After much anticipation, Amazon has finally unveiled the latest in the Alexa-equipped Echo family, the Echo Show. While a 7-inch touchscreen means the unit isn’t the easiest on the eyes, the Show certainly has a few accessories absent from the standard Amazon Echo. Slapping a screen on the Echo certainly adds a welcome visual element to the experience, but many of Alexa’s Skills have yet to take full advantage, and many individuals may not need the added versatility. That said, is making the upgrade a worthy leap of faith? Here’s a rundown of the models to help you make the decision for yourself.
Skills and Functionality
Once the devices are set up and connected to the smartphone app, both the Echo and the Echo Show are equally capable of controlling all of your compatible smart-home appliances and accessories. When it comes to monitoring these smart-home devices, however, the Show has a clear advantage. Most notably, the Show can display feeds from smart-home cameras and video doorbells, like Nest, Arlo, Ring, and August.
Shopping on the Echo Show has a much more natural feel than it does on the standard Echo. For example, say “Alexa, order me some batteries,” and the Show screen will promptly display a full catalog of batteries to choose from. Give this same command to Echo and the device can only choose a pack for you or reorder batteries you’ve previously purchased — modest albeit significant dissimilarity.
This visual aspect is really what separates the two devices, and the ability to both hear and also see these cues adds clarity to the process. You won’t always need (or be able) to use the screen with some of the Amazon Skills, but those that do have video capability can be very helpful around the home or office. Mainstay Skills like YouTube are handy when it comes to watching music videos and even following along with lyrics of the latest hits (not that you can’t already do this with your phone or a basic tablet).
The Food Network Skill is currently one of the more popular Skills for Amazon Echo. The utility allows individuals to easily follow along as Alexa guides them through simple or more extensive recipes. This Skill was updated specifically for Echo Show; not only will Alexa walk you through the prep work, she will also list instructions and play tutorial videos. We can only hope Amazon builds upon this with other Skills to make the device easier to use down the road. Similarly, the visual timer is a very useful tool when preparing meals in the kitchen. It’s not difficult to ask Alexa how much time is remaining, but simply being able to glance at a digital readout is much more convenient and free-flowing.
As anyone who has ever asked Alexa about upcoming showtimes around town can attest, listening to a droning list of movie times can be frustrating, if not all out mind-numbingly reminiscent of Moviefone. Thankfully, with the Echo Show, Alexa will display a scrollable list of movies and showtimes, and will even play trailers for your perusing pleasure. When it comes to dressing and planning for the weather, the screen allows you to view weekly and hourly forecasts. The Echo Show will actively let you visualize and tweak your shopping lists, notes, and to-do lists for a more organic hands-on feel.
At the moment, many of the third-party Skills are a little wonky and do not fully capitalize on the visual component of the Show. Amazon claims that “third-party Skills had not yet been finalized for the Echo Show,” according to the New York Times. For the time being, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite Skills — feel free to enable the Digital Trends Skill.
Winner: Echo Show
Both devices are capable of Alexa-to-Alexa messaging and voice-calling between individuals with an Echo device and the compatible Alexa app, but only the Echo Show can handle video calling. This may sound like a wonderful addition to the Echo platform — and it is, mostly. There is a downfall, however. The Drop In feature, the technological equivalent of the pop-in, allows your contacts to call in whenever they want, and you don’t get the choice to decline them. You only have a few seconds to prepare for the call if someone does in fact “Drop In.” This brings up a slew of privacy concerns; as is the case with the Echo and Echo Dot, you can easily mute the Show and also block the camera.
Winner: Echo Show
Both the Echo and the Echo Show are more than capable of adequately hearing and communicating with you from the other side of larger spaces and also filling a room with music. It is important to note that neither of these speakers is a top of the line, stand-alone audio system, and pickier audiophiles will certainly have their complaints. However, connecting the line-up of Alexa-enabled devices to higher-end Bluetooth speakers will shore up these minor technological drawbacks. We’ve compiled a list of the best Bluetooth speakers on the market to further bolster your Alexa-centered home audio system.
To be blunt, neither the Echo nor the Echo Show are sexy gadgets, and Amazon probably isn’t holding its breath on winning any International Design Excellence Awards anytime soon. Existing as a bland black monolith, the Amazon Echo is anything but an inspiring focal point in a given room. Similarly, with a clunky build, the Echo Show looks like it was created from leftover bulk components from Amazon Prime Day 2016 rather than a nod to the inevitable Jetsons smart-home of tomorrow. However, the 7-inch touchscreen does add functionality and a modest aesthetic touch without looking nearly as utilitarian as the Echo.
Winner: Echo Show
The on-screen capabilities of the Echo Show aren’t necessarily must-haves right now, but as the Skills begin to cater to the Show platform, we should begin to see more functionality in the months ahead.
Beyond the nitpicky but relevant aesthetic flaws of each, there are some noteworthy design drawbacks with the Echo Show. For example, the Echo Show screen is always on in some form or fashion. You can ask Alexa to turn it off, but the screen will simply dim and display the time with the background still illuminated. Similarly, if the built-in camera detects motion, the screen will again turn on. For this reason, those who are sensitive to lighting at night will certainly not appreciate this temperamental nightlight in their bedrooms.
The Echo is available for $180 and the Echo Show costs $230 — it’s the priciest in the Echo family. That said, at just $50 more than the standard Amazon Echo, the Show is certainly worth the upgrade. But if you’re simply looking to add a little music to a room and occasionally pester a digital assistant without attempting to control your full array of smart appliances, then the basic Echo will surely suffice.
Winner: Echo Show
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