Today’s society has developed a love for new technology that can assist them and home hub devices mean that soon we will all have some system looking after the operation of the home and answering your questions.
Amazon is keen to stay on top of the competition with their Alexa assistant and Echo range, continuing with their “Hands-free” & “Just ask” approach.
The new Amazon Echo smart speakers build on previous ideas and tech for a new, more interesting experience. They promise that there is “everything you love about Alexa and now she can show you things.” So what does this all mean for users? Is this a whole new, multifunctional Echo with the greater appeal? Or, is it just a pointless gimmick on another smart speaker?
This is a high-end model with some interesting selling points, but we still need to look at the basic technical specification and cost.
This smart speaker is a Bluetooth-enabled device that allows users to stream music and other data between devices – much like the other Echo. This connectivity continues with the dual-band Wi-Fi for 2.4 and 5 GHz networks. Two of the main talking points are the addition of the 7″ touchscreen and 5MP camera. There is also the use of the dual 2’’ stereo speakers with compatibility with Fire OS, Android, and iOS system. The apps and programs rely upon the Intel Atom x5-Z8350 processor.
Then, there is the size and weight, as this is a larger device than seen before. It weighs 41.0 oz. and measures 7.4″ x 7.4″ x 3.5″. Finally, there is the price point. At the time of writing, the Echo range detailed as follows. The Echo Dot remains the affordable option at $49.99; the larger Amazon Echo is a competitive $179.99 and the Amazon Echo Show is set at $229.99. This isn’t too large a jump from the previous model to this new version. Also, costs are sure to change along the line.
(Source: Amazon Echo)
Let’s Start With The Most Important Talking Point Here: The Screen
The main difference between this system and the previous Amazon Echo model is the screen. There is a good reason why they called this the “Show.” The addition of this 7’’ screen may seem a little odd to those that love the streamlined simplicity of this speaker and a voice assistant. What is the point of having a screen at all on a device meant as an alternative to the typical tablet?
The answer here will surprise a lot of users. They will turn on this screen with certain expectations and then realize that they came with this device with misconceptions. Ordinarily, when we turn on a screen like this, we face a display full of touchscreen elements and buttons to press. This includes quick links to the settings, messages, calendar and any other apps that we may have on our devices. This doesn’t happen with this new Alexa. The screen isn’t an invitation to play, to mess around with the internet or set up systems manually. It doesn’t function like a tablet screen at all. To be honest, it would make the main focus and purpose of the Echo Show obsolete if it did.
The whole point of these Echo devices is that we can talk to them, ask for information and work with devices and apps through speech and voice recognition alone.
Alexa listens to us and responds with what she feels is the best information, or simply by connecting to the device or system we need. The screen doesn’t change this method of control. Instead, it is a secondary feature that merely enhances the presentation of the information to the owner. For example, an inquiry into appointments could bring up a visual calendar.
An instruction to play the next episode of a box set could see the video displayed on the screen. This is ideal for all those that want to watch something as they cook. There is also the chance to see music lyrics and artwork as the songs play, as well as a gallery of photos or an important shopping list.
The screen is still functional, just not as some buyers would expect.
Users don’t have to tell Alexa to play an episode or set up streaming, on another device that may not be indirectly eye line. This cuts out the middleman, as it were, and plays the video in a convenient location.
There are limitations to what you can do with the screen, and you also can’t watch it in the highest quality on such a small screen. Those that want to do this may as well bring in their Amazon Kindle and try and find a safe space for it on the counter.
There are pros and cons to this screen, and some people may wonder what the real point of this addition is, but it does provide another level to the experience. The issue here is that some people simply expected it to do more. They set the speaker up, watch the screen for prompt and options and realize that this isn’t all that interactive. In the end, this is still about the voice controls.
Alexa’s Apps, Skills And General Functionality
It is important at this point to note that there is no app store on this screen or within the menu either. This device does not behave like a tablet or other personal device. This is again to ensure that the Amazon Echo retains its purpose and doesn’t become overly complicated. If they make it too similar to the Fire, there is no selling point or desire to it.
Some people are not yet won over to this approach, partly because of the accessibility and familiarity of app stores on other systems. However, there are still all the skills that Alexa can learn. She is fast learner and Amazon continually add new ideas and skills.
