Sleeker design • Larger • vibrant display • Clear room-filling audio • Skills that take advantage of screen work great • Really nice entertainment options • Easy setup
Video quality isn’t the best • Many skills underutilize the screen • Lousy camera
Amazon’s second-generation Echo Show has a larger screen, booming audio, and fast performance, making the $229 price worthwhile.
The larger display and sleeker design on the second-generation Amazon Echo Show make a world of a difference over the previous version. That’s good news since, as Echo devices go, the Show isn’t cheap. Not only that, but it essentially serves as Amazon’s reference design of how screens should work with on Alexa-enabled products.
Amazon is continually working on the brains of its digital assistant, Alexa. My first introduction to the smart assistant was with the original Echo. Since then Amazon has released many different kinds of Echoes and encouraged third-party hardware makers to integrate Alexa as well.
Not that Amazon lives in a vacuum. Amazon and Google are basically at war with each other in the smart-home space, with Apple on the sideline trying to figure out push HomeKit and HomePod further into the fray.
At Amazon’s recent hardware event there were 70 announcements, which is where we first saw the new Echo Show. It’s over a year since the original dropped and Amazon is sticking with the $229 price. With a more feature-filled device, how has the Echo Show improved, and where does it stand against other “smart screens” like the Lenovo Smart Display?
A sleeker, less awkward design
The original device stuck out like a sore thumb, but the second-generation Echo Show looks a lot better. The front is almost all screen with a 10-inch display, and the speakers are in the rear. You no longer have space on the front taken up by a speaker grille, and with a tweaked design it sticks out less in the back.
Instead of plastic, the new Show has mesh netting around the back, similar to Apple’s HomePod and Google’s Home Mini. The use of fabric and softer tones makes the overall design friendlier and designed for the home.
Along the top are physical buttons for muting the microphone (for when you’re on a video call), and volume up/down. I’ve noticed you need to push pretty hard to engage these.
The Show has WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity built in, of course. There’s a proprietary power port on the back along with a microUSB port.
The best thing about the new Echo Show is that it’s dirt-simple to set up. When you order one, it will be pre-provisioned to your Amazon.com email address. All you need to do is key in your password and connect it to WiFi.
The most significant internal change in the new Echo Show is the speaker array. Amazon ditched the primary front speakers of the original for dual rear-facing 2-inch neodymium drivers and a passive bass radiator. Dolby processing adapts the sound for an immersive stereo experience.
The Echo Show sounds fantastic. I didn’t experience any drop-outs or sound buffering during my testing, although your mileage on that may vary with your wireless connection. An equalizer lets you customize the bass, midrange, and treble, but unfortunately you can’t save those customizations as presets.
More space for content
The Echo Show now brandishes a crisper and more vibrant 10-inch display (the screen on the original was 7 inches). If anything is clear about the new Show, it’s that Amazon wants it to be a versatile device that works in a variety of situations.
With 10 inches of real estate you can comfortably watch content on the Show from across your kitchen, giving you more value for the not-so-cheap $229 price.
Skills are getting better
With the larger screen, the new Echo Show is a much stronger entertainment device, and NBC and Hulu are said to be offering apps for it at launch. I was able to try it during a demo with Amazon, but not on Mashable’s review unit since the skill was still being finalized. However, the addition of streaming services to the Echo Show makes perfect sense. If you’re placing it in the kitchen you could easily switch on the latest episode of Modern Family from Hulu while cooking.
YouTube isn’t officially on the Echo Show. The workaround is to use the Silk or Firefox to access the site. I tried it several times and the result was a typical YouTube experience.
Besides these new streaming skills, there are thousands of others to ask for. You can watch Jimmy Fallon’s monologue from the night before by asking for the “Tonight Show” or even watch Jeopardy. The downside here is that many of the skills were designed for Echo devices without screens, and don’t have any video. That leads to some of them just showing captions when you play the material.
That was a problem when the Echo Show first launched, and it’s still a problem, over a year later. Fingers crossed that developers are working on more visually captivating skills — Amazon has given them the tools and even design guidelines.
Easy video calling
The front-facing camera isn’t improved. It’s still a 5-megapixel lens that cannot handle low-light situations. Selfies look good, but most video calls with Amazon’s proprietary service will leave you wanting more.
In several tests, I looked okay, but the person I was chatting with appeared quite grainy. It wasn’t HD quality but more like 360p or 480p at best. The sound was pretty decent, although I recommend turning down the volume to reduce feedback.
Skype is supposed to come to the Echo Show in the coming months, which we’re eager to test out — especially considering how limited Amazon’s video calling is with no picture-in-picture option. Hopefully more video chat services will quickly follow because the Show could be an excellent video calling device with the right software.
A really great Echo
The second-generation Echo Show delivers improvements across the board. A larger 10-inch screen makes it easier to digest content and to actually stream movies or TV shows on it. The crappy speakers on the front are replaced with two impressive rear-facing speakers that do a terrific job.
Those two upgrades alone make it worth the $229 price, something that could not be said about the original.
Alexa is better, too. Amazon has kept the promise of improving its voice assistant with new skills and features coming every day. Everyday responses are more on point as well. There is a stark contrast with the level of intelligence and voice recognition in Alexa today then when it launched almost four years ago.
The Echo Show has been a joy to use thus far. I’ll be ordering one myself, and I think anyone interested in a great-sounding speaker with a screen should look at it, too.