Amazon Echo Show review: A smart speaker that shows up the competition

amazon-echo-show-4.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    7.3 Very good
  • $229.00

Pros

  • A display on an Echo changes the dynamic for the better.
  • Drop-in calls are spooky but useful.

Cons

  • Speaker sound quality is just OK.
  • Not nearly enough skills available to take full advantage of the display.

When Amazon first announced the Echo Show, an Echo device that leverages a screen and the company's digital assistant, Alexa, I scoffed at the need for a display. My original thinking was that the display couldn't possibly add anything of value to interacting with Alexa. It was overkill.

I was wrong.

The screen changes everything. More importantly, it has changed how I view smart speakers and how I want to use them. For the past two weeks, my family and I have been using the Echo Show in our home. Part of the time it's been on my desk, with the rest of the time spent in our living room.

Is the $229 device worth the $50 premium over the older, cylindrical Amazon Echo? Let's take a look.

Design

amazon-echo-show-1.jpg
(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

The Echo Show's overall design is odd yet somewhat familiar. The top section looks like a tablet, complete with a camera cutout. Below the screen is a speaker grille similar to the design of the original Echo.

From the side, the Echo Show looks boxy with hard edges. Above the screen are the volume controls and a button to disable the microphone. On the back is a single port for the power cable.

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The rather mundane design of the Echo Show isn't a bad thing. It's a device that will blend in with picture frames on an end table or sit on a nightstand without calling much attention to itself.

The screen is key

amazon-echo-show-2.jpg
(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

With the Echo Show, Amazon has a chance to take advantage of a large display, and it does so fairly well. For example, when listening to Amazon's Music service, lyrics for each song scroll across the display. You can also search YouTube for videos and watch them directly on the Echo Show.

The screen responds to touch, eliminating the need to only use your voice for interaction.

I've had a standard Echo device in my home for over a year now. After the initial week of asking it random questions and laughing at silly Dad jokes, it has been used primarily as a timer to help keep my kids from fighting when taking turns playing video games.

What I've found with the Echo Show is that due to the screen, I'm using it more often. Not only does the screen add a visual element to my interactions with Alexa, but it also adds confirmation that it understands what I've asked it to do.

Additionally, there are three home screens that the device rotates through when it detects motion in the room. Each screen suggests various commands, as well as rotates through showing your calendar agenda, current weather conditions, and the time.

When no motion is detected, the Echo Show goes into a standby mode with a dimly lit display and the time showing in the upper-left corner.

Show me the Skills

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Amazon's Echo Show with a live stream of my Ring Video Doorbell Pro camera. (Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

To get the most out of Alexa and any Echo device, you have to add skills to your devices. Skills can be random things such as Harry Potter Trivia games, controlling connected lights and outlets, ordering a pizza, or an Uber.

Most of these skills have been around for some time, and a few have been updated to work with the Show's display.

But the true potential of the Echo Show is using its screen for integration with things like Ring's video doorbell. With the Ring skill enabled, I can tell Alexa to "show my front door camera," and a live feed from the Ring Video Doorbell Pro will play a few seconds later.

It's impressive -- but disappointing at the same time. Ring is still working on its integration, and right now any motion or doorbell alerts aren't sent to the Echo Show. Instead, if you hear a motion alert on your phone, you'll need to prompt Alexa to show you who is at the door. The preferred use of this skill would be for the Echo Show to automatically display the camera feed whenever someone is at the door and then let you interact with him or her.

The Echo Show has been available for just a few short weeks, but it's been in development far longer than that. Instead of forcing users to wait while third-party companies create or update skills for the Echo Show, Amazon should have partnered with a handful of popular services to launch alongside the device.

An average speaker

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(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

One of the many selling points of any Echo device is the ability to use voice commands to stream music through the speaker. I absolutely love being able to use my voice to change tracks, start a new album or radio station, and control volume. As a long time Sonos user, voice controls have long been on my wish list.

Using an app to stream music on a smart speaker no longer makes sense, and Sonos has yet to catch up.

That said, the likes of Sonos still have superior sound quality when compared to the Echo Show. Sure, it's good enough to play music in the living room, but I would much rather use my Sonos Play:3.

Videos calls

One of the more controversial features Amazon has added to the Echo lineup is called Drop-In. When enabled -- yes, you have to manually opt into it -- trusted users can drop-in on whatever you're doing. Depending on the device you call, the drop-in session will be audio or video.

The command of "Alexa drop-in" followed by a device or contact name will enable the microphone or camera on the device without any interaction required on the other end.

If your Mom has an Echo, you could tell Alexa to drop in on Mom, and a few seconds later, you will hear (or see) what's going in on her home and can talk to her.

To be clear, the Echo beeps and lights up to let the person know someone is dropping in. The Echo Show does blur out the video portion of the call for a few seconds, giving the recipient a chance to disable video or get out of the camera's eye.

However, if you were in a different room and suddenly hear a friend or loved one talking, there's little doubt it would creep you out a bit.

Essentially, it's an intercom system between Echo users. In fact, households with more than one Echo can use the devices as an intercom.

I used drop-in a few times to check in on my kids or talk to my wife from my home office that's not in the main part of our home. It's a handy feature to have, no doubt.

My issue with the service comes with the naming convention and how calls are handled, especially when calling a user's smartphone. When I asked the Echo Show to call my wife, both her iPhone and the Echo in our kitchen began to ring. My intention was to have a video call with her on her phone. I still haven't figured out why the kitchen Echo rang as well, despite countless Google searches and poking around the Alexa mobile app.

Is it worth the extra cost?

I think so. The standard Echo is $179, while the Echo Show currently priced at $229. The extra $50 for the display is money well spent.

As companies continue to integrate and support the Show's display with skills, the convenience and value of the display is only going to rise.

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Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Features 5MP front-facing camera, Alexa App, Alexa Voice Service, LED indicator, built-in 8 microphone array, built-in stereo speakers, compatible with Belkin WeMo, compatible with Philips Hue, far-field voice recognition, support Pandora, support Prime Music, support Samsung SmartThings, support TuneIn, support iHeartRadio
Functions climate control, dimming, fan control, lighting, multimedia control, open/closure control
Dimensions & Weight
Width 7.4 in
Depth 3.5 in
Height 7.4 in
Weight 41.27 oz
Header
Brand Amazon
Product Line Amazon
Model Echo Show
Packaged Quantity 1
Antenna
Antenna Form Factor internal
Miscellaneous
Color black
Color Category black
Included Accessories power adapter
Processor
Type Atom
Manufacturer Intel
Control Unit
Input Type touch screen
Display
Diagonal Size 7 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 17.8 cm
Networking
Connectivity Technology wireless
Data Link Protocol Bluetooth, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Wireless Protocol 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty

Topics: Reviews, Amazon, Internet of Things

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Where To Buy

Amazon Echo Show (Black)

Part Number: B01J24C0TI
Price
$229.00

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