Amazon Echo Show review

Amazon's retake on Alexa with a display

Our Verdict

The new Echo Show is a step in the right direction. It has a good design, impressive audio and mics, nails smart home management, but it's hampered by some uncooked skills and limited support by third-party music and video streaming services. Also, despite being the differentiator in the case, the display could have been better at this price.

For

  • Big, bright, responsive touch screen
  • Competent smart home hub
  • Much better audio than 1st gen Show
  • Impressive mic

Against

  • Still dominated by Alexa services
  • Video calling still limited

The Echo Show is the second generation smart speaker/display from Amazon, but it's the first iteration of the Show to launch in India. It is also the most expensive Echo device at Rs 22,999.

If you're wondering what's the point of having such a big screen in a smart speaker?  Well, if you're familiar with smart gadgets, you would agree that there's a lot that touch and video functionality can add alongside good audio. 

The first generation Echo Show was quite a hard sell at launch because of its size and mediocre audio-visual capabilities for its price. But it seems like folks at Amazon have gone back to the drawing board because most of the issues from the first generation are gone. The new Echo show has a better design, screen and functionality. But the question remains if it's worth the price and should you buy it?

Price and availability

You can order an Echo Show 2nd generation now for Rs 22,999 on Amazon.in. The best time to buy this would be during Amazon's sale events when the company usually offers a price cut on the original price. 

Amazon Echo Show review

Design

The Echo Show this time has an all screen front with thick black bezels and speakers have been shifted to the back. This has made the Echo Show 17mm thicker than its predecessor, this way it gets more real estate for the display and speakers. 

Buttons and ports are straightforward. At the top are volume controls and there's a privacy button, on the back is a DC power port, a micro USB port and a Kensington lock while on the front, it’s 10-inches of touchscreen. 

On the front, there's a camera for video calls surrounded by four of Echo Show's eight microphones. The back has good quality fabric jacket covering the speakers.

It looks like a futuristic mini television, that rests on your desk with that hump on its back. Don't forget it's not a primary video device, so the screen is not movable or tiltable. It stays stationary at one angle until you decide to move the whole unit.

Amazon Echo Show review

Screen

It is the display that makes the Echo Show the superior of all Echo devices. So we had our expectations high from the 10-inch screen. But it's nothing that will blow your head off. Its 1280 x 800p resolution LCD screen does a fair job when viewed from the right angles. 

The screen faces slightly upwards, which means it's meant to be kept below the face level (like your work table or a kitchen shelf). Meaning it's not made for carrying around and it's anyway not a battery operated device. Still, it's portable enough to be moved around the house very conveniently. 

The Show can detect the ambient light in the room and adjust the screen brightness too high or low automatically. This works pretty well in most cases, but if you still want manual controls there's a pull-down menu where you can find the brightness slider. While it's a great option to have, we did miss manual controls over things like contrast, white balance and similar. 

You can customize the screen content from the settings. But the Show's capabilities seem dwarfed because of the lack of support for Google Photos. Yes, the Echo is still majorly limited to Amazon services. 

It's a big bright display, but it somehow leaves us asking for more. It does a good job at doing what it's meant to do, but it's still not perfect enough to be your primary video watching device.

Amazon has optimized Alexa's display skills for India where you can book a ride from Ola (I'm a Uber user), get recipes from Sanjeev Kapoor, get new briefings from Aaj Tak, or get cricket update from ESPN Cricinfo, and more. You can always ask Alexa to show up skills to explore more things you can do with the Show. 

Talking to Alexa

The screen adds a lot more value to the Echo Show, but the voice is still the primary way to interact with the device. So basically it can do anything that other Echo smart speakers can do. It can do smart home management better than any other hub in the market. You just have to install Alexa app on your phone and set up the smart devices. 

The screen makes more sense with visual home devices like security cameras or smart doorbells. You can simply ask Alexa "who's at the front door" and have a view of the camera. Also, making video calls on other Alexa devices or dropping in becomes very easy with the screen and voice combination. 

While the Echo show shined in smart home ecosystem management, its skills aren't fully ready for the Indian market. This is where Google Home takes the most leverage of its knowledge graph and services. 

You cannot access Google Maps on Echo Show, and that's a feature that can add ample value to the screen. You cannot access the browser with voice. The most you can do is ask Alexa to open the browser. We're hopeful to see these issues getting fixed in the future as the companies have finally decided to allow access to each other's services on their devices.

Lastly, what's really good about using voice on Echo Show is its voice detection. The microphones are just impressive. You might need to yell slightly louder at times, but only when you are blasting audio from the Echo at level 10 and are sitting away from the speaker. You can also mute the mic using a physical button on top of the Echo Show. 

I tried speaking to Alexa in Hindi, where she was able to answer questions like "Alexa, tum kaisi ho" (Alexa, how are you), but that's pretty much it. However, you can train the Echo Show using Cleo, which takes your help to train Alexa in your local language. 

Amazon Echo Show review

Touch experience

The touch functionality comes at play as soon as you start setting up the Echo Show for the first time. Then the display works the same way as it works on a smartphone but with limited things to do. Since it's a voice first device, Amazon has resisted including an app drawer or list of Alexa skills on the Show.

So you end up swiping screens, navigating through settings, selecting option Alexa gives you, typing on the browser and similar things.  

Web browsing is like doing it on any tablet, but you can't carry it in your hand and do it because of its shape and size. You are anyway not going to do a lot of typing here, but for instances where you need, it's easy to do.

The only issue that I had is the lack of voice support for the browser. That is where the typing gets irritating after a point, but you do get to access YouTube and Hotstar to balance it out.

Amazon Echo Show review

Echo Show video services

It's just the Prime Video that can be used using the voice, but as we already said, if you want to search YouTube by voice, it’s out of bounds - you have to go through the browser. YouTube is also lower resolution than we’d like it to be, as the browser recognizes Echo Show as a mobile device.

Out of the popular video streaming services in India, the Echo Show supports Hotstar but it shows DRM content objection pop-up in selected shows. Sadly, even the browser doesn't support Netflix. 

Access to video content is one area where the Echo Show can improve and add more value to the display.

Amazon Echo Show review

Audio 

Apple Music, Spotify or Google Play Music fans will be upset as the Echo line does not support any in India. Still, you have free access to the vast library from Amazon Prime Music, Gaana and JioSaavn for music. 

The audio performance is bass-dominant by default, but you can always fix it using the EQ. It's a good speaker for watching shows or listening to music. It can fill up a room and is well tuned for most genres of music.

Amazon Echo Show review

What else you need to know

There were a few other little bits that stood out for us in our time with the Show.

The Echo should have some power backup of its own as for sudden WiFi or power cut it sometimes gets irritating to wait for the machine to start up again. My Echo Show, in particular, needed to be switched off and on after every power cut.

The camera and video calling capabilities are also only really useful if your family and friends have Echo Shows, with no support for other video services like Skype or Hangouts. Skype is said to be on the way through, so watch this space.

Verdict

The Amazon Echo Show has its own good and bad, but what's more important here is to know if the display really makes the Echo more meaningful. The answer is yes, but partially. 

For the kitchen, it can be a very useful companion to help you in cooking and it's great to have visual content on a single command, but only when you get what you want to watch. Amazon needs to do something about the video content on the show to make more of us love the idea of a smart display.

The Echo show is an evolving product, and we expect Alexa Skills to get better over time. Some skills aren't as polished as we'd like them to be. But if you’ll be using this primarily as an Alexa device, radio, music/Prime Video player and occasionally as a YouTube watcher and web browser, it will nail it.

Image Credits: TechRadar