Amazon Echo Spot
THIS ADDITION TO THE ECHO FAMILY IS A FUN, VERSATILE VIDEO DEVICE.
AMAZON’S LATEST ECHO refresh has brought with it a design flourish that was sorely missing from its original line-up. We’ll get straight to it: the Amazon Echo Spot is the best-designed Alexa device Amazon has ever created. The new form factor makes Alexa feel fresh again, giving the voice AI some much-needed purpose.
The Amazon Echo Spot is versatile — it doesn’t have a chameleon-like ability to adapt to the room you put it in but this is certainly not just a smart alarm clock, something Amazon has been very clear about.
The issue is, it looks like a smart alarm clock which means that this may become its default use for many, but its use stretches beyond that. The Amazon Echo Spot is unlike any other Echo device and that is a good thing. Its curved shell does more than enough to make up for its sibling’s design failings.
Where the big, bulky and brash Amazon Echo Show took over any area you put it in, no thanks to its brutish black slab look, the Echo Spot is much more refined in its design. Surprisingly, it turns out the best way to do a desk-based video device is to forgo the TV-lite look and just go with something that is compact and looks good.
The Echo Spot is a cross between an Echo Dot and a smaller version of the Amazon Show. This is no Echo Dot replacement, though. It’s a pretty compact device with a curved back and screen that’s angled up, which makes it easy to view. It’s a great-looking device, certainly something you won’t mind having on show in your home unlike the, uh, Show.
WHAT CAN IT DO?
The screen is small, at 2.5 inches (480 x 480 pixels). On the top of the screen, there is space for a camera, and on the top of the device as a whole, there are three buttons: volume up, down and mute for the mic — this will also disable the camera. There are also four small pin-prick holes that house the four-array mics that listen out for the wake word. On the back, you have a nice bit of Amazon branding and a slot for power and a 3.5mm jack.
The speaker grill for the Spot is right at the base of the device, which makes it invisible when viewing the Spot face-on. Bluetooth functionality is also available.
Setup is similar to other Echo devices, except for this one, you can type in your Wi-Fi details straight on the screen, instead of going through the Alexa app. It is a little bit fiddly putting in your details that way (it will ask for your Amazon account password, too) but the whole process will take less than five minutes.
Once up and running, you have the option to watch Amazon’s promo video which tells you what you can do with the device. Then you get that warm chime sound, which means Alexa is up and running. Once this appears, follow the prompts that come up on the screen. Or you can swipe right on the screen and that will bring up a whole load of Alexa commands you can use. It’s a really nice way to learn what to do with Alexa. It’s in the settings where you can toggle home cards on an off also. The home cards are information that comes up on the home screen.
You can have the home screen include your messages, weather, notifications, upcoming events, reminders, drop in and trending topics. Performance depends on what you actually use it for. If you did use it as an alarm clock, then it’s got everything you need. There are myriad clock faces to choose from — both analogue and digital. There’s a night mode, too, which is really handy and worked well. Put this on and it will dim the screen for the hours that you choose.
Amazon has also made it so that you can have a song or radio station wake you up as the alarm. You can also read your messages on the screen and make calls.
When we used the Spot on our desk, it made us veer more towards the video functionality of the device. It looks a little strange when it first comes up as you are trying to watch a 16:9 video on a small round screen. Amazon has given the option to ‘zoom’ the picture to fit the round shape, though. While this would be hideous on a bigger screen size, we actually preferred it on the Spot.
The round screen is also perfect for room-to-room calling. This is functionality that Alexa has been able to do for a while and it works really well, turning the Spot into an intercom of sorts. Ask Alexa to drop into another Spot speaker and a face will pop up on the screen and you can have a chat, much like FaceTime. You can also ‘drop-in’ on people in your phone book (if you and they allow it). This works really well — there’s a blurred image for 10 seconds or so, just in case you need to make yourself decent, then the screen will appear clear.
Like the Echo Dot there’s an integrated speaker and we were surprised with how good it sounds. Unlike the Echo Dot, which is only really passable for things like voice, the Echo Spot had a nice sound to it. You will probably want to hook it up to a better speaker system, but if it is on your bedside table, then you won’t complain about the sound. If you listen to something with Amazon Music, then you also get the added bonus of having lyrics come up on the screen.
Another way Amazon wants you to use the Spot is as smart cam monitor. We saw a demo where you could get a smart cam video link up on the screen — from a compatible smart cam — where it was streaming from a nursery. The stream on the demo was clear and bright. Unfortunately, our current setup at home is Hive and, at the time of the review, the Hive View isn’t yet compatible (but should be soon), but the idea of this is great. It will also work with smart doorbells such as Ring.
When it came to using the Spot in the kitchen, we found it great to watch something on Amazon Prime while cooking our food. Having the ability to call up recipes and times and actually see them on the screen was a real boon, too. The ability to have multiple timers running at once really helped when cooking a roast dinner.
Again, this is functionality you can have on other Echo devices but having it ‘at a glance’ on the screen is great and means you don’t have to whip your phone out for these things.
IN THE END
The Amazon Echo Spot does everything the Echo Show does but it all feels better in this smaller form factor — and we can easily see the Spot being used in the bedroom, kitchen or even on a desk. We’re just hoping that Amazon’s Skills become much more video friendly — once this happens, the Amazon Echo Spot will become an absolute must-have.