The Echo Show arrived this week. Like many, I was excited to put the latest addition to the Echo lineup through its paces.
Welcome to my one day review.
Why write a review after using a product one day? Doesn’t one need to spend weeks – maybe even months – with a product like the Echo Show to really understand the possibilities of this complicated and interesting new product?
Yes, but here’s the thing: For most products, you also are able to notice things right away. Not unlike a first date when you show up at the restaurant and notice your date for the night has three eyebrows or is a loud talker, there are things you notice right away when you’re around someone or something.
So here goes:
Out of Box Experience
The install experience was painless, quick and well optimized. Once I pulled the Show out of the box and plugged it in, it walked (and talked) me through the installation.
The device found my Wi-Fi network, had me enter my password, and within a minute it had checked in with the cloud and knew this was Michael Wolf’s new Echo Show. The Show started to download a software update, which took about five minutes. Overall, the product was installed and running in 10 minutes.
For about five minutes, I thought this device sounded horrible. Then I saw the layer of protective plastic over the speaker.
This is why I don’t write five minute reviews.
Plastic removed, the Echo Show sounds good. Not quite as good as my Sonos Play 3, but it could give my Play 1 a run for its money. Turned up, the Echo Show is fairly loud.
Volume is controllable via Alexa, but it also has volume up and down buttons on top of the device, which I like. Sometimes you just like old fashioned physical buttons.
The Echo Show Shape and Look
Like many this week, I was surprised at the beefiness of the Show when it arrived at my house. This is mostly due to Amazon’s early press images and videos which showed the the latest Echo mainly from the front of the device. When you actually see the Show in all its glory, it’s a lot deeper than you expect.
So Amazon intended for you to mainly see the Show from one side: its front. This is clear not only because of how deep and heavy the back side of the Show is, but also because the sides of the device are angled inward. It reminded me of those early big screen TVs before everything became ultra-thin.
Because of these angled sides, you can walk from side to side and still have the illusion that this is a thin device. See video below:
Given the shape of the device, it works best against a wall. While I’m sure that with so many of today’s modern kitchens having islands, I’m sure many Echo Shows will end up stranded one one (sorry), but I’d suggest putting it up against a backsplash as it just looks better.
The device’s front screen leans ever-so-slightly backward. When I pushed the device with my hand and tried to tip it over from the front, it stuck stubbornly in place. It’s clear that Amazon gave some thought to how this device would sit on a surface like a kitchen counter as people and things moved around it and possibly bump into it.
Visual Information + Voice = Game Changer
Here’s something I realized right away: By finally giving Alexa a screen, Amazon has opened up immense new possibilities for potential applications and content opportunities.
This may sound like an overstatement, but it isn’t.
The main reason for this is the powerful combination of synchronized voice control/visual information. While the Amazon visual skill cupboard is slightly bare at this point, you can see from what few samples there are that by adding visual information, Amazon’s created a new and exciting direction for the Echo.
I spent the most time with new Allrecipes visual skill. While the skill feels very much like a 1.0 effort (I’ll have a review of the Allrecipes skill soon), but I can nonetheless see the potential. I was able to bring up recipes, pick one I like, browse the ingredients and cooking instructions.
But the coolest feature of the Allrecipes app was the ability to play and pause videos. This is really important because if you’re like me, you like to watch and rewatch videos as you move through the cook process.
At the risk of being repetitive, let me say it again: it’s this combination of voice search and command with visually rich information in a shared-screen computing device is by far the most exciting thing about the Echo Show.
There are other aspects about having an always on screen that are important. The “sleep screen” info on the Echo Show is unobtrusive, natural and well placed. Maybe because Amazon has had so much practice creating sleep screen content with the Kindle, but it’s clear Amazon thought about placing interesting and relevant info on a device. With the Echo Show, the device not only shows basic temperature and time info, but it scrolls through headlines, suggestions for using, etc.
Of course, the camera’s most obvious benefit is the ability to communicate with others via voice chat. While I haven’t done a drop-in with my own Show yet, I did try it out in store at Amazon Books and the video quality seems really good.
Less obvious is the camera is being used as a sensor. When I turn out the lights the screen soon goes into soft-light mode, which I thought was a nice feature. And while it is early days for the Show, I expect at some point Amazon will unlock other computer vision capabilities that could really unlock contextually relevant information.
“I Would Use That”
When it comes to Alexa and our first two Echo devices, let’s just say my wife Tiffany has been indifferent to annoyed. Sure, she’ll ask Alexa to play music, but for the most part doesn’t see the value.
But after a few minutes playing with Echo Show, she was sold.
She tried out the Allrecipes app. She searched for a recipe and tried the video feature and liked it. She started, paused, played a video of making a strawberry smoothie, something my daughter wanted to make.
After a few minutes, my wife said, “this is something I would use.”
And of course, she then suggested I get rid of another one of my kitchen gadgets taking up counter space in order to put this one in the kitchen.
But hey, progress, right?