As always, there is a love for Alexa over Siri and Cortana for the connectivity with other devices. She has a way of talking to other devices that the others haven’t quite mastered, such as the robotic vacuum cleaner. Amazon promises that users can now “turn on lights, control thermostats and more,” citing links with WeMo, Philips Hue, and Ecobee. This highlights the expansion of not only the functions of Alexa but the wider connective system for the growth of the internet of things.
With all this talk of the system and its ability to respond and gather information, we need to look at how well Alexa functions within this new model. There is no point having all these skills if she doesn’t use them when called.
It is unlikely that she will ignore you in this new Show model. There are eight microphones with the system, with beam-forming technology. This means that the Echo Show should be able to hear you from anywhere in the immediate vicinity. The inclusion of noise cancellation means that it can do so while playing music.
The combination of the screen and speaker means new capabilities for monitoring and chat.
Many users will appreciate the potential of the new video intercom system. This helps with security around the home in a whole new way. We can now ask Alexa to show us the front door when someone calls, or to keep an eye on the nursery.
There is also the call system that allows for video calls to those that have an Echo Show and voice calls to anyone with an Echo or Echo Dot. The problem is that there is already a video chat issue, a possible glitch in the system. Some experience a 10-second delay and strange connection semi-connection before the recipient picks up. This comes with a few privacy and security risks.
There are also issues with the positioning of the camera too, as the angle is a little too high for younger users. Of course many will be a little concerned at the thought of their Echo having a camera at all. There are always concerns over assistive tech watching us and detailing our habits. Amazon just made this a little easier for Alexa.
Then there is the speaker itself, which has received mixed reviews for its quality so far. The specification takes about the use of “powerful, room-filling speakers” with the potential for “crisp vocals and extended bass response.” The depth and clarity of the sound aren’t bad, and voices and music are clear. However, there are those that expected it to sound a lot better than the old Echo. Some feel there just isn’t enough of an upgrade.
We also have to talk about the overall look of the device when reviewing the new Amazon Echo Show smart speaker.
The design of the Echo and the Echo Dot has always been pretty simplistic and minimal. There is rarely anything there within the shape or design that make it stand out on top of an entertainment unit or a kitchen counter.
To be fair, this has always been a positive aspect for many people. This is a device that is meant to be unobtrusive as it works away in the background. We aren’t supposed to notice that it is there until we call it to help. The addition of a bright 7’’ screen and a camera does change all of that. We can’t help but notice this now, especially if it flashes helpful alerts or photos across the screen. It may all be a little much for some people.
Then there are those that feel that the design is a little stark for something like this. It has essentially moved from a small, cylindrical black speaker to a small black box. It makes sense with the progression of the product but means that the system struggles to find its place between out-the-way helper and attractive personal electronics.
The General Pros And Cons Of This New Device
There are some definite pros and cons to this smart speaker. It is not the perfect new addition to the range that Amazon would have hoped for, but it is not a disaster either.
- The addition of the screen gives the device new functionality and elevates it from previous editions.
- Alexa remains smart, responsive and keen to learn
- There are new skills that will integrate with this new visual approach.
- Video calls and video intercom broaden the potential of the system and the ongoing interconnectivity of the home.
- The design is a quick progression from previous models that helps to cement the Echo as its series.
- It is not as expensive as some may expect with these extra features in place.
- The screen brings a new function but doesn’t do as much as some had expected.
- The speaker system hasn’t received the upgrade that some users were hoping.
- The lack of an app store will divide opinion.
- There are some bugs to fix with the software, especially the video calls
- Some find the idea of Alexa having a camera a little creepy.
Is it worth upgrading to this new Amazon Echo Show smart speaker?
There is the clear sense from some users that this device is still a work in progress. This is apparent with those issues with the video calls and the fact that Alexa is still learning her skills. However, there are those that see the potential to this idea and suggest that this could be a helpful aid with a few tweaks.
This is a device that tries to straddle that fine line between hands-free assistive tech and a user-friendly, interactive device. It is not the original Echo anymore, but it is not a tablet either. It’s hard to maintain this balance and stay unique.
For the most part, this device is pretty successful. The screen does elevate the Echo Show above other smart speakers with that visual data and improved functionality, but it is still stripped back enough to act as that unobtrusive helper waiting in the background.
It all goes back to that idea of “Hands-free. Just ask”. Amazon hasn’t given up on this approach; they are just trying to make things easier and more interesting. A little work on the speaker clarity, an upgrade to the video intercom and ongoing skill development will help to win those uncertain users over.