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Amazon Echo Show 15 review: Alexa gets widgets, Visual ID and a mega screen

Does Amazon's biggest smart display change the game?

7.8

Amazon Echo Show 15

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Like

  • Attractive frame design
  • Physical camera shutter
  • Large, high-res screen

Don't Like

  • Heavy and thick
  • Widgets could be better
  • Lower quality camera and speakers
  • As expensive as the Show 10

Amazon's line of Echo Show ($34 at Amazon) smart displays dates back to 2017, when it was a sharp-edged screen atop a boxy speaker. Today, we have nearly a dozen iterations of the Echo Show, ranging from 5-inch models to the largest smart display yet: the new Echo Show 15. 

At 15.6 inches, this smart display is big. It's also smarter than previous Echo Shows and designed to live somewhere no previous Echo Shows could -- your wall. Amazon took a calculated risk here, but thanks to a reasonable price, the new AZ2 chip and welcome features like widgets, that risk mostly pays off. If you've ever wanted Alexa off of your countertop, the $250 (£240, AU$399) Echo Show 15 is a great choice. Still, there are more capable Echo Shows out there, and for that reason it isn't the best bet for everyone. 

Design

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You can purchase a special stand for the Echo Show 15 if you don't want to mount it to your wall with the included hardware. 

Molly Price/CNET

Pulling the Echo Show 15 out of its box, the device looks thick. It's also quite hefty at 4.9 pounds. Something about the Echo Show 15 profile reminds me of my first "flat screen" TV circa 2008. The idea of mounting a device with this much weight on my wall felt a bit intimidating. I'd imagine one drop from 6 or 8 feet would damage not only the device, but also my home's 75-year-old hardwood floor. 

Thankfully, if you would like to wall-mount the Echo Show 15, the included mounting bracket and hardware feel up to the task. When choosing the right spot on the wall, you'll need to consider the height and eye level of everyone in your home who will use this display. I also tried out a specially made stand for the Show 15, which is sold separately or in a bundle for $30 more. If you go that route, it makes this Echo Show a $280 smart display, the most expensive of any Amazon sells. 

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Installing the Echo Show 15 on our wall at the CNET Smart Home was quick and easy.

Chris Monroe/CNET

We used the included template to mount the Echo Show 15 at the CNET Smart Home, and it was quick and easy. You will need a drill, a 5/16-inch or 8mm bit and a level. You'll be putting four holes into your wall, so it's a "measure twice, cut once" situation. As invasive as it feels, Amazon did make the installation simple to understand and easy to do. 

The 1080p screen measures 15.6 inches diagonally and has the best resolution of any Echo Show yet. The Echo Show 15 comes with adaptive brightness and is surrounded by a white mat and black frame, much like a digital picture frame or Samsung's The Frame TV. On the top (or side, depending on orientation), you'll find volume and mute buttons as well as a switch to slide the physical cover over the Echo Show 15's 5-megapixel camera. 

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Everything included in the Echo Show 15 box. 

Molly Price/CNET

I really like the aesthetic of the Echo Show 15. It feels more sophisticated and less gadgety than any Echo Show before it, with a familiar screen and interface presented in a much more appealing and subtle way. I'm always encouraged by smart home tech that takes a subtle approach to fitting into the design scheme of a home. The Echo Show 15 does that quite well. It's just a shame there aren't more color options for the frame

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The Echo Show 15 speakers are side-firing, housed in the rear, white plastic portion of the device. 

Molly Price/CNET

Sound quality

The Echo Show 15 is equipped with two 1.6-inch speakers, one on either end of the device. They're behind the screen, in the white plastic housing of the Echo Show 15's back half. On a table against the wall in my living room, it appeared that the sound was coming out of the back of the device and into the wall. The speakers do have room to fire out the side of the display. It just doesn't sound great.

Volume levels are adequate, but the Echo Show 15 certainly didn't come near to filling the room with rich sound the way a standard Echo or HomePod can. Admittedly, this is not an audio-first device. You're here for the screen. However, I'm no audiophile, and I still found myself slightly disappointed and wishing for some sort of front-firing speaker array. 

Notable features

In many ways, the Echo Show 15 is exactly that -- one of many iterations on a familiar Alexa host. Setup feels identical to all the Echo Shows that came before it, complete with free trial offers and the familiar steps of naming and placing the device in your home. The ambient screen displays art, family photos or stock images like any Echo Show. Navigation through the device has the familiar Echo theme. 

