The idea of smart displays isn't new, but they're still uncommon and not a lot of people might have even heard of them. The concept is a natural extension to the smart speaker, adding a visual element to the conversational method of getting information from an AI voice assistant. Although smart displays are expensive right now, the products in the market are the first steps towards popularising technology that will likely be commonplace in the connected homes of the future.
Amazon introduced the first Echo Show back in 2017, with a 7-inch screen and a 5-megapixel front camera for video calls. A little over a year later in October 2018, the company launched the second generation Amazon Echo Show. This product is now available in India, priced at Rs. 22,999. That might sound like a lot of money, but does the screen make it worth the price? We review the Amazon Echo Show to find out.
From a distance, the Amazon Echo Show might look like a tablet or a digital photo frame, but up close you can see that the device is quite a bit larger than either of those two types of gadget. The device has a wide rubber base for grip, which tapers towards the back. The 10.1-inch HD (1280x800 pixels) touchscreen dominates the front and the whole body of the device is tilted slightly backwards so it's easy to see the two wide-range 2-inch drivers that are on the sides. At the top, near the back, is a passive radiator.
The Amazon Echo Show has a fabric wrap around the back and sides, covering the speaker drivers, passive radiator, and the plastic frame of the device itself. The unit is currently available in two colour options: black and white. We quite liked the white variant that we had for review, but we're worried that it could start to look dirty over time.
Near the bottom at the back is the power port, along with a Micro-USB port. The sales package includes a power adapter with a 6-foot cable, which gives you a bit of flexibility in where you can position the Echo Show. The Micro-USB port doesn't have any explicitly stated purpose, but information online suggests that it can be used with a USB-to-Ethernet adapter for wired connectivity.
Just above the screen is a 5-megapixel camera and four microphones, which are used to speak to Alexa, and also for voice and video chatting. On the top are three buttons — two for volume control, and one that turns off the microphones and camera for privacy. The Echo Show remains functional to an extent even with these toggled off.
The device is powered by an Intel Atom x5-Z8350 processor, and also has Bluetooth for connectivity to external audio sources such as a smartphone or computer, letting you use the Echo Show as you would use any Bluetooth speaker. You can also use the Amazon Echo Show as a smart home hub for smart appliances that support the Zigbee home automation standard. Products from Philips Hue, Syska, Anchor, and Xiaomi (to name a few companies) are compatible with the Echo Show for home automation.
Certain settings and functions can be controlled from the device itself without voice commands, by pulling down a menu from the top of the screen. This lets you quickly go to the Home screen, set alarms, control smart home devices, view your Alexa routines, adjust brightness, activate or deactivate the Do Not Disturb mode, and tweak a few settings. However, these are basic functions, and for most things, the Echo Show needs to be controlled by spoken instructions to Alexa.
A lot of the key features of the Amazon Echo Show require the Amazon Alexa app, which is available for Android and iOS. You can use the app to add new skills and games, set routines, and integrate your multiple Amazon devices. If you have other Echo devices or an Amazon Fire TV Stick, the app can also program the Echo Show to communicate with these devices. The app-based feature we liked the most was the ability to communicate with family members through the Echo Show — more on that later.
As with other Echo devices, at the core of the Amazon Echo Show is Alexa, the company's AI voice assistant. Most of the features and controls on the device require you to give Alexa spoken instructions, which can be tricky at first. Eventually, you'll learn how to give voice commands and have Alexa do most of what you want it to do. With the Echo Show, Alexa gains a visual element to its responses, which has been implemented in a number of smart ways by Amazon.
This is obviously also possible to an extent with the Amazon Echo Spot, which has a smaller circular screen. The larger 10-inch HD screen on the Amazon Echo Show makes this experience better, since it can display video content properly as well. The size of the screen also makes it possible to see what it's displaying from farther away, even across a room. Whether it was reading on-screen text, or watching news briefings and videos, the larger screen made a significant difference to legibility and watchability from a distance.
This made the biggest difference when it came to news briefings and occasional videos on YouTube or other video streaming platforms. Some of the content providers for this service include NDTV and ESPN Cricinfo, and it quite refreshing to get quick briefings of the big news stories of the day each morning. Alexa also worked well when asked to play movie trailers and the occasional video of cats doing entertaining things, in our case.
