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Updated Amazon Echo Shows arrive this week, with a few new tricks even older devices can do

From animated reactions during video calls to shared photos on your home screen, Amazon's older model smart displays will get many of the new Echo Show features.

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The new Echo Show 8 will include an ambient light sensor that can adjust the screen color and brightness for optimal viewing.

Amazon

Amazon is launching a trio of updated Echo Show smart displays this week: the midsize Echo Show 8, the compact Echo Show 5 and the chameleon skin-covered Echo Show Kids (basically a Show 5 with jazzier colors). Boasting better cameras and more powerful processors, the new devices are slated to begin shipping June 9, less than two weeks before Prime Day 2021 (June 21 and 22).

As with most Amazon product launches, the new smart devices will have some nifty tricks up their sleeves, like the Echo Show 8's ability to pan and zoom during video calls to keep callers centered or the augmented reality technology that lets you add animated reactions to a video call. Some, like pan and zoom, will be exclusive to one or more of the new devices, but others, like animated reactions, will roll out to all Echo Shows.

We've already covered what's new about the updated Echo Show devices, plus looked at Alexa's new sound detection triggers and how to turn your Alexa display's webcam into a security camera -- but there's more. Here are the rest of the features that have already arrived -- or soon will -- on your Alexa smart speaker or display.

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Amazon Sidewalk goes live June 8: Here's what to know

Much ado has been made about Amazon Sidewalk in the run up to the shared Wi-Fi service's debut on Tuesday, and we'd be remiss not to mention the company's new low-bandwidth shared wireless network among the new features arriving on Echo devices this week. To help readers make a more informed decision about Amazon Sidewalk, we've explained Sidewalk's major benefits, sorted out Sidewalk's confusing privacy permissions and even provided detailed steps for how to disable Sidewalk if you decide you'd rather not participate.

There are totally valid reasons for opting out of Amazon Sidewalk, but there are also good reasons for giving it a try. If the idea of opening up a small slice of your monthly bandwidth so that you and your neighbors might have broader, more reliable wireless service for your smart home devices, give it a try. You can always choose to opt-out later.

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Amazon says its low-bandwidth shared wireless network -- called Sidewalk -- will help smart home devices stay connected by borrowing bandwidth from other participants nearby.

Amazon

Update Grandma's photo album with shared home screen

One of the things Amazon's Echo Show smart displays are best at is displaying photos -- hopefully even more so once the new Show 8 arrives with its screen that adjusts to ambient lighting conditions to help improve your images.

But while Echo Shows have always been good at displaying photos, they haven't been so great at sharing them. Enter shared home screens. The name of the feature is kind of a misnomer -- you only actually need one Echo Show to make it work. The person sending photos needs only to store them on Amazon Photos, which can then be linked to the account of the person with the Echo display.

Before running through the steps detailed below, you'll have to make sure three things are in order:

  • Install the latest firmware on your Echo Show by swiping down from the top of the screen and navigating to Settings, then Device Options and Check for Software Updates.
  • Log into the Amazon Photos mobile app with the same account you use for Alexa.
  • Import Contacts is toggled on in your Alexa app under Communicate, More menu (three stacked dots), Import Contacts.
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You can share pictures hosted on Amazon Photos with any generation and any model Ech Show smart display with shared home screen.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Once all that's squared away, here's how to enable the shared home screen feature:

1. On the destination Echo Show, either swipe down and select Settings or say, "Alexa, set up my photo display."

2. Select Clock & Photo Display, then Amazon Photos and tap Invite friends and family.

3. Select the contact whose photos you want to display.

4. The person you selected now must respond to the push notification asking them if they want to share photos.

Soon you can add reactions and backdrops on video calls

During the pandemic, video calling platforms of every stripe added all kinds of fun, silly and sometimes privacy-enhancing features like backdrops and reactions to their apps. Well, it's better late than never for Alexa.

The feature isn't live yet, but when it is, Amazon says you'll be able to tap on the screen to choose animated visual and audio reactions (hearts, laughs and confetti are Amazon's examples). You'll also make yourself appear to be in front of street art, a classic painting or other digitally imposed backgrounds that obscure the actual room you're in.

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The Echo Show Kids smart display will have options for what Amazon calls "kid-friendly lock screens."

Amazon

Here's a roundup on the other new Alexa features we like

There are a few more of the new Alexa features we haven't covered yet that aren't necessarily dazzling enough to earn their own subsection, but are at least nifty enough to deserve a mention:

Kid-friendly clock themes on the forthcoming Echo Show Kids: Not quite sure what those will look like, but we can't wait to find out.

On-screen music recommendations from Amazon Music or Spotify: We've written about this before, but if you blink, you could miss it, and it's worth at least a reminder.

Zoom support: So you can make Zoom calls, which are where many people first discovered the fun of AR backgrounds.