Ama­zon Echo Spot

THIS AD­DI­TION TO THE ECHO FAM­ILY IS A FUN, VER­SA­TILE VIDEO DE­VICE.

TechLife Australia - - CONTENTS - [ MARC CHACKSFIELD ]

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

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