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Amazon Echo Show 8: How one big feature changes everything

This new version of Amazon's Echo Show 8 is an example of an incremental upgrade done right.

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Here's the new, second generation 2021 Echo Show 8.

Image: Amazon

Last week, Amazon sent me a brand new, second generation Echo Show 8. I've been an Echo Show user since nearly the beginning, and have been closely watching the evolution of all the Alexa devices.

The original Echo Show, introduced almost exactly four years ago, had a 7-inch 1024x600 screen. The first generation Echo Show 8, introduced in November of 2019, had an 8-inch 1280x800 screen. 

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Our first Echo Show lives in the laundry room. It's cool having a screen and an Alexa in an unexpected, but very useful location. (Image: David Gewirtz)

Technically, the screen on that first generation Echo Show 8 was a bit bigger, and the resolution a bit better than the original Echo Show, but if you look at the one that lives on top of our water heater in the laundry room and then look at the one that lives on top of our microwave, the only way you'd be able to tell is take out a ruler and measure it.

Speakers were better on the first generation Echo Show 8 than they were on the original Echo Show. Oddly enough, the camera on the Echo Show 8 was a measly 1 megapixel camera, a big step down from the original Echo Show's 5 megapixel imager.

The actual cabinet was better designed on the first generation Echo Show 8 than on the original Echo Show. It fit better in slightly smaller spaces, and it sounded better. But both are still in service here, and used almost every day.

The second generation Echo Show 8

Now, there is a brand new second generation Echo Show 8. So what changed?

The most apparent difference is that the new one Amazon sent us is white. Our first generation unit is "Charcoal." The original Echo Show 8 came in Charcoal and Sandstone, but the second generation comes in Charcoal and Glacier White.

So what else is new about the new Echo Show 8? As it turns out, nothing you, the owner, can see. However, if you do a video call with someone else, the difference will be very noticeable to them. The New Echo Show 8 jumps the camera quality from an embarrassing 1 megapixel all the way up to a respectable 13 megapixels. In our new world of constant video calls, that's a necessary and important jump in quality.

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Our Echo Show 8 has a primo spot right on top of the microwave. (Image: David Gewirtz)

Now, grandma can see the smudge on baby's face. Uncle Bob can see the little whiskers on the kitten's face. Your buddy Jeff can see the detail in the model you just made and are holding up to the camera. And, your work mates can see your face in typical Zoom quality and stop razzing you about the crappiness of your video.

Let's be clear. In terms of hardware specs, not much else has changed between the Echo Show 8 first generation and the Echo Show 8 second generation.

There are some new software features, most notably one that adjusts focus so that if you move around the room, so will the camera. It accomplishes this by using a much wider lens than the one that came with the original Echo Show 8 -- and you can turn off the feature by telling Alexa, "autofollow off".

The big change in the Echo Show line came earlier this year. In March, we took a close look at the way the Echo Show 10 screen physically moves to follow you around the room. That's really quite impressive.

Like the Echo Show 10, this new Show 8 also allows remote check-in, turning it into a security or baby monitor. Like the Show 10, the implementation splashes a big notification on the screen, so anyone in the room will know when they're being watched.

Finally, an update to routines allows you to trigger routines using the camera, so when it detects presence, it can turn on the lights or do some other smart home action. I wanted mine to play Hail to the Chief every time I entered the room, but my wife immediately overruled that idea.

The big deal about the Echo Show 8

To be sure, the $249 Echo Show 10 is easier to see and considerably more impressive (if a bit creepy). But, at $129, the new Echo Show 8 is about half the price. There's one other advantage to the Echo Show 8: it fits in places where the Echo Show 10 doesn't. To accommodate the motorized base and the swing of the display, the Echo Show 10 takes up a considerable footprint.

So if all Amazon did was upgrade the camera, what's the big deal about the new 2021 Echo Show 8?

Well, for those who rely on the camera, that alone is a big deal. But more to the point, the 2021 Echo Show 8 isn't meant to be a big deal. It's meant to keep a successful product current and give it a few more years of life. In today's Zoom-centric world, a 1MP camera is obsolescence incarnate. But an Echo with a nice screen and a 13MP camera is...useful...convenient...accessible.

This new version of the Echo Show 8 is an example of an incremental upgrade done right. Sure, Amazon could have added a few more colors or taken off the fabric texture that I personally find annoying, but that's the style today. What Amazon did is stick with what works and its customers are familiar with, and upgraded the one feature that was in desperate need of an upgrade.

If you already own an Echo Show 8, the only -- and I mean, the only -- reason to upgrade is to get the new camera. If you're buying a new Echo Show 8, just get the second generation model. There are still first generation models for sale for twenty or thirty bucks less, but trust me... that one (or a lot more than one) time you need to use the camera will make spending the few extra bucks well worth it.

As for whether you should buy an Echo Show or not, it depends on where you want to use it. We very much consider our two Echo Shows members of the family. They do have some limitations (only some streaming services work on them, for example), but overall, they're nice to have around.

It's nice seeing the countdown timer when cooking, the weather displayed nicely, little summaries of news stories, and the like. We don't use them to talk to family, but had the Echo Show been around when we had elders to stay in touch with, these would have been instant purchases for the parents. And, with the updated camera, the new Echo Show 8 is easy to recommend.

$129 at Amazon

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.