Two weeks ago, Amazon debuted Echo Show, the first smart speaker with a touchscreen. I’ve been using it since it launched, and I’m struggling to find its greater purpose beyond what the Echo and Echo Dot have already realized. Right now, it seems like it has a screen mostly just for the sake of having one, rather than solving a specific problem.
We’ve all survived using other Echo devices sans-screen, so I find myself wondering if it will eventually be compelling. As such, my review will touch on its design, interaction, and areas where I feel the screen adds value.
Table of Contents
- Speakers & Music
- Camera & Drop In
- Use Cases & Skills
- Final Thoughts
The Echo Show comes in two colors: black and white. Its design is striking, but not in a good way. Its blocky and sharp angles make it look out of place almost anywhere you put it. Frankly, it’s bulky and dull.
The top of the casing contains three buttons: microphone/camera toggle, volume up, and volume down. When the microphone/camera button is pressed, a red LED displays next to the camera to indicate the mic and camera are off.
The 7-inch touchscreen is the main feature. Upon detecting motion, it lights up from its dimmed state. When not in direct use, the home screen displays built-in wallpapers1, the time, tips, and news headlines. Thanks to a new feature, it can also display delivery status for your Amazon orders.
As an Input Method
The screen clearly takes a back seat when it comes to interacting with the Show. Voice is still the primary input, and you’ll find yourself using the touchscreen only if you’re within a few feet of the device already. It functions fine enough, with menus hidden via a downward edge swipe from the top.
The screen quality is passable, but it’s no comparison to say, an iPad. Viewing angles for video aren’t great past a couple feet to the left or right.
Regardless, who would want to watch a movie on this thing anyway? You’d have to sit within 2-3 feet to even see what’s happening. This might be the case for an iPad mini and other tablets, but at least you can move those from place to place and hold them closer.
Speakers & Music
The speaker system in the Show is only better than the Echo or Echo Dot in terms of max volume. Sure, it goes to 11, but music sounds bad. Will it be fine for playing a song while cooking or doing chores? Yeah, but if you care how music sounds (and you should), the Echo Show is not going to impress with its shallow bass and tinny highs. This differs highly from the Echo line’s newly-announced competitor: Apple HomePod. Positioned as an audio-first device, HomePod is engineered to be impressive in this area. We’ll see when it drops in December.
Camera & Drop In
The 5-megapixel camera is of decent quality, and effectively adds a pseudo-security camera to your house via Drop In. A polarizing feature, Drop In allows you and others to connect to your Echo from the Alexa app or another Echo and immediately hear (and in the Show’s case, see) what your Echo hears/sees. Essentially, it’s a video call without the need to accept/decline. This feature is opt-in, and you can restrict it to only those you specifically allow access.
Is it creepy? I don’t think so, but that’s up to you to determine. When someone drops in on you, the Echo plays an audible notice so you know it’s happening. In fact, the notice startled my wife as I was writing this review and testing something with Drop In.2 In the specific case of dropping in on someone’s Show, your view is blurred for about 10-15 seconds before you are able to see a clear picture. This leaves the person you’re calling with plenty of time to get out of frame if they’re cooking in the nude.
Side note: Drop In also functions as an in-house intercom for all your Echo devices and the Alexa app. It is pretty cool in this regard.
In the case of privacy, here’s how I see it. We’re steadily increasing the amount of cameras in our lives, so it all comes down to whether or not you trust the company you’re buying the camera from. As for me? I’d trust a camera more on a HomePod than an Echo (or Google Home, for that matter).
Use Case & Skills
The Echo Show can display answers visually, which is nice, but not always necessary. For instance, I don’t visually need to see how many cups are in liters, but it might be nice to glance at the whole box score to see how my Dodgers are doing. Let’s be honest though; this would only be beneficial if I’m within 15 feet or so of the Show with direct line-of-sight to the screen.
Simple on-screen conversion.
Box score display. I do like this.
In the Kitchen
The best use case I can think of for the screen is an obvious one: recipes. The Allrecipes skill enables you to search for recipes, have Alexa read the ingredients, and even play a video of all the steps. For this reason, it’s clear to me the Echo Show adds most value when used in the kitchen, considering all the other standard features for which you can use an Echo in the kitchen.
You can still use the same Skills as you can on other Echo devices. Like the Allrecipes videos, some have been updated to make use of the screen. For instance, the Jeopardy game displays the questions along with Alexa reading them. Ring has introduced a skill to view some of the Ring Doorbell models and Floodlight Camera through the Show’s screen (no two-way talk, yet). This is definitely handy if your phone is out of reach and need to see who’s at the door.
Alexa can show you traffic conditions and directions on the Show’s screen, but it is very limited. There’s no way to push those directions to your phone, for instance.
As for controlling other Smart Home devices, a popular use case for Echo and Echo Dot, there’s really no additional value added here yet.
If you order stuff from Amazon on your Echo or Echo Dot, you’ll be happy to have a visual on the Echo Show. This makes the ordering experience a little less blind.
The Echo Show is a good device, but I wouldn’t recommend getting it versus the Echo or Echo Dot—at least not right now. The screen just doesn’t add significant enough value to warrant an increased price tag. If you want to visually see an answer to a question, picking up your phone or tablet is still the best way to do it.
It doesn’t delight the way other products may. Every time I pass it while walking, it compels me to think of a reason why I might need to use it, but not in ways I wouldn’t already use my Echo Dot for.
That said, a smart speaker with a screen was an inevitable next step for this market. The screen just feels like a placeholder waiting for a bigger purpose. We’ll have to wait and see if that purpose materializes, or if another company might be able to do something different.