A big feature of the Echo Show is the ability to watch content from Amazon Prime Video on the device itself. With simple voice commands, you can ask Alexa to play shows and movies, and in the case of TV shows you can also choose the episode you want to watch. We tried this with a handful of shows including Jack Ryan and The Grand Tour, and it worked well. It's obviously better to watch content from Amazon Prime Video on a TV, but the small screen can come in handy for casual watching in different parts of the house, say a dining table or kitchen counter.
After asking Alexa to open the Silk or Firefox Web browsers, we were able to type in a URL and visit websites right from the screen itself. It isn't something we did often, but it was nice to know we could pull up websites on the screen when needed. This method obviously also works with YouTube, and can be a slightly more reliable way to pull up particular videos if Alexa isn't giving you the results you expected through voice commands.
When listening to music or playlists using any of the integrated streaming services, the screen shows album art and the names of the track and artist. This also works when using a paired smartphone as an audio device, with the screen displaying similar information on the screen.
When idle, the Amazon Echo Show continues to show information related to news or trending topics, which are updated every day. These screens flow like a slideshow, and you can always ask Alexa to go into detail on a topic that catches your attention. This includes cricket news, trivia, general news, and even an Amazon-curated video of the day.
A key upgrade for the Amazon Echo Show over the Echo Spot is the ability to use it as a hub for smart home equipment. This feature is also available on the Echo Plus, albeit only through voice commands and with no visual feedback.
You can use the Echo Show to set up and control smart home devices such as Philips Hue lightbulbs and Syska smart switches, and a wide range of IoT devices as well. We tried this with a Xiaomi Mi Air Purifier 2, and it worked as expected. We were able to control the Mi Air Purifier 2 remotely using voice commands or through the menu on-screen on the Echo Show.
Another function that the Echo Show has and typical Echo speakers don't, is the ability to fetch recipes and show the ingredients and instructions as a list or images on the screen. Similarly, you can pull up photos from a linked Facebook account. You can also get visual cues when using Alexa to book a taxi with Ola or Uber, as well as ordering food or browsing through restaurant listings on Zomato.
While the communication features on the Amazon Echo Show aren't new — the Echo Spot also has video calling, for example — these are made significantly more useful with the larger screen and more powerful speakers. We particularly liked the ‘drop in' feature that let us activate a video call using the Alexa app with the Echo Show, and the camera quality is good enough for video calls.
You can send announcements to all your Alexa-enabled devices through the app, and these are more legible and conspicuous on the big screen. Similar features are available when using Skype on the Echo Show, but we preferred the ease of use of Alexa's built in video and communication capabilities. No other third-party chat or video calling services are supported as of now.
Despite all its smart features, the Amazon Echo Show is a speaker and a table-top tablet at its core. With that in mind, the device isn't quite as good as Amazon's standard Echo speakers when it comes to sound quality, especially considering its price. However, as compared to other smart speakers, it's among the better options available. The two individual drivers make for a wide sound stage, while the passive radiator ensures strong low-end response.
The Echo Show can get very loud, but sound quality is quite poor at the highest volumes. At reasonable volumes, sound is decent enough and can be heard anywhere in a large room. Dolby tuning for the sound does help when watching movies and TV shows on the device.
The Amazon Echo Show's screen isn't very sharp, and a full-HD resolution would have perhaps been a better choice given its size. Up close, the lack of detail does show. It isn't very bright either, but this could be a good thing. Of course, it's largely meant to be used for text and images from across the typical room, and it will also be running presumably all the time, so Amazon's choice of screen may be sensible from an energy consumption point of view.
Do you really need a smart display such as the Amazon Echo Show? No, you probably do not. It's expensive, has functions that can be entirely carried out on a smartphone, and isn't even the best speaker or display you can buy for the amount you spend. But did we want an Amazon Echo Show after the time we spent testing it? Definitely.
The Echo Show is a taste of the future, combining conversational smarts, casual information delivery, and the ability to fetch video, audio, and trivia with simple voice commands. There's no denying the ease of using a largely hands-free solution such as the Amazon Echo Show.
While the Echo Show's screen isn't ideal and its sound quality could have been better, the entire package offers you a fairly refined multi-sensory AI voice assistant experience. At Rs. 22,999, the Amazon Echo Show isn't something you buy on a whim; it's expensive, and is only worth investing in if you're keen to dive head-first into the world of smart gadgets and the Internet of Things.
Price: Rs. 22,999
Ratings (out of 5)