There is some redesign in that theme, though. Two rows of control bars swipe down from the top of the device in landscape mode. Widgets, which we'll get to in a minute, are an easy swipe from the side. Most of this experience is enhanced by the large screen. More real estate means bigger buttons, easier-to-read text and plenty of room to view photos and video. 

Visual ID

This facial recognition feature is available on Echo Show 15 as well as the latest Echo Show 10 and Echo Show 8. Amazon calls it Visual ID. You'll need to enable it since it's an opt-in feature, and you'll need to complete a setup process to teach Amazon your face, too. From there, the Echo Show 15 will recognize your face when it sees you and bring up personalized content, similar to how the Nest Hub Max or the iPhone do. 

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This disclaimer page is part of the Visual ID setup process. 

Molly Price/CNET

Setting up Visual ID is easy. You'll take four photo-booth-style images of your face with the display's camera. Next time you walk up to the display or tap it awake, you'll see a greeting in the top-right corner. A "Hi, Molly" bubble greeted me once my Visual ID was added to my profile. 

Visual ID enables personalized results like individual calendars, to-do lists and commutes, all tailored to you. You can also use it to assign reminders and sticky notes to other family members, which Amazon will deliver when they appear in front of the screen. For example (and not at all inspired by my own life), you could ask Alexa to "remind Ben to take out the trash tomorrow." Processing of all that facial recognition data for Visual ID is done locally on the device, so nothing travels to the cloud. Amazon's Visual ID information page expands on how Visual ID works. 

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Widgets display on the home screen as a panel that swipes out from the side. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

Widgets

One of the standout features for the Echo Show 15 is the widget gallery. There, you'll be able to select from 14 widgets to add to your Echo Show 15 home screen. Right now, the options are slim. There are basics for calendars, to-do lists, sticky notes, music, smart home and a few others. I'd expect that more services and features will get a widget in the future, but I wish there were more options today. 

Widgets are a nice way to keep from swiping and scrolling to get to what you want. Once you've selected your widgets, they'll appear on the home screen beside your regular home screen content. I chose four widgets, which, in landscape mode, resulted in a sort of split screen. You can "resize" a select few widgets, but really, that just means choosing between a regular and a larger size in the gallery. If you opt for a large widget, you can only have one at a time. 

All in all, the idea is solid. Aesthetically, I don't prefer it, but it does add practical value. There isn't quite enough customization for it to feel enjoyable, but I think future updates will get there. Third-party widgets are likely but not yet available. That could greatly improve the experience.

What could be better?

Today, there are a few things scheduled but not yet delivered for the Echo Show 15. Zoom isn't an option, but support is promised for 2022. The same goes for Custom Sound Detection, a feature that will allow you to train Alexa to listen for specific sounds and then send you an alert. In theory, this would allow Alexa to alert you when your dryer dings or the doorbell chimes. 

The Echo Show comes with a 5-megapixel front camera. That pales in comparison to the 13-megapixel front cameras of the Echo Show 8 and Show 10. I'm surprised Amazon chose to cut corners on the camera, yet charge the same price as the Echo Show 10. The speakers in the Show 15 are also a downgrade compared to the larger speakers of the Show 8 and 10. 

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Zoom isn't included on the Echo Show 15, but calling Santa still works. 

Molly Price/CNET

There are the odd bugs here and there. The AI filters on my Drop In video calls sometimes froze or turned from color to black-and-white. A suggested "Alexa, play TikTok" command meant to pull up videos from the popular app had varying results, including the 2009 Ke$ha hit by the same name (how did she know?) and a 42-minute investigative documentary on the dangers of the social media platform. 

Buy or skip?

The oddest thing about this Echo Show 15 is that it feels incredibly non-Echo Show-y. It's a completely different look. From a design perspective, it feels like Amazon aimed for a more refined, subdued and subtle Echo experience, and if so, the company has nailed it. I have my qualms with smart displays and Alexa in general, but this version just looks nice. Not to mention that it has the best resolution of any Echo Show screen. 

Looks aren't everything. Its cameras and speakers are inferior to previous models. If you're planning to use the display for video calling or streaming shows, you won't get the moving and tracking capabilities of the Echo Show 10, which costs the same.

If you placed the Echo Show 10 and 15 side by side and asked me to guess their respective price tags, I would certainly peg the Show 15 as a higher priced item based solely on design. After spending time with it, I can't think of one specific task it's better suited for than any other Echo Show, save for looking pretty on your wall and viewing video on a larger screen. If design and screen size are your top priorities, you'll love this Echo Show. If not, there's surely another model that offers better specs for the money.