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Amazon's Echo Show 5 made me a smart display believer (and my daughter, too)

The latest display-equipped Amazon speaker features improved audio quality, a Fire TV-like interface, and all the Echo perks.
Written by Artie Beaty, Contributing Writer
Artie Beaty/ZDNET

I've long been a fan of Amazon Echo devices, preordering the original speaker back in 2014 and adding and upgrading ever since. But despite the fact I've added four speakers since then and replaced the original when I dropped and broke it, I had never owned one of Amazon's smart speakers with a screen, like the Echo Show, until now.

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In short, I've used the latest Echo Show 5 (3rd Gen) for about a month and continue to wonder why I've waited so long. 

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Amazon first debuted its Show speaker in 2019, dropping a new generation roughly every other year. 

For the sake of this review, I'll make the assumption everyone is familiar with Amazon Echo speakers and how they work. I'll spare the details of what Alexa can do and instead dive into what makes the Show unique and what's new for the third generation of this device.

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The latest Amazon Echo Show carries a price tag of $89, about half the price of a full-sized Echo Studio speaker, is roughly double the cost of a small Amazon Echo Dot speaker, and in line with the standard Echo smart speaker. 

What's new for the 2023 version? A lot. 

The first two generations of the Show were widely criticized for their audio quality, and this generation addresses some of those issues. The 3rd-gen model brings a new speaker configuration (moving the speakers to the top), plus an advertised doubled bass. 

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While I can't compare the sound to a previous generation Show, I will say that it surpasses the quality of my Echo Dots by a wide margin. And since the previous Show versions had speakers at the bottom, meaning sound just bounced off the surface of wherever it was sitting, I imagine that's a noticeable upgrade. 

This generation does have the same size screen as its predecessor, but the edges of the device are more rounded off than before meaning the whole device is a tiny bit smaller.

Artie Beaty/ZDNET

Amazon claims to have upgraded the screen for better nighttime viewing, and I'll say it did look pristine and easily readable in night mode, which is essentially a dimmed version of the normal mode. 

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One of the biggest advantages of having a screen is the option to turn on Photo Frame mode. With this enabled, the Show scrolls photos from your Amazon account while in standby mode. When setting this up, you can actually select certain folders you want Amazon to pull these photos from, or tell it to only include certain people. It's a nice personal touch.

Artie Beaty/ZDNET

This feature isn't new to the Show, but it was new for me, and it immediately caught the attention of my five-year-old daughter, who literally pulled up a kitchen chair and plopped in front of the device to watch. 

For a solid 30 minutes at least, she squealed whenever she saw an older picture of herself and relived family vacations. And several weeks later, she'll still demand our attention to see a photo she finds interesting. 

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Alternatively, you can have the Show scroll an assortment of artwork, news articles it thinks you will like, new podcast episodes, weather forecasts, and more.

There's an internal camera for video calls or for checking in, and while it's only two megapixels, it's sufficient for these purposes (and it's the same as the previous version of the Show). This feature actually came in quite handy when I had a sick dog last week.

When I moved his kennel to within view of the Show, I could easily keep an eye on him while I was out to make sure his medicine had him on the mend. For the privacy-minded, there's a small switch to cover up the camera any time you don't want to be seen. 

Artie Beaty/ZDNET

When it comes to the guts of the device, the Echo Show comes with an AZ2 processor, which Amazon claims gives a 20% increase in speed. The software, however, is completely different than before -- with the new look bearing a strong resemblance to the Fire TV interface.

Lastly, the latest version of the Amazon Show has an additional microphone for improved Alexa responsiveness. And if I have one complaint with the Show, it's here. While the Echo mishearing a query has become a trope to the point that it's been parodied on Saturday Night Live, I found I had more difficulty with the Show hearing me than any Echo device I've ever used. 

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Asking Alexa to "make ice" on any of my other devices immediately springs my fancy ice maker to life. When I asked the Show to do the same thing, Alexa either didn't respond at all or happily chirped "Sure!," only for nothing to happen. And many times, when I was only a few feet away from my Show in the kitchen, I found my living room Echo, a good 20 feet away, responding instead. That's certainly not a deal-breaker, but it was a tad frustrating.

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Overall though, I couldn't be happier with the latest Amazon Echo Show. Prior to actually using the device, I wasn't entirely sold on the visual side of Amazon's devices and was perfectly content with audio only. But now, the Show's screen has become a daily part of my routine whether it's pausing to look at a photo scrolling on the screensaver, video chatting with my parents while I cook dinner, or seeing my calendar for the day. 

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