Saturday, 16 December 2017
Reviews

Amazon Echo Show review: This is the best Echo (but it’s also the most expensive)


The Echo Show is not just Amazon’s best smart speaker, it’s the most capable mainstream smart home assistant on the market. An Intel Atom x5-Z8350 processor and a 7-inch color touchscreen pumps its price tag up to $230, but the display is worth the added cost to have at least one in a smart home with other Echo speakers. And the Show’s eight-element far-field mic array is stronger than the ones on Amazon’s other Echos, which for me eliminated the need to have an Echo Dot in an adjoining room.

Amazon takes full advantage of that display, providing not just useful visual feedback, but also an in-home intercom—with video, if two Echo Shows are used—and a VoIP-type videophone system. I’ll elaborate on the intercom feature shortly. The videophone service is a great way for families to stay in touch—especially grandparents who live far from their grandchildren—but video requires both parties to have Echo Shows (you can make voice-only calls between other Echo models).

That could be expecting a lot from grandma and grandpa unless they’re tech savvy or you’re willing to set it up for them (a task distance will make doubly difficult). While that limitation takes a lot of the sizzle out of the proposition, it’s not much different than Apple requiring both parties to use an iOS device to make use of Facetime.

amazon echo show black and white Amazon

The Echo’s new Drop In feature enables conference calls between two Echos, including video on Echos with displays.

Amazon’s new Drop In feature is even more compelling. This enables two Echo devices to operate as a wireless home intercom. You simply say “Alexa, drop in on the Kitchen” (or whatever you’ve named the Echo you want to use) and a two-way communication session will start. With Echo devices that have screens (the Echo Show and, I assume, the new Echo Spot when it ships), you’ll get a two-way video intercom as well as audio. I tried this with a pair of Echo Shows operating on a Linksys Velop-based home network and it worked great.

As cool as that is, I can’t say the Echo Show has a fabulous touchscreen. The colors in the digital photos I displayed on it were somewhat muted, its resolution tops out at just 1024×600 pixels, and visual quality suffers when viewed off axis. It is responsive to touch, however, and it will save you from the need to pull out your smartphone to get information such as the current time and weather (accompanied by line drawings depicting the sun, clouds, or rain). Set a timer, and the Show will display a countdown, so you can see at a glance how much time is remaining. Link your calendars to your Alexa account, and the display will scroll through your upcoming appointments. Arrange for an Uber and you’ll get visual updates as to when your ride will arrive.

You can also display photos you’ve uploaded to Amazon’s cloud storage service (you can get 5GB of free storage or unlimited photo storage if you’re an Amazon Prime customer). Once you’ve uploaded your photos, you can identify the people in them, organize them into albums, and then ask Alexa to show all your photos of a particular person, photos in a specified album, or photos that were shot during a stated time frame.

The movie and video experience

You can also watch movies and TV shows on Amazon Prime Video, although I don’t imagine many people will want to do that on such a small screen—there’s no video output, so you can’t connect the Show to your big-screen TV. You can request specific titles (“Alexa, show me Transparent,” or even “Alexa, show me Transparent, season one”). The titles, or TV episodes, appear in numbered boxes. To play the title or episode you want to watch, you say “Alexa, play one” or whatever number the box is labeled as.

amazon echo show white living room Amazon

Don’t let the absence of a power cord in this picture fool you. The Echo Show does not offer the option of running on battery power.

With both music and video, you can use voice commands to play and pause, adjust volume, fast forward and rewind, skip forward and back, and so on. All this worked just fine on two of the Echo Shows I got in for review, but a third unit refused to cooperate—at least not with videos. It would pause for a second or two, and then just go back to streaming as if I’d never interrupted it. I’ve reached out to my Amazon contact about this and will update my review when I get a response.





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