Ama­zon Echo Show

Tech Advisor - - Contents -

£199 inc VAT from fave.co/2B0q6dL

The Echo Show is not just Ama­zon’s best smart speaker, it’s the most ca­pa­ble main­stream smart home as­sis­tant on the mar­ket. An In­tel Atom x5-Z8350 pro­ces­sor and a 7in colour touch­screen pumps its price tag up to £199, but the dis­play is worth the added cost to have at least one in a smart home with other Echo speak­ers. And the Show’s eightele­ment far-field mic ar­ray is stronger than the ones on Ama­zon’s other Echos, which for me elim­i­nated the need to have an Echo Dot in an ad­join­ing room.

Ama­zon takes full ad­van­tage of that dis­play, pro­vid­ing not just use­ful vis­ual feed­back, but also an in-home in­ter­com – with video, if two Echo Shows are used – and a VoIP-type video­phone sys­tem. I’ll elab­o­rate on the in­ter­com fea­ture shortly. The video­phone ser­vice is a great way for fam­i­lies to stay in touch – es­pe­cially grand­par­ents who live far from their grand­chil­dren – but video re­quires both par­ties to have Echo Shows (you can make voice-only calls be­tween other Echo mod­els).

That could be ex­pect­ing a lot from grandma and grandpa un­less they’re tech savvy or you’re will­ing to set it up for them (a task dis­tance will make dou­bly dif­fi­cult). While that lim­i­ta­tion takes a lot of the sizzle out of the propo­si­tion, it’s not much dif­fer­ent than Ap­ple re­quir­ing both par­ties to use an iOS de­vice to make use of Face­time.

Ama­zon’s new Drop In fea­ture is even more com­pelling. This en­ables two Echo de­vices to op­er­ate as a wire­less home in­ter­com. You sim­ply say “Alexa, drop in on the Kitchen” (or what­ever you’ve named the Echo you want to use) and a two-way com­mu­ni­ca­tion ses­sion will start. With Echo de­vices that have screens (the Echo Show and, I assume, the new Echo Spot when it ships), you’ll get a two-way video in­ter­com as well as au­dio. I tried this with a pair of Echo Shows op­er­at­ing on a Linksys Velop-based home net­work and it worked great.

As cool as that is, I can’t say the Echo Show has a fab­u­lous touch­screen. The colours in the dig­i­tal photos I dis­played on it were some­what muted, its res­o­lu­tion tops out at just 1024x600 pix­els, and vis­ual

qual­ity suf­fers when viewed off axis. It is re­spon­sive to touch, how­ever, and it will save you from the need to pull out your smart­phone to get in­for­ma­tion such as the cur­rent time and weather (ac­com­pa­nied by line draw­ings de­pict­ing the sun, clouds, or rain). Set a timer, and the Show will dis­play a count­down, so you can see at a glance how much time is re­main­ing. Link your cal­en­dars to your Alexa ac­count, and the dis­play will scroll through your up­com­ing ap­point­ments. Ar­range for an Uber and you’ll get vis­ual up­dates as to when your ride will ar­rive.

You can also dis­play photos you’ve up­loaded to Ama­zon’s cloud stor­age ser­vice (you can get 5GB of free stor­age or un­lim­ited photo stor­age if you’re an Ama­zon Prime customer). Once you’ve up­loaded your photos, you can iden­tify the peo­ple in them, or­ga­nize them into al­bums, and then ask Alexa to

show all your photos of a par­tic­u­lar per­son, photos in a spec­i­fied album, or photos that were shot dur­ing a stated time frame.

The movie and video ex­pe­ri­ence

You can also watch movies and TV shows on Ama­zon Prime Video, although I don’t imag­ine many peo­ple will want to do that on such a small screen – there’s no video out­put, so you can’t con­nect the Show to your big-screen TV. You can re­quest spe­cific ti­tles (“Alexa, show me Trans­par­ent,” or even “Alexa, show me

Trans­par­ent, sea­son one”). The ti­tles, or TV episodes, ap­pear in num­bered boxes. To play the ti­tle or episode you want to watch, you say “Alexa, play one” or what­ever num­ber the box is la­belled as.

