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Amazon's latest member of the Echo family, the Show, delivers with a touchscreen and great sounding speakers. But will developers to support the new platform?
Amazon’s line of connected speakers are growing up and adding a big new feature: a touchscreen. Instead of having to listen to responses from the voice-enabled assistant Alexa, anyone can now also view important information on the screen of the $229 Echo Show.
Along with acting as a smart home hub, the device can also take advantage of a huge number of skills. There are currently more than 12,000 skill available, and they can do everything from ordering your Starbucks latte to playing Jeopardy. And right along with streaming music from a number of different services, the Echo Show can also play TV shows and movies.
Here are our thoughts about the new device so you can figure out if it is right for you – and at the end of this review, we’re giving one away!
What Is the Echo Show?
First hitting the market in 2015, the original Amazon Echo was a Bluetooth speaker with an interesting twist — full voice control.
The small black or white speaker mimics the shape of a Pringles can, and fits into any modern home without standing out. While its speaker offers adequate sound quality, the real draw is the personal assistant: Alexa.
Thanks to a seven-microphone setup and far-field voice recognition technology, it’s truly possible to summon Alexa from across a loud room and for each word to easily be understood. That capability has opened up the Echo to an audience encompassing both tech fans and people who you wouldn’t normally expect to be early adopters.
After finding success with the $179 device, Amazon branched out with the smaller and less expensive Echo Dot, a portable Echo Tap, and a fashion-focused Echo Look. Alexa has also made her way to a whole host of other devices including cars, watches, refrigerators, thermostats, and more.
Making the move to a touchscreen is a natural extension of what Amazon has been able to accomplish so far. The obvious standout feature of the Echo Show is the 7-inch touchscreen, which is unique to any Echo device so far. There is also a 5 MP camera for video calling and two 2-inch stereo speakers that provide by far the best sound profile in the lineup.
You’ll need to be an Amazon Prime member to order an Echo Show, and it comes in both black and white. It’s currently available only in the US, though just like the Echo, we expect it’ll eventually trickle out to everywhere Amazon can sell you stuff.
A Quick Start
Especially if you already have an Echo (our review), getting the Show set up takes a few minutes at most. After plugging in the device, you’ll select a language, enter your Wi-Fi network password information, and then log on to your Amazon account. After these simple steps, you’ll be ready to go.
Since your voice is the main way to control the device, the Echo Show hardware is simple and easy to use.
On top of the device, which resembles an old-school digital photo frame, is a button to control the volume and manually shut the microphone and camera on and off. On the bottom of the screen is a light bar that will show different colors to indicate the Show’s different states.
If for any reason you don’t want to use voice commands, getting around the Echo Show is similar to using any modern tablet. To go Home, just swipe down and select Home. You can also swipe down to select the Settings menu.
But if you’re using voice controls, you just need to say “Alexa, go home” and “Alexa, go to settings.” With voice commands, you can also scroll through a list and take care of media playback, including rewinding and fast forwarding through videos.
- If the Echo Show is your first Alexa device, make sure to download the companion Alexa app for your iOS or Android device. It’s necessary to interact with any Echo device.
- Like the Echo Dot, you can also connect the Echo Show to another Bluetooth speaker to provide sound. But I don’t know why you would want to — the Show comes with full stereo sound, giving it excellent sound quality.
- You can also use the Echo Show as a speaker for your mobile device.
Video Calling and Drop In on The Echo Show
Along with the touchscreen, the Show’s unique features include a camera and microphone that can be used for video calling.
While Amazon previously unveiled voice calling and messaging for the Echo line, this device allows you to video chat with other Echo Show owners and anyone with the Alexa smartphone app. Overall, the experience is very similar to existing video chat services like Apple’s FaceTime.
Despite stiff competition, the Show stands out from its peers because you don’t need to touch the screen at all to place or complete a call. This feature alone makes it one of the best video calling experiences currently available. The real question is whether they’ll achieve sufficient market penetration for users to justify switching from established software they already know and love.
Realizing the potential, Amazon is offering $100 off when you purchase two Echo Shows. That makes each unit the same price as the regular Echo without a touchscreen.
A unique feature now available to all Echo devices is Drop In. Completely optional, it allows anyone with an Echo device or using the Alexa app, to hear (and see with the Echo Show) anything within the range of the device. It’s perfect for using as a baby monitor or to check in on elderly parents. Instead of asking Alexa to call someone, just say “Alexa, drop in on Grandma”.
An Eye on Security
Obviously aware of the privacy concerns, Amazon has made the feature completely optional. Both you and the other person will have to specifically enable the feature on a per-contact basis.
If dropping in on an Echo Show from another Show, or the Alexa app, you’ll see a frosted view for the first few seconds. This gives the other person time to hang up the call or switch to voice-only. When a drop in starts, the Echo Show will beep as well.
Despite the gloom and doom from some tech pundits, Amazon has designed some strong security controls and ensured this feature is completely optional. Truly, if the Echo Show concerns you, it would probably be best to closely consider all of the other devices in your home with a built-in camera and microphone as well.
Echo Show Video Tips:
- Next to the volume control buttons on top of the Echo Show is a button to turn both the microphone and camera on and off. The LED strip on the bottom of the screen will turn red when off.
- Alternatively, you can say “Alexa, do not disturb” or use the in-app control to completely turn off any calling, messaging, or even any drop in.
- You can also completely block anyone from messaging or calling through the Alexa app.
Controlling a Smart Home with Echo Show
So far, the Echo line is the best way to control a modern smart home, even on a budget. Amazon had a substantial lead over other tech titans like Apple even before they introduced this great new feature on the Echo Show: live video camera feeds.
With this innovation, a simple Alexa command allows you to view the feed from a number of smart home cameras (including models from Ring, Arlo, Nest, August, EZViz, Vivint, Amcrest, Logitech, and IC Realtime).
This list is sure to grow as more manufacturers add the functionality to their devices. For example, just say “Alexa, show me the front door” and the video feed will pop right up.
In my testing, the August Doorbell Cam appeared on the screen quickly and clearly. Using an Alexa control with my Echo Show is much faster than having to reach for my iPhone.
Security Cam Tips
- To make sure your camera is available on the Echo Show, make sure to go to the Smart Home section on the Alexa app. Along with enabling the smart home skill from the particular provider, you’ll also need to discover the camera in the Devices section.
- Coming later this year, the other Echo devices will be able to hear an audio feed from the compatible cameras.
Show Me More
The fun doesn’t stop with controlling a smart home. Thanks to the screen, your Echo Show can play full videos from Amazon Prime Video and YouTube. Hopefully, that list will expand as time goes on. I would definitely love to see Netflix integration.
The full lineup of music services, including Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXM, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Prime Music is available and includes visual cues like song lyrics, album art, and more.
At launch, a number of skills like Fandango, CNN, Uber, Food Network, and others have already been re-designed for the touchscreen interface. Expect many more to follow.
You can also view any photos in your Prime Photos account.
Should You Buy an Echo Show?
By adding a touchscreen device to the Echo lineup, Amazon is demonstrating its commitment to to the connected speaker market, and is willing to make the improvements necessary to take the technology to a new level. Your kitchen assistant just got a lot smarter.
While developer support for screen-optimized skills is currently sparse, that’s likely to change with time. Google and Apple should definitely be worried.
Are you thinking about purchasing an Echo Show? Or have you already bought the device? Let us know what you think.