Siri may have ushered in the era of the digital assistant, but Amazon’s Echo (with Alexa) really took that concept and put it in our homes. The Echo wasn’t an immediate, breakout hit — but having Alexa around to ask questions, manage smart-home devices, play music and much more has turned out to be a pretty great thing. It’s a concept Google and Apple are now chasing (to varying degrees), but Amazon isn’t standing still.
The $230 Echo Show is the first Echo with a touchscreen, and since it was announced, we’ve been wondering how much a display will really add to the Alexa experience. It depends on what you want to do with it and where you put the Echo Show in your home. But after a week with Amazon’s latest, I’m convinced that yet another touchscreen in your life actually makes the Alexa experience better in a lot of ways — and that’s not to mention the special tricks the Echo Show brings.
The Echo Show does everything the original Echo does, but many of those features are much better when you add in a screen. Given that the Show is only $50 more than the standard Echo, it’ll be a worthwhile investment for anyone looking to add a digital assistant to their home.
Images of the Echo Show appeared online a few days before it was formally announced, and the immediate reaction was one of disdain. Seeing it in person makes it a little bit better, but there’s no way around it: The Echo Show is an oddly angular and blocky device. It’s also strangely large, almost bulbous at the base. It’s definitely not the sleek cylinder that we’ve come to associate with the Echo. The matte-black plastic (it’s also available in white) picks up fingerprints quite easily — but this isn’t a device that you’ll be moving around often, so that shouldn’t be much of a problem.
It turns out, that wide base houses the Echo Show’s two speakers, which perform much better than I expected (more on that later). They make up the bottom half of the device, while the top is dominated by the 7-inch, 1024 x 600 touchscreen. That’s the same resolution as Amazon’s Kindle Fire 7 tablet, and while it’s certainly nothing to write home about, it fits the Echo Show’s purpose.
It’s not something you’ll be staring at for hours on end; instead, you’re more likely to be giving it quick glances throughout the day. To that end, I found it performed well; it’s bright and clear enough, and viewing angles are fine. Given that the Echo Show can play back video from YouTube and Amazon, a panel that hits 720p would have been nice, but I didn’t spend any time really thinking that the screen wasn’t up to par.
On top is a 5-megapixel video camera, which you’ll use for video calls and, potentially, third-party services down the line. The top features three buttons: two for volume control and one to mute the Echo Show’s eight-microphone array. The mics are set in an oval around the buttons up top, but there’s no light ring like what you’ll find on the original Echo. Instead, the bottom of the screen glows blue when you talk to the Echo Show. That works fine — it’s just not as elegant as the light ring.
Overall, the Echo Show hardware is solid and functional, but not much more. I will say, that once I placed it on my shelf, I spent less time thinking about its strange form factor. It does a good enough job of blending into the background, which is really what you want from a device like this. It’s not something that’ll draw attention, and that works for me.