With both mu­sic and video, you can use voice com­mands to play and pause, ad­just vol­ume, fast for­ward and rewind, skip for­ward and back, and so on. All this worked just fine on two of the Echo Shows I got in for re­view, but a third unit re­fused to co­op­er­ate – at least not with videos. It would pause for a sec­ond or two, and then just go back to stream­ing as if I’d never in­ter­rupted it.

If the man­u­fac­turer of your home se­cu­rity cam­era of­fers an Alexa skill, you can also view the cam­era’s video stream on the Echo Show. This fea­ture works with pop­u­lar cam­eras from Nest, Log­itech, Ring, EZviz, and oth­ers. It also works with the se­cu­rity cam­eras – in­clud­ing the video door­bell – in the Vivint smart home sys­tem that I use.

It’s so much more con­ve­nient to just ask to see what my se­cu­rity cam­eras can see than it is to pull out

my phone and call up an app. There is one caveat, how­ever; if your broad­band con­nect has a slow up­link – as mine does – there can be a bit of a de­lay be­tween when you ask to see the video feed and when it ap­pears on Show. But I have the same prob­lem when view­ing those feeds on my smart­phone.

What it’s like to play mu­sic on the Echo Show

It’s no con­test: this is Ama­zon’s best-sound­ing Echo. It’s the only one that comes close to de­liv­er­ing good sound, and like all other Echos, you can con­nect any Blue­tooth speaker if you find it in­ad­e­quate. This is the only Echo, how­ever, to not also in­clude a 3.5mm aux­il­iary out­put.

The Echo Show’s bulky de­sign – it’s 3.5 inches deep at its base – al­lowed Ama­zon’s en­gi­neers to put in a pair of 2in full-range speak­ers aided by Dolby DSP al­go­rithms. It’s not an au­dio­phile prod­uct by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion – it would sound even bet­ter with dis­crete woofers and tweet­ers – and many peo­ple won’t want to rely on it alone for mu­sic re­pro­duc­tion. But the Show does de­liver re­spectable dy­namic range and it can get pretty loud. You can stream mu­sic from Ama­zon Mu­sic, Spo­tify (paid ac­counts only), iHeartRa­dio, Pan­dora, TuneIn, and Sir­iusXM. But you can’t con­nect Ti­dal or Deezer, which of­fer the op­tion of stream­ing mu­sic en­coded in FLAC.

Per­haps more im­por­tantly, you can’t stream any me­dia from a server on your own net­work. If you want to stream your own mu­sic li­brary, you’ll need to do it over Blue­tooth or up­load the files to Ama­zon’s

mu­sic ser­vice. But you’re lim­ited to up­load­ing 250 tracks un­less you pay for an Ama­zon Mu­sic stor­age sub­scrip­tion, in which case the limit in­creases to 250,000 tracks.

There are more caveats you’ll want to be aware of: You won’t need to con­vert files from one for­mat to an­other be­fore you up­load them (from FLAC to MP3, for in­stance), but you’ll get com­pressed files when you stream them back (Ama­zon will con­vert them in the cloud to ei­ther MP3 or AAC. And it will do that only if it can match the track to one in its li­brary. If you have rare bootlegs or record­ings of your own, you’re out of luck.)

On the bright side, you’ll be treated to a dis­play of album art with the mu­sic, and you can even ask

the Show to dis­play the lyrics for the cur­rent song. This lat­ter fea­ture, how­ever, seems to be avail­able only with Ama­zon Mu­sic – not Spo­tify or any of the other ser­vices you can link to your ac­count.

Ver­dict

Priced at £199, the Echo Show isn’t cheap, but it de­liv­ers plenty of value. As I found with the very first Echo, once I had one, I wanted mul­ti­ples – es­pe­cially for the video in­ter­com fea­ture. And the video call­ing fea­ture is good enough that my adult kids can look for­ward to re­ceiv­ing one for the hol­i­days. You’ll dou­bly ap­pre­ci­ate the Echo Show if you have a com­pat­i­ble smart home sys­tem. I’ve al­ways liked the idea of hav­ing my smart home user in­ter­face on my TV – the big­gest

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