Amazon Echo Show review: It's more Echo than Show

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The Good The Echo Show offers everything you love about Alexa, complete with new video and touchscreen controls. It shines best as a dedicated, hands-free video calling command center.

The Bad The uninspired design feels dated. At launch, the touchscreen visuals don't do enough to bring Alexa to life, or make her much easier to use -- though that could change with the arrival of new screen-specific Alexa skills.

The Bottom Line Amazon's touchscreen Alexa device shows potential for people interested in video chatting with friends and family members, but it needs a little more development before we'd recommend it.

6.9 Overall
  • Features 7
  • Usability 7
  • Design 6
  • Performance 8

Editor's note, Sept. 20, 2018: Amazon introduced a new Echo Show with a larger screen and direct integration with Amazon's Fire TV streaming service. It ships on Oct. 11.

Editor's note, Oct. 26, 2017: Since introducing the Show in June 2017, Amazon has evolved its lineup of Echo smart speakers, refreshing some older models and continuing to expand Alexa's skills, support new third-party integrations and release special features like free domestic calling. Though the competition has stiffened, neither the Google Home Max nor the forthcoming Apple HomePod have a display, leaving this experimental ground wholly to Amazon -- for now. In fact, Amazon's own Echo Spot is the Show's closest competitor, combining elements of the Dot with the Show's visual capabilities. Here's everything you need to know about the Amazon Echo and Alexa.

Read moreThe Amazon Echo Show 5 is Alexa's best smart display

The original Amazon Echo Show review, originally published in June 2017, follows below.

Alexa does more than just set timers. Control your home temperature, lights and even your garage door. See all the products that work with Amazon Alexa.

"Alexa, what can you show me?"

That's the first thing I asked the touchscreen-equipped Amazon Echo Show, the online retail giant's newest and, at $230 or £200, most expensive Alexa gadget. "There's a lot," Alexa exclaimed, inasmuch as a mostly monotone AI assistant can exclaim anything.

The Echo Show is frequently discounted from its standard $230 price. Check our list of Amazon device deals to see if it's on sale now.

She can show movie trailers, she went on to tell me. She can show the weather, or the items on a to-do list. She can show the lyrics as she streams music. She can show your options as you shop for stuff on Amazon. She can show YouTube videos and movies from Amazon Prime Video. She can show you pictures of your loved ones, or connect you with them directly via video chat. All you have to do is ask.

All of that comes in addition to Alexa's existing capabilities for things like voice-activated alarms, timers, traffic, fact checking, bad jokes and smart home controls, not to mention the thousands of third-party "skills" that each let her do something new once you enable them. She's always been a likable over-achiever, and the Echo Show doesn't change that.

But how much does the Echo Show build upon it? If you're already happy with Skype or FaceTime, then video chat alone might not be enough. Third party skills might help, as they certainly did with the original Echo smart speaker, but Amazon needs to lead the charge -- and in a lot of cases during my time with the Echo Show, the touchscreen didn't add anything to the Alexa experience.

The Echo Show has an awful lot of potential, and with slightly better sound than the touchscreen-free Echo, it assumes its place as the fanciest Alexa gadget yet. Still, its ultimate success will largely depend on what outside developers -- and Amazon itself -- choose to do with it as the software library matures. In other words, there's room for the Echo Show to grow, but unless you're dying to try those voice-activated video calls, waiting for Amazon to show us more before buying in seems like the best bet.

You can use voice commands to pick out something to watch on YouTube.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Let's talk touchscreen

The big, central question with the Echo Show is whether or not the new touchscreen really adds anything to the Alexa experience. The answer depends on how you plan to use it.


Video calls are just a voice command away.

Chris Monroe/CNET

To me, the biggest draw is hands-free, voice-activated video calls with other Alexa users. To opt in, you'll register your phone number with your Amazon account in the Alexa app. Alexa will then scan the contacts in your phone, and if she sees any contacts with numbers from Amazon's database, she'll add them to the list of people you can ask her to call or message. If that contact has an Echo Show, or if they're answering using the Alexa app on their phone, you can video chat with them, FaceTime-style. 

And yes, you can block unwanted callers, a feature Amazon foolishly forgot about when it first introduced calls and messages for the Echo and Echo Dot.

The end result is essentially a private home phone server populated only with people you want to talk to -- no telemarketers, survey takers or bill collectors. It's not a proper phone, so you can't use your Echo Show to call the police or the dry cleaner across town, but it's still an interesting idea at a time when fewer and fewer people are using landlines. This is especially true for fans of FaceTime who enjoy video chatting with friends and family -- I'll bet they'd enjoy the Echo Show's hands-free approach quite a bit.

Many of those FaceTime fans are probably parents and grandparents, and if you've watched any of the Echo Show's promo ads, then you know that Amazon is targeting that demographic pretty aggressively. Sure enough, with its large-sized font and gentle suggestions for Alexa commands on nearly every screen, the Echo Show is Amazon's most senior-friendly Alexa gadget yet.

That brings us right to Alexa's new "Drop In" feature. Enable it, and you'll be able to authorize specific contacts to peep in on your camera feed regardless of whether or not you actually pick up the call. When they do, they'll see a blurred feed for the first 10 seconds, during which you have the option of disabling the camera or rejecting the call outright. You'll also see a notification on screen whenever someone is actively viewing your feed. The feature pairs with a motion sensor in the Echo Show itself that -- again, when authorized -- lets your contacts know when it senses you nearby. Seems a bit creepy, but it also sounds like a pretty sensible way of keeping an eye on an aging relative.

At any rate, targeting older users with a camera-centric feature might make more sense than you'd expect. A recent SafeHome survey on tech-related privacy concerns found that respondents aged 65 and up were less bothered by security cameras than any other category polled, including fitness trackers, TV sets and even antivirus software.

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