Ahead of the launch of the Echo Show this Wednesday, June 28, Amazon has given review units to a few sites so that they can test out the new Echo and see how its 7-inch touch screen adds to the traditional Amazon Echo experience. Amazon revealed the $230 Echo Show earlier in May and bills it as having all of the features of the traditional Echo, with the addition of a display to enhance user interactivity.
According to The Verge, one of the best aspects of Echo Show is that, “you basically never need to tap the screen for anything, unless you really want to.” Instead of adding an array of touchscreen-required actions that overcomplicate the interface, the company focused on adapting the abilities of the previous Echo models to work with a touchscreen.
While there were some moments when the touchscreen’s “secondary importance” caused UI annoyances, the site largely admired Amazon’s decision to keep the voice control focus of the Echo line with Echo Show.
Are there things I don’t love about the Echo Show? Of course. I think it’s pretty homely and I think that the sound quality could be better for the price. But the improvements over the original Echo are big enough that it’s my favorite smart speaker right now.
From nearly any other company, adding a screen would have resulted in feature-itis of the worst kind. By holding back, the Echo Show feels like it does more. Its strength is in its simplicity.
In its review, TechCrunch described Echo Show’s video calling feature as the “killer app” for many users, allowing calls between two Echo Show devices, or between an Echo Show and the Alexa smartphone app. After entering a phone number, the Echo Show displays a list of other Echo owners from your own personal contact list, and from there you can directly call their Echo.
Image via The Verge
The site noted that the screen is far too small for long movie sessions (currently only supporting video from Amazon Prime), and described its resolution as “middling,” but in video calls the Echo Show’s 7-inch touchscreen makes the most sense. Still, both TechCrunch and The Verge did find Echo Show’s “Drop In” feature slightly intrusive, as it lets selected friends and family pop into your Echo Show and see your home whenever they feel like it, but it’s not activated by default.
It’s a lot easier to use than Skype (though, to be fair, most things in this life are), but it’s currently limited to Show users, which means Amazon is going to sell a lot of these to family members looking for a simple way to keep in touch. There’s also an odd Drop-In option, which takes the whole picking-up-the-phone bit out of the equation, so select friends and family can communicate directly with little warning. I suppose there’s some value for users looking to periodically check in on loved ones, but the whole thing is too intrusive for my tastes.
Wired also referenced worry about Echo Show’s always-watching camera, but ultimately sees potential in the device’s future, particularly once Amazon begins adding in more “skills” for the Echo Show. The site continued an opinion shared in multiple reviews posted today, which is that the Echo Show’s speaker is better than that of the original Echo’s, but “it’s no Sonos.”
Still, I find the Show’s potential fascinating. The Alexa ecosystem has grown big enough that I suspect Netflix and Hulu will soon make video skills, most smart-home manufacturers will support the new device, and games and apps will pop up all over the place. Alexa’s voice recognition works well enough to make all of this work, and developers can access the camera, the screen, the microphone, and the speaker. The Echo Show is basically an always-on, plugged-in smartphone, which could become hugely powerful.
Amazon’s Echo Show is the latest in the company’s line of smart speaker systems, following the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Look. Apple is gearing up to finally enter the same market, with an announcement at WWDC this year for the “HomePod.” Apple said that its speaker is more focused on high-quality music playback than its smart speaker rivals, while also offering Siri-based AI features.
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