Last year, Amazon brought us the Echo Show, anwith a touchscreen display. My colleague Ry Crist wasn't sure about it. The design was boxy and old-fashioned, and as much as Amazon pushed it as device for making video calls, giving Alexa a touchscreen interface didn't really improve the voice control experience.
Since then, devices like the Google Assistant-poweredand have made a more convincing argument for this new device category (that we're calling "smart displays"). In addition to video chatting and providing general access to Google Assistant, the Lenovo and JBL displays were deft helpers in the kitchen. They benefited from direct integration with YouTube, and they also provided useful smart home device controls.
You can say Amazon lost round one, but the company hasn't given up on the smart display concept. Instead, the online retail and services giant has redoubled its efforts with the second generation Amazon Echo Show. It's a vast improvement on the original Echo Show in aesthetics and audio quality, and it delivers most of what was missing from its predecessor for the same $230 price (£220, AU$349).
Still, parts of the visual Alexa experience feel underwhelming and some seemingly obvious features remain absent. If you're decidedly on team Alexa, this smart display is the one for you. Otherwise, pick up a Google-powered model for better visuals and a more conversational assistant.
The second generation Echo Show is miles ahead of the original, but many of the first generation device's characteristics remain. There's the same 5-megapixel, front-facing camera and Amazon kept an eight-array microphone setup, though the placement of those microphones is distributed just a little differently. Four microphones on the front of the device and four on the top only slightly change the look of the controls. As for better hearing, Alexa heard me the first time with the new Echo Show at distances where I had to repeat the wake word three or four times on the first generation unit.
The power button on the top of the device turns off the microphone and camera just like before, so you can choose privacy when you need it, though there isn't a physical shutter over the camera lens. Physical volume controls also remain at the top of the device, just like the previous model and like other Echo devices.
Alexa, what's new?
What's different in nearly every aspect is how the Echo Show looks. The smart display's second generation boasts a 10.1-inch, 720P full HD display. That's a higher display resolution than that of the first gen screen, and it's also 3 inches larger. With the speakers mounted on the back of the new Echo Show, there's no more awful looking front speaker taking up what should be prime touchscreen real estate.
Amazon also ditched the angular, rear projection TV-style shape this time around. Instead, you'll find a rounded back that's covered in a fabric-like material similar to what we've already seen fromand speakers. Like its competitors, it's also available in a dark charcoal or light sandstone color.
The redesign brought much-needed change which makes me a lot more likely to want an Echo Show on display in my own home.
Smart home controls
The first thing I noticed while navigating around the Echo Show's settings and screens was the addition of smart home controls from the main drop-down menu, where new icons give you the ability to view and control connected smart home devices, launch multi-device "routines" and set alarms.
You'll find new icons entitled Lights & More, Routines and Alarms. Tap the Lights & More icon and you'll see a list of the smart home devices connected to your Amazon account. Turn them on or off with a tap of the touchscreen or adjust the brightness of your light by sliding a percentage bar left or right. If you ask Alexa to turn on the bedroom lamp, she'll answer you and present touchscreen controls for the light, too. This level of smart home control wasn't there at all in the first Echo Show, and I'm happy to see it here.
The Routines icon takes you to a list of all your pre-established Alexa routines, but you can't set up any new ones from the Echo Show. For that, you'll need your mobile device, and the willingness to put up with a disjointed user experience as you move between the Show and your phone. The Alarm icon opens a landing page for setting alarms. You can add these through the touchscreen interface or with voice commands. Alexa even asked me if I'd like to make my 7 a.m. Wednesday alarm a recurring daily alarm.
Like the first Echo Show, you can ask Alexa to show your the video feed from your smart doorbell or smart cameras. I tested this with two Netgear Arlo cameras and the Ring Doorbell 2 and brought up live feeds quickly and clearly over a 100MBps connection at the CNET Smart Home. Your mileage will vary depending on the strength of your home's Wi-Fi signal.
Chatting, calling and cranking up the bass
Not much has changed for video calling or playing music on the new Echo Show. Granted, it's on a bigger, higher resolution screen, but you'll still get scrolling lyrics along with a background image any time you play a song on it. Video calling has the same layout as the last generation.
I should mention that Amazon announced plans to integrate with Skype for voice calling. That feature wasn't live when I tested the device, but it should be a welcome option for anyone opposed to video chatting or who just wants to call a local business to ask a quick question.