“Its strong resemblance to a picture frame suggests the promise of the ideal smart home: a living space filled with normal, expected items that serve more than one purpose.”
- Huge 15.6-inch screen
- Widget functionality makes it easy to see tasks, smart home, and more at a glance
- Different orientation options
- Visual ID swaps between users
- Lacks customization and personalization options
- Software crashes without explanation
The original model of Amazon’s Echo Show more closely resembled the dream CRTs of the late 90s than it did a smart display, but the product has improved and evolved over time to its most recent iteration: The Echo Show 15, a wide, crystal-clear display that looks like a digital photo frame. At 15 inches on the diagonal with a flat back, it looks perfectly at home mounted on a wall as a truly functional piece of art.
Its strong resemblance to a picture frame suggests the promise of the ideal smart home: A living space filled with normal, expected items that serve more than one purpose. I’ve used the Echo Show 15 for a bit over a week and have found myself leaning on it for a lot of different tasks — more than I’ve ever used a smart display for in the past.
The obvious standout feature of the Echo Show 15 is its screen. It’s truly massive, which is a huge improvement over the five- and even eight-inch versions. At 15.6 inches across with a 1080p display, any and all content shows up clearly. It should come as no surprise, then, that Amazon poured a lot of work into the video options of the Echo Show 15.
You can watch Prime Video, Netflix, and Hulu all on the device. You can also watch YouTube through the built-in Amazon Silk web browser. An on-screen keyboard makes it easy to perform a quick search for content; of course, you can also just ask Alexa to play the video you’re looking for.
With such a large screen, the Echo Show 15 seems like the perfect addition to an office, especially with video conferencing in mind — except it doesn’t work with Zoom. Amazon says Zoom compatibility is coming in the next few months and will utilize the 5-megapixel camera found in the upper-right corner of the Echo Show 15.
The beauty of widgets
Aside from streaming all your favorite shows, the other benefit of such a large screen is the widget functionality. The Echo Show 15 introduces different widgets that give at-a-glance access to your favorite Alexa features. You can access these by swiping down from the top of the screen and tapping “widget gallery,” or just asking Alexa to open the gallery.
There are several options to pick from:
- Alexa Suggestions
- Calendar & Reminders (daily and monthly)
- Favorite Photos
- Music and Audio
- Reorder Suggestions
- Shopping List
- Smart Home Favorites
- Sticky Notes
- The Daily Show
- To-Do List
- What To Eat
- Your Deliveries
It’s thanks to these widgets that I’ve spent so much time with the Echo Show 15. You can split the screen into different segments for your widgets. At first, I had thought to use the Echo Show 15 in the kitchen for working through recipes, but it has found a home in my office (for the time being, at least) as I plan for CES 2022.
The ability to link my Google calendar to Alexa means I can see any upcoming meetings at a glance. I can also keep my to-do list within sight at all times, while the smart home widget lets me control the devices in my office without speaking. (Nothing will upset a tech company meeting more than giving an Alexa command and triggering a half dozen different devices.)
For now, the widgets are strictly those provided by Amazon. However, the company has released an API that developers can use. In time, widgets may go the way of the Alexa Skills and you’ll have more to choose from than you could possibly dream of.
In time, widgets may go the way of the Alexa Skills and you’ll have more to choose from than you could possibly dream of.
The Echo Show 15 can be mounted in a horizontal or vertical orientation, which makes it even more versatile than it already was. If you buy a third-party stand, you can even mount it on the countertop at an angle. The different configurations make the Echo Show 15 great for so many different tasks, whether it’s used in the kitchen or in your office.
It’s definitely better for entertainment when in the horizontal orientation, but the vertical layout is better for reading content.
Yet another new feature that yields itself to everyday functionality is the picture-in-picture feature. The best way to explain it is to illustrate it. If I have Hulu streaming on the Echo Show 15, I can ask Alexa to show one of my security cameras. It pops up in the upper-right portion of the screen and lets me check on things around the house without losing track of the plot.
Visual ID is another new feature. It uses the camera on the Echo Show 15 to identify individual family members and change the display based on what’s relevant to that person. It’s one I didn’t take advantage of, admittedly — my wife and I see the same schedule, the same shopping list, and more. However, it could be useful for a household full of children.
Visual ID could be used to display individual to-do/chore lists for each child in the house, and the calendar could change to show who has an upcoming game or a project due.
Any device with built-in microphones and cameras will be the focus of scrutiny with regard to privacy. We’ve written at length about the need for more stringent security measures, especially physical privacy shutters. The Echo Show 15 delivers on that in spades.
It includes a button to turn off the microphone, as well as a physical shutter that blocks the lens from view. There are two buttons on top of the Echo Show 15 (or side, if you have it oriented vertically) that control the volume. Beyond that, everything else is voice or touch-controlled.
Like other Alexa-enabled devices, you can choose to delete your recordings. It’s a good idea to track what information your smart assistant knows about you, but the upside of the Echo Show 15 is that you don’t have to worry about it recording you — with the lens closed, it can’t see anything.
Setting up the Echo Show 15 is a breeze. It’s as simple as plugging in the smart display to a power outlet, waiting for it to power on, and following the on-screen instructions. That’s all it takes. You’ll need your Wi-Fi password handy to log in to your home network, and then you’ll need to log in to your Amazon account.
Keep your phone on hand to receive the password for two-factor authentication. If you don’t have that enabled, go do it now. You control the Echo Show 15 through the Alexa app. It’s where you can change the display, the pictures, and more.
Though I’m incredibly impressed with the Echo Show 15, there are some areas that could use a bit of improvement. First, the software is a little touchy. Trying to stream content from Netflix or Hulu often resulted in an app crashing, but only if I used the touchscreen to access it. Asking Alexa to open the app or play a specific episode worked each and every time without fail. My hope is that this is just a small problem that can be corrected with a patch.
Another potential issue is the weight. The Echo Show 15 isn’t lightweight; in fact, it’s just over 4 pounds. If you’re lifting weights, it’s not a big deal. For a smart display? I would be afraid of the end result if it were to fall off the wall.
Finally, the lack of customization is disappointing. The Echo Show 15 is so large and so colorful that users could easily turn it into their own, personalized device. There’s no real way to change the blue background, and the widget arrangement is limited. It feels like an area where Amazon could have (and perhaps still can, with OS updates) enabled a lot more functionality.
The Amazon Echo Show 15 is the largest and most impressive smart display I’ve ever used. It almost immediately became my most-used smart display. Just the option to stream all of my security cameras to a single place while simultaneously tracking the weather and my upcoming events is incredible.
It’s not perfect, but it’s a giant leap in the right direction for smart displays. New smart displays need parity between equivalent models, but in certain regards, the Echo Show 15 has lesser specs than the Echo Show 10.
Is there a better alternative?
As far as size goes, nothing matches the Echo Show 15. It’s the biggest and the baddest out there. At the same time, it only has a 5-megapixel camera versus the 13-megapixel camera on the Echo Show 10 — a smart display for the same price.
The difference? The Echo Show 10 is a device primarily for communication. It swivels to track you through a room. The Echo Show 15 is for entertainment. In terms of that, this smart display is the top of the line.
How long will it last?
The Echo Show 15 has a sturdy build that gives the impression of quality. That said, its weight works against it. Were it to fall, its heft might result in more damage. If something does happen, it has a one-year limited warranty and service included.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The Echo Show 15 is a tremendous device with a lot of utility. It’s the natural evolution of the Echo Show, and if you plan to use it for entertainment or utility, like staying on top of your to-do list, you can’t go wrong.
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