Amazon’s uglified Echo Show is actually rather good – but it isn’t quite the perfect smart speaker
- Video calling works well
- Easier to get to grips with than other Echo speakers
- Good sound quality
- Not the most attractive thing
DEAL ALERT: In one of the best deals available this Prime Day, the Echo Show is reduced by a huge 50% off – a saving of £100. This is the best-sounding Echo speaker you can buy, so it’s definitely worth picking up at this price while it lasts.
When the Amazon Echo Show first appeared in May 2017, I have to admit that I was sceptical. How would adding a screen to a product whose main reason for existing was audio and voice recognition actually work? It didn’t make much sense at the time and the rather blocky, bulky look of the Show didn’t help. Was Amazon about to take a step backwards?
After living with the Echo Show for a few months, however, I can confirm that there’s nothing to be worried about. The Echo Show might look different and the screen might not make logical sense but it brings an extra dimension to the Echo range that’s worth paying a little extra for.
Amazon Echo Show: What you need to know
So what is the Echo Show all about? Well, there’s nothing too complicated to get your head around here. The Amazon Echo Show is every bit an Echo speaker but with a 7in, 1,024 x 600 touchscreen slapped on the front. It isn’t cylindrical in shape – that wouldn’t make much sense, after all – but it’s as multi-talented as any of Amazon’s smart speakers and it works just as well.
That screen, however, coupled with the 5-megapixel webcam above it, means it has a few extra tricks up its sleeve. Notably, like the cheaper Echo Spot, it allows you to carry out hands-free video chats and make video calls to and from Alexa-enabled smartphones. But that’s not all. The screen can also display feeds from your home security cameras, plus visual info to help you see what’s playing.
It’s an Echo with knobs on, essentially.
Amazon Echo Show: Price and competition
The catch is that the Echo Show is the most expensive smart speaker that Amazon currently makes. It costs £200, which is £50 more expensive than the normal price of the Echo Plus and £110 more than the usual price of the second-generation Echo; and that’s without any frequent discounts applied that knock even more off the price of the other Echo speakers. there’s also the brand new, spherical, Echo Spot to consider too: A pint-sized version of the Show for £120
Amazon Echo Show review: Design and key features
The one thing most people I’ve spoken to about the Echo Show agree on is that the Echo Show ain’t pretty. With its sloped front panel, chiselled edges and boxy, angular case, it’s about as far away from Amazon’s svelte, fabric-coated second generation Echo as it’s possible to get. And the thick bezels to the left and right and above and below the screen don’t help it out one bit.
Still, the screen itself looks nice. It’s bright and clear and although not super sharp at 1,024 x 600 there’s nothing horribly wrong with it. Viewing angles are decent, there’s enough contrast to make images pop and, while you wouldn’t want to watch the latest instalment of Blue Planet II on it, it’s fine for video calls and browsing Amazon’s simplified shopping lists.
There’s a 5-megapixel webcam above the screen which, again, delivers plenty enough detail for video chat. On the top of the Show are three buttons, used for muting the microphones and adjusting the volume, surrounded by a racing track of perforations that hide the Show’s far-field microphone array. A wide, flat grille below the screen, meanwhile gives vent to the Show’s twin 2in speaker drivers, while on the rear of the speaker are – simply – the Amazon logo and a single power input.
Like the rest of the range, the Echo Show does not have a built-in battery – it’s purely a mains-connected device – and it also lacks the 3.5mm analogue output of its siblings so you can’t connect it to your Hi-Fi for better sound quality.
Amazon Echo Show review: Performance and touchscreen
The Echo Show works as well as any other Echo speaker I’ve used. The difference is that screen. By default, it displays a series of “cards” that change every few seconds to display some snippet of information or other, be it news headlines, the weather and time, or suggestions as to what you can say to Alexa. It’s a much friendlier experience than getting to know a regular Echo speaker.
