Amazon Echo Show review: A glimpse at the future past predictions never quite got right

£199
Price when reviewed

Deal alert: Save £129 on an Echo Show bundle deal

Amazon has cut prices on some of its best-selling devices as part of an autumn sale and you can currently pick up an all-new Echo Show bundle deal including two devices and two Philips Hue bulbs for a total of £339.98 instead of £469.48. As well as discounts on brand-new devices you can make substantial savings on some of the older generation gear, including the Echo Dot 2nd gen (was £49.99, now £34.99) and the Amazon Echo 2nd gen (was £89.99, now £69.99).

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Step back in time a decade or two and one of the most popular predictions, alongside flying cars and a life of leisure for everyone (ha!), was that we’d all be communicating via video phone. Every sci-fi movie or TV show, from Blade Runner to The Jetsons, fancifully suggested we’d all be calling each other on small, square flickery displays by now and that the traditional telephone would be dead.

Some of this has come to pass – video calling is now a reality and nobody uses a landline anymore – but the static video phone has never quite caught on. Until, perhaps, now. Amazon’s Echo Show is a glimpse of the future that past predictions never quite got right.

READ NEXT: Amazon Echo Plus review – Alexa has never sounded so good

As ever with Amazon’s most exciting products, however, the Echo Show isn’t exactly new. In fact, our US cousins have been enjoying going back to the future with it since May, but it’s here now at last and, weirdly, it’s rather good.

I say weirdly because I wasn’t expecting it to bowl me over. After all, until now, the Echo speakers have been audio- and voice-driven products exclusively and they’ve enjoyed success because of that. But, it turns out, adding a screen does improve the Echo. And most importantly, because Amazon has taken care not to add too many tablet- or phone-style features, the Show doesn’t feel like just another touchscreen device.

Update: Unfortuntely the device of the future is now a device of the past, as Amazon have removed the speaker from all UK retailers. Read more about it here.

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Amazon Echo Show review: What does the touchscreen do?

One thing that’s clear from the off is that this is no normal Echo speaker. It’s blocky, angular and, some might say, a little on the ugly side compared with the compact, fabric-clad, second-generation Amazon Echo. But you can’t put a rectangular screen on a cylinder, so some compromises have to be made.

READ NEXT: Best Alexa Skills 

And the Echo Show is nothing if not practical. Its 7in, 1,024 x 600-resolution display is mounted above a rectangular-shaped speaker grille on a front panel that’s tilted back at a slight angle to make it easier to read, and there’s a 5-megapixel webcam mounted above it. The base is nice and heavy, and it’s covered with a thick layer of rubber so it doesn’t tip over when prodded. The whole thing is minimalist in an oddly pleasing way.

The only controls you’ll find on the Echo Show itself are the touchscreen and a collection of three buttons arranged in a line on the top panel (volume up and down, plus mute), surrounded by perforations that hide the Show’s far-field microphone array.

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The first thing to clear up is that this is an Echo speaker, and it does pretty much everything a regular Echo can do. It can answer general questions, play music and find recipes for you, set timers and alarms, order goods from Amazon directly and play music and radio. And you can do all this with the power of your voice. You never have to touch it if you don’t want to.

But having the touchscreen there does add a little extra. By default, it’s set to display news headlines on a series of cards and it shows upcoming calendar entries and reminders, too, alongside suggestions of the things you can ask Alexa. Weather, sports results and various other queries generate a graphical info card, just like on Amazon Fire tablets; radio stations and music streaming are accompanied by currently playing cards with album cover and play/pause/skip/shuffle controls; it’s even possible to watch Prime Video and, of course, buy stuff on Amazon.

The Show’s party trick, however, is its ability to make video calls. This works either from Show to Alexa-connected phones (and vice versa) or from Echo Show to Echo Show, and it works beautifully. Call quality is good enough, both onscreen and from the camera, and I experienced no lag, whether calling across my home network or on a mobile signal.

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That’s not the case with the Echo Show’s other video-related feature: the ability to call up the stream for your home-security cameras. Say “Alexa, show my {front door} camera” and the Show can patch in the stream for that camera without you having to leave the sofa. However, when I tested it with an Arlo Q camera, there was a delay on the stream of around six seconds.

This means carrying out a conversation via your camera’s speaker might be a little stilted. Still, the fact that it works is actually pretty useful and the full list of compatible cameras is extensive, including the handy Ring video doorbell, the rest of Netgear’s Arlo range, Logi’s Circle 2 and Google’s various Nest cameras.  

Sound quality and performance

Amazon’s Echo speakers are getting better at producing decent sound quality, as evidenced by the Echo Plus, and the Show delivers even better results. It has a pair of 2in drivers located in the lower half of its angular chassis and these deliver a solid, warm sound with a decent amount of bass. There’s no true low end, but at least the speaker doesn’t sound thin and reedy like the original Echo. The treble is smooth and detailed and there’s plenty enough presence in the mid-range that radio stations, podcasts and audiobooks all sound easy on the ear.

More importantly, perhaps, while you can buy a speaker with better sound quality for the same money, there’s no longer the huge gap between the Show and regular Bluetooth speakers that there once was.

Likewise, the display isn’t going to win any awards with its quality, but contrast is decent, colours aren’t weirdly off and viewing angles are absolutely fine. You can adjust the brightness if you need to by swiping down from the top of the screen, and touchscreen responsiveness is spot on. One particularly nice touch is that the screen dims when there’s no-one in the room and flicks back on as soon as it detects movement.

I do have a handful of complaints with the Show, though. The first is more to do with the UI than performance: I’d like the graphical info cards to have more data displayed on them; it’s crying out for the time and date to be shown along the top of the screen. And the same holds true for other screens on the company’s first visual smart speaker. The display feels, at times, a little over simple. An opportunity missed.

I’d also like to be able to access the camera via the Alexa app on my phone, but that’s a feature restricted to the Show. And it’s slightly disappointing that I have to decide between the smart home integration of the Echo Plus and the camera calling of the Show, because the Show doesn’t have a Zigbee chip embedded as its taller, more elegant sibling does.

Amazon Echo Show review: Verdict

Despite those (small) complaints, I do rather like the Amazon Echo Show. It combines all the flexibility and voice-driven brilliance of the regular Echo speakers with a dash of visual flair and it shows that some crazy old ideas don’t need to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

It all comes down to whether you can justify paying the premium for over the Echo Plus or the second-generation Echo, which is less than half the price of this – and as the speaker is only released on 16 November, it’s a little early for it to get a 2017 Black Friday discount.

If you want to take advantage of the video-calling feature or the ability to call up your video feeds with your voice, however, it’s definitely worth it. Even if you don’t, its display adds just enough features to enhance rather than detract from the wonderful simplicity and accessibility of the Echo range.

It’s a bit of an odd product, but a good one nonetheless, and I for one can’t wait to see what third-party developers do with the display in the future. Warmly recommended.

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