optimised for your Echo Spot. Sometimes you just need to ask: we asked our Spot to give us recipes – and we got a suggested app to download via Alexa which seemed okay – but we'd rather have more choice about where our recipes come from. And that goes for most Skills, it's a bit of trial and error, and a lot of people will probably find they're not taking full advantage of their device.

Amazon Echo Spot review

Amazon Echo Spot: Performance

So how does it perform? Well, the difficulty in finding a home for the Spot was partly because of the sound performance. As you might expect it’s not great. The sound is loud and clear, but it’s the brash tones of a small speaker – not something you want to spend substantial money on and listen to for a long period of time. That was partly the reason we were reluctant to have it set up in the office; that’s the home of our Sonos One with Alexa built-in, and if you’re working at home, good quality sound is of paramount importance.

If you have an older Sonos lying around then you’re laughing thanks to the Sonos Alexa skill, but given the $130 price tag of the Echo Spot, it’s a tad expensive to think about adding another premium device well.

However, video calling and the screen tech impressed. The camera was nice and clear and worked well for Alexa video calls and Drop Ins – likewise the sound was plenty good enough too. The screen quality was good enough to watch back video, but it’s something of a novelty given the size and shape of the screen – not something we see ourselves doing regularly. There's no third-party calling through Skype or WhatsApp either.

Our plan to check our Ring doorbell from the Spot did work very nicely. A quick install of the Ring skill (and connecting the two accounts) let us get a feed from the doorbell at any time. You can’t use two-way audio, which contrary to the sniffy comments on the Amazon Skill page, isn’t a big loss. It’s still useful for screening time-wasting callers before you answer the door.

Amazon Echo Spot review

So where did we place it?

After a short stint in the living room (above), the Echo Spot eventually found its home on our bed-side table. Listening to the radio as we got ready for work, alarms, and the odd relaxing sleep sounds app were all great, the poor speaker didn’t make too many odds here, and the bedside clock aspect was nice to have.

There’s a chance the Echo Spot might get a trial on my desk – as the allure of the rolling news alerts, Ring Doorbell monitoring and calling is too strong. But that means the Sonos One will have to handle music, and that will mean muting Alexa on that device – not a bad thing, as Sonos Alexa is a half-wit. But that's an expensive merge of two devices – and that's the Echo Spot's biggest problem – it's a lot of money for a device that's just a nice to have.

Amazon Echo Spot
The Amazon Echo Spot is a lovely little Alexa smart speaker, that we imagine will catch most smart home owners’ eye. However, the price tag, balance of features and placement in the home is surprisingly difficult to balance. Too costly as a bedside clock, too small for the living room and too weak as a music device – the Amazon Echo Spot isn’t right for everyone. But those who find a niche won’t be disappointed, it does everything it promises to do without any major issues.
  • Cute design
  • Sharp display
  • Versatile
  • Poor sound
  • Screen a tad small
  • Expensive... for a bedside clock

TAGGED    amazon alexa    smart speakers

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