We've been hearing rumors of a touchscreen-equipped Alexa device for months now, and today, Amazon is making it official. It's called the Amazon Echo Show, it costs $230, and it'll start shipping next month. Like previous Echo products, it features the full capabilities of Amazon's virtual, voice-activated assistant, Alexa. What's new is the 7-inch touchscreen that she'll use to show you things.
So what sort of things can Alexa show you? For starters, the Echo Show uses its built-in 5-megapixel camera to function as an intercom, letting you make hands-free video calls to other Echo Show users (or to anyone who's willing to take a video call using the Alexa app). You'll also be able to place voice calls and voice messages to Echo and Echo Dot owners thanks to a new feature available now on both devices.
You can also pull up YouTube videos, view the lyrics of a song as it plays, watch a video version of your daily news "flash briefing," scan your calendar for appointments and view weather forecasts. Hooking it up with a compatible smart home camera and using it as a voice-activated baby monitor seems like an especially handy use case.
Of course, I might as well be describing an iPad at this point -- and after years of cranking out budget-friendly Fire tablets, maybe that's exactly what Amazon is getting at here. The Echo Show is really just a dedicated touchscreen device for your home, and one that leans quite heavily on Alexa with its voice-activated user interface.
As such, it doesn't look like you'll actually need to touch the touchscreen all that much -- but that's still a bit of a departure from the hands-free approach that made the original Echo so appealing.
To that end, I think it's a bit telling that Amazon chose to call this the Echo Show and not the Echo Touch -- the emphasis isn't on the new way you'll interact with Alexa, but instead on the new thing that Alexa can do for you. Time will tell whether that proves to be a natural evolution or a wrong turn, but for now, it's clear that Amazon is taking something of a risk here.
Apart from the touchscreen, the Echo Show appears to work just like the Alexa devices that came before it. There's an array of far-field microphones at the top of the device that are always listening for the wake word ("Alexa" by default, though "Amazon," "Echo" and "Computer" are also options). Once the Echo Show hears it, the device will begin recording your command and then upload it to Amazon's servers, which process the audio and tell Alexa how to respond.
Like existing Echo devices, the Echo Show uses Amazon's "ESP" feature to keep it from responding to your command if another Alexa device is closer to you. You can stream audio to it from your phone over Bluetooth, but, disappointingly, you still can't connect multiple devices together for synchronized audio playback, the way you can with the rival Google Home smart speaker, which costs $100 less.
The Echo Show is available for preorder at Amazon now with an early-bird discount of $100 for anyone who buys two. Like the Echo and Echo Dot, it's available in both white and black. The expected release date: June 28.
As for availability outside of the US, an Amazon representative tells me that it doesn't have any news to share today, but adds that "internationalization of all of our products is incredibly important to us." For what it's worth, that $230 price tag comes out to about £180 or AU$315, though Amazon has yet to sell any of its devices Down Under.