work for you?
Since reviewing the Amazon Echo last year, I've been hooked on Alexa (a.k.a. my favorite virtual assistant). It's handy, easy to use, and my go-to for music, kitchen timers, news briefs and more. That said, you'd think I'd be all about the Echo Show, which made its debut a few months back. After living with it for a week, though, it's hard to make a case for why anyone actually needs one.
There are certainly some cool features — Amazon's biggest selling point is its video chat software — but is it really worth the $229 price tag? I'd argue no.
What Is the Amazon Echo Show?
The latest device in Amazon's string of Alexa-enabled gadgets is essentially an Amazon Echo (currently marked down from $179.99 to $99), but with a screen. The core functions are all the same. Prime members can access the Amazon Music library, shop on Amazon, listen to podcasts, check the weather, and put a whole host of random inquiries out there. ("Alexa, how many ounces are in a cup?" "Alexa, tell me a joke.")
The difference is that, thanks to the 7-inch touchscreen, much of the data is also represented visually. This means seeing the five-day weather forecast, or following along with the lyrics that appear under your favorite songs. It basically takes your everyday Alexa experience a step further.
Getting Started with the Echo Show
The Echo Show has an easy, no-frills setup. I plugged it in, linked it to my WiFi and then logged into my Prime account. From there, a quickie tutorial pops up to showcase Alexa's most popular skills, like locating nearby sushi restaurants and streaming Prime Video on the spot.
The device itself has a smooth surface texture and is relatively lightweight, but I also found it boxy and oddly shaped. (It literally looks like a miniaturized version of the big-screen TV we had in our living room in the '90s.) It's available in black or white, but I'm personally not wild about the aesthetics. My Echo, on the other hand, is sleek, cylindrical and blends into the background.
Once you're up and running, here are a few features worth noting:
The speakers are better than the Echo's: I have no gripes with the Echo's sound quality and think it does a fine job, but there is a notable difference with Echo Show. The speaker is simply clearer, louder and more powerful.
Access to Prime Video and YouTube: You can watch Amazon Prime Video or access YouTube videos on the Echo Show simply by asking Alexa to do so. What's more, Alexa is constantly on, displaying a string of video suggestions, news headlines and things to try throughout the day. The downside is that other video services, like Netflix, Hulu and Sling, are out.
It's "smart," just like the Echo: You can synch the Amazon Show with various smart devices to make your whole home smarter. For this assignment, I had two Echo Shows to try out; one was at my house, the other at my brother's. When my brother linked Echo Show with his Ring video doorbell, he was able to see his front porch while standing in his kitchen. Similarly, you could use the same technology with any other smart camera to create your own DIY baby monitor.
You can take photos: The built-in 5 megapixel camera takes great pictures that are automatically saved to your Prime photos. You can also opt for little modifications to tweak your images; think a dumbed-down version of Snapchat filters. Needless to say, my two kids loved this.
Where the Echo Show Falls Short
The video calling is just OK: One of the biggest selling points here is the ability to say, "Alexa, call mom." But I found the video calls a bit underwhelming. For starters, the actual video quality is mediocre; we experienced many periods of freezing and image lag, which was extremely frustrating. We frequently FaceTime with my brother's family on our iPhones and iPads and never have an issue. But the biggest problem is that you can only video chat on Echo Show with someone who also has the device or the Alexa app. (You can make voice calls to anyone who has an Echo or Echo Dot.)
The camera angle also works against you. Because of the design, you have to lean up and into the camera for the other person to see you well. (I had a conversation with my sister-in-law's forehead last night because she wasn't leaning in at the right angle.) Another downside is that if you walk away to, say, grab something from the fridge, the person you're chatting with will likely struggle to see and hear you clearly. This makes sitting in front of the screen something of a necessity.
Echo Show also has a "drop in" feature that automatically connects a call without the other person having to "answer." (The other party has to enable it first within their settings.) This essentially lets you drop in on different rooms or homes unannounced. My brother and I first thought it might be a useful feature for our 85-year-old grandmother, but then unanimously agreed that it's mostly creepy. That didn't keep us from trying it with each other, though.
When you drop in on someone, the first 10 seconds of video appear blurry; it's a little privacy buffer so that the person has time to reject the call if they want to. Then it proceeds like a normal video chat. But I find it really hard to make the case that the Echo Show's drop-in feature is a legit selling point. It just feels too intrusive. It's similar to the whole idea behind the Nucleus intercom, which our team also found redundant.
At the end of the day, video chatting via FaceTime or Skype are clearer, better functioning alternatives. For a fraction of the price (just $60), you could just buy a 7-inch Fire Tablet with Alexa capabilities and just forego the drop-in calling feature.
My Final Impressions: Most People Don't Really Need One
The price is just too high: In my opinion, $229 is just too expensive for an Echo with a screen, especially with the latest Echo currently selling for $130 cheaper.
It's another screen: Call me old fashioned, but I think the last thing our home needs is another screen. My kids were endlessly fascinated by Echo Show. Instead of talking to each other during breakfast, they were taking photos and asking Alexa to beatbox. I, too, found myself attracted to the screen when I otherwise wouldn't have been. While baking brownies the other day, did I really need to be watching a video about how Crayola crayons are made? Probably not, but since Alexa suggested it, I went all in.
I'm trying to pinpoint who Amazon's target audience is here. The tech-savvy person who wants to trick out their whole home with smart gadgets? Echo Dot owners looking for an upgrade? (In this case, I'm more inclined to understand; the speaker quality on the Dot is pretty low-budget.) People who've never owned an Echo? If you have, there's no real reason, given my experience, to jump to Echo Show. The only real difference is the screen. Sure, you can watch Prime Video whenever you want, but who wants to do that on a tiny screen at your kitchen counter? I'd rather watch on TV or from my iPad in bed. I guess it's cool to be able to watch a recipe demo from the kitchen, but, again, you can just prop up your tablet for that.
At the end of the day, the Echo Show is a really cool device — but not one that I would ever spend any of my actual money on. As far as virtual assistants go, I'm eager to plug my Echo back in. It's helpful enough to make my life a little easier without distracting me with the needless bells and whistles. And since I wasn't blown away by Echo Show's video calls, I really have no reason to add yet another gadget to my life.
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