If you’ve set up reminders or alarms, those will also show up on screen and you can ask for further information on certain cards by tapping the screen or asking Alexa to “tell me more” upon which she’ll reel off the story for you accompanied by scrolling text, like a teleprompter on screen.
The display is also there to augment what you’re doing right now with the speaker. Fire up Spotify, for instance, and you get cover art plus play, pause, skip and shuffle controls, while Amazon Music even displays lyrics, giving you the chance to sing along with your favourite tunes.
And it will also show you extra information based on the questions you ask. For instance, say: “Who is Arsenal FC playing next?” and the Show will tell you who’s up next and also display the following fixture as well, while asking about the weather shows the time and temperature superimposed over a photographic representation of grey clouds or blue skies, depending on what the weather is actually doing at the time.
You can, of course, go shopping on Amazon with the touchscreen but it’s a bit of a limited experience at the moment. Say “shop for [product name]” and a list of horizontally items appears on screen, which you can browse through and purchase from directly. However, you can’t can’t drill down into related products or filter the list or click through to locate related products.
And that’s a trend that follows through to the various visual cards that accompany activities and requests. There’s enough information on each so they’re useful and I can see why Amazon wants a stripped-down experience, but the design and information presented are often a little too stripped back and simplistic.
I’d also like to see a strip across the top of the screen that displays the time, date and weather at all times. It’s annoying to have to go Home to check something as simple as the clock.
The UI is pretty basic on the Echo Show, too, but that’s by design rather than through any particular fault. Essentially, the focus remains on a hands-free operation, despite the presence of the touchscreen, so it’s restricted to a basic quick-settings pull-down that allows you to adjust screen brightness, toggle do not disturb mode on and off and access the speaker’s more comprehensive settings menu.
Amazon Echo Show review: Video calling and sound quality
The video calling itself, on the other hand, works very well indeed. You have to set up a list of people you want to be able to call and who can call you, and it draws this list from the contacts on your phone. Once done, the feature works hand in glove with Alexa’s Drop-In feature and, aside from a rather annoying voice recognition error which sees Alexa regularly mistake my name for my daughter’s (she never learns), it’s otherwise child’s play to make video calls to other Echo Show speakers or phones with the Alexa app installed.
There’s no perceptible delay in transmission, audio and video quality is pretty good and, in a neat touch, the view from the camera at the receiving end is initially blurred out so those on the other end of the call have a chance to hang up before the view slowly clears. And although it is possible to block certain contacts, I’d like to have the option to block video entirely until I confirm I’m accepting the call.
The Echo Show also has the ability to patch in the camera feed from your smart home security cameras, which works well too. I found that there was a significant delay on the feed from my Netgear Arlo Q camera, but the footage was clear and the Echo Show also transmitted audio both ways via the Q’s microphone and built-in speaker.
Still, there’s a plentiful list of compatible cameras available, including Ring’s rather swanky video doorbell system and Google’s now-extensive range of Nest cameras. Of course, it also works with other Netgear Arlo cameras as well.
As for sound quality, well that’s rather good, too. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that the Echo Show is the best of all Amazon’s Echo speakers for listening to music, radio, podcasts and audiobooks. It’s loud, clean and there’s even a modicum of bass on offer. The gap between smart speakers and regular wireless speakers appears to be closing and closing rapidly; the Echo Show is a speaker I’d happily use as my day-to-day radio and music player.
Amazon Echo Show: Verdict
It’s early days yet for the Amazon Echo Show. Despite being out in the US for a few months now, the list of Show-specific skills from third parties remains thin on the ground, so early adopters are going to have to rely on the speaker’s core skillset for now. But that’s not such a bad thing because it can do plenty.
Remember: the Echo Show does all the stuff a regular Echo can do but its touchscreen adds just enough visual flair and extra information to make the whole experience that bit more accessible and pleasurable. It’s Amazon’s best-sounding and most accessible speaker to date and that’s enough for me; in time, it also promises to be Amazon’s most capable smart speaker. But it’s not quite there yet.