Amazon Echo Spot review: The world’s smartest clock gets a £20 discount
The Echo Spot was probably the most interesting of the slew of devices launched by Amazon in its event at the back end of last year. However, while the new Fire TV, Echo 2, Echo Plus and Echo Show all arrived in the UK prior to the Christmas break, the Echo Spot was missing from the lineup. After a delay of two months, though, the softball-sized smart speaker has finally gone on sale in the UK.
And a good thing, too. The Echo Spot is the fifth speaker in the Echo range and it’s arguably the cutest. That’s not normally a metric we use to rate products here at Alphr but I’m going to make an exception for this review because, well, the Spot is a gorgeous little thing. It’s perfectly spherical, chopped off at the bottom to allow it to sit squarely on a tabletop, and it’s finished in a soft-touch plastic (available in either white or black). It’s so adorable it makes you want to reach out, and tickle it under the chin.
Cuteness rating: Five stars
Even the touchscreen, which manufacturers usually find difficult to fit in without uglifying the aesthetic of a thing, is beautifully integrated. It’s circular, 2.5in in diameter and has a resolution of 480 x 480. It’s also set back at slight angle, making it comfortable to read, whether it’s sat on the desk next to you or on the kitchen table a couple of metres away.
It’s cheaper than the Echo Show, too, costing £120 for one and £200 for a twin pack where the Echo Show is £200, although for reasons I’ll go into below, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s great value for money.[gallery:1]
So what does it do, other than sit in the corner making eyes at you? Essentially, all the same stuff as the larger Echo Show. That means, in addition to the usual Alexa voice-driven capabilities inherited from the regular Echo speakers, it’s able to show you stuff on its screen and allow you to interact by touch.
It lets you access the speaker’s various settings – for example, screen brightness, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth – and yes, you can also use it to watch films and TV on Amazon Video, which you can choose to display either in letterbox format or zoomed in to fill the whole screen. In either mode, though, I wouldn’t recommend you sit down with a bowl of popcorn to watch The Deer Hunter from start to finish on it.
Among other things, the screen can show the words to songs played on Amazon Music like a budget Lyric speaker and, when you’re not doing anything with it, it displays an attractive clock face, with 17 different looks to choose from, along with a selection of pithy news headlines.[gallery:4]
Most folk, though, will use the screen – and the VGA camera mounted above it – to do practical stuff like show the feed from home security cameras like the Nest IQ and make and receive video calls via Amazon’s Drop-In service. For those jobs it’s just about perfect and don’t forget, it’s also possible to send voice messages and call contacts who also have enabled Amazon calling. Alas, it still lisn’t possible to make SMS calls via Alexa – that feature is currently restricted to Echo owners in the US.
One thing I find particularly useful is Echo Spot’s ability to monitor for movement using its camera, which it indicates in the Alexa app as “Recently Active”. Effectively, this means you don’t have to guess if anyone’s in; irritatingly, you can’t display that list on the screen of the Echo Spot, though.
And, as with the Echo Show, the display makes setup a touch easier as well. You use the touchscreen to select your Wi-Fi network (both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks are supported) and an onscreen keyboard to enter the password, then do the same with your Amazon account.
It’s even easier if you already own an Echo device of some sort as all your Alexa skills will be automatically available as soon as you log in. I love the fact that I can view the feed from my Ring doorbell, turn up the temperature on my Hive heating system and activate the living room lights with a simple voice command, all without having to set it up again.[gallery:3]
Amazon Echo Spot review: Sound quality and microphone performance
The Echo Spot is to the Show what the Echo Dot is to the Echo in terms of its size and price. Alas, that also extends to its sound quality as well. It’s fine as a smart bedroom alarm clock, used to listen to the radio in the morning, to wake up to Pink Floyd (I know, I’m a masochist) or the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. You can even set up a do not disturb schedule, which dims the screen as well as muting notifications.
However, for music, radio or podcast playback in larger living spaces like the living room or kitchen it’s less well suited. There’s very little bass to the sound that comes out of the vents in the Echo Spot’s circular base. It sounds better than the Dot, to be fair, but it isn’t good enough to trouble the Echo 2 or the excellent Echo Show, which delivers music with warmth and power. I’d be fine with that – after all a lot of the time the Echo Show I use in the kitchen from day-to-day is used for talk radio and podcasts – if it wasn’t for the limited volume.[gallery:11]
Even turned up to maximum, I found it difficult to hear the speaker at times from the other side of my moderately sized kitchen, especially when one or more of the appliances were running. Add a couple of people talking and you can’t hear it at all.
That’s a shame, because, like all the other Echo devices, the Spot’s far-field microphone array works well, cutting through the daily hubbub of the kitchen with relatively little fuss.
It is worth noting, though, that you can mitigate the problem by connecting an external speaker to the Echo Spot, either via the 3.5mm aux jack built into the speaker’s rear or by connecting it to a Bluetooth speaker.
Amazon Echo Spot review: Verdict
Despite its weaknesses, then, I rather like the Amazon Echo Spot. It’s a rather well made, attractive-looking smart speaker that, like the Echo Show, adds an extra dimension with the addition of the touchscreen and webcam.
It isn’t best suited to large or particularly noisy rooms because it’s relatively quiet, but as a smart alarm clock or a desk speaker for your home office it’s the ideal shape and size.
The one problem I have is with how much it costs. At £120 for one Echo Spot when it’s effectively just an Echo Dot with a screen and a webcam attached, it seems a touch expensive. However with Amazon seemingly determined to dominate the smart speaker market at any cost it surely won’t be long before it sees a deal that significantly reduces that price tag.