Amazon Echo Spot review: Alexa's touchscreen misses the sweet spot

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The Good The Echo Spot is a well-made device with a good-looking design, and it's handy for quick, voice-activated video calls. Sound quality was better than we expected, and noticeably better than the Echo Dot's.

The Bad The Echo Spot doesn't currently support YouTube, nor does it offer many video sources for your flash briefings. The touchscreen adds less than it should to the Alexa experience, and it's too small to be helpful unless you're within a few feet of the device.

The Bottom Line The Echo Spot is a fine for what it is, but Amazon still hasn't done enough to convince us that Alexa needs a touchscreen at all.

7.4 Overall
  • Design 7.5
  • Features 6
  • Performance 8
  • Sound quality 8

Gaze into the abyss, and the abyss gazes back. That's what's running through my head on my first night testing the Amazon Echo Spot. I'm lying in bed struggling to fall asleep as I sometimes do, and it's sitting there displaying the time on my nightstand with its camera aimed straight at my face. It isn't recording me -- Amazon says that the Spot only streams the camera's feed during video calls and "drop-ins." If you want, you can disable it entirely with just a few taps.

Still, I unplug it in the morning and relocate it to my kitchen. I'm just not there yet.

Read more: The Amazon Echo Show 5 helps Alexa fit on your nightstand

I've always been a bit more self-conscious than I care to admit, so maybe I'm the wrong guy to test out a future where we fill our homes with cloud-connected cameras. Granted, the Spot is much more than just a camera. It's a full-fledged Alexa speaker with a circular, 2.5-inch touchscreen. You could call it the love child of Amazon's most expensive Echo gadget, the touchscreen-equipped Echo Show, and its least expensive Alexa gadget, the pint-sized Echo Dot. At $130, the Echo Spot borrows from both, and splits the difference between them almost perfectly.

The Echo Spot is frequently discounted from its standard $130 price. Check our list of Amazon device deals to see if it's on sale now.

Like the Echo Show, the Echo Spot makes sense if you're planning on taking advantage of those touchscreen-specific uses -- chiefly, making video calls to friends and family, watching news clips in your daily flash briefing or keeping an eye on compatible smart security camera feeds. You also get an added layer of "glanceability" with the clock face and with things like cooking timers, to-do lists and weather reports.

But (again, like with the Show) the Spot's touchscreen doesn't add as much to the Alexa experience as you might think. You'll see album artwork and in some cases lyrics when you play music, and you can stream video from sources such as Prime Video or Twitch -- no YouTube, though. Aside from that, this is still very much a voice-first user interface, which makes the camera and touchscreen more than most people probably need (and if you're like me, more than you actually want). The Spot is a charming and likable gadget, but it isn't a must-buy yet, even for Alexa fans.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Same Alexa, brand-new package

If the Dot is a hockey puck, then the Spot is a softball, albeit one with its front face sliced off. It's a distinct departure from the blocky, angular Echo Show, and it makes for a nice-looking device with a lot of the same visual appeal as the Nest thermostat. I wonder if something wider and a little more oblong would have been a better choice, though -- that 2.5-inch touchscreen feels smaller than it should be, especially when you're watching video on it.

To get started with the Spot, you just plug it in, wait for it to boot up and then enter your Amazon login info on the touchscreen. You'll still want the Alexa app on your phone to fine-tune settings, contacts and groups of devices, but I appreciate that you don't need it during setup. You can also access device settings just by swiping down from the top of the Spot's touchscreen. Like with the Echo Show, it's an approach that makes the device a little less intimidating to folks who don't typically use a lot of apps or smart home gadgets -- exactly the kind of people Amazon wants to reach as Alexa's influence continues to expand.

Like other Alexa gadgets, the Spot wakes up when you say the wake word ("Alexa" is the default, but you can also go with "Amazon," "Echo" or "Computer"). The array of far-field mics feels just as sensitive as on other Echo devices, and, for the most part, it does an impressive job of hearing and understanding commands, even from across the room. You'll still need to shout to be heard over music playback, though. Amazon hasn't quite figured that issue out yet.

The Spot is heavier than you might expect, weighing in just shy of a pound at 419 grams. It feels like a premium device, and it sounds like one, too. The audio isn't as rich or full-sounding as what you'll get with an Amazon Echo, but it's closer than you might have guessed -- and it's noticeably more powerful than the Echo Dot. 

The Echo Spot will show the lyrics for some songs as you stream them from Amazon Music.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Like on the rest of the current-gen Echo lineup, there's also an aux-out jack in the back that'll let you hook it up with external speakers should you choose. Even if you don't, the Echo Spot is more than capable of filling a small to medium-size room with passable sound quality on its own. Audiophiles would obviously be better served with a higher-fidelity smart speaker such as the Sonos One or the Google Home Max, but if you're a casual listener who just wants to play a Pandora station loud enough to hear the lyrics as you cook, the Echo Spot will get the job done.

What can it do?

The Spot works just like any of Amazon's other smart speakers, and it can do everything the Echo can do. It can stream music, it can look up facts, it can set alarms and cooking timers, it can tell you the weather and traffic conditions for your morning commute, it can call other Alexa users, it can buy things on Amazon, it can control compatible smart home devices and it can run any of Alexa's third-party "skills," Amazon's parlance for voice apps -- they now number in at more than 30,000. 

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