When we reviewed it back in 2019, we though the first-generation Amazon Echo Show 8 hit the smart display sweet spot: the screen was not too big, nor too small; the speaker sounded surprisingly muscular (if a tad bass-heavy); its price point seemed just about right.
So, it’s two years later and we have another Echo Show 8 in front of us – although you’d have to peer through a metaphorical magnifying glass to tell the difference. The second-generation model is near-identical to its predecessor, with an upgrade to the on-board camera (13MP replacing the piddly 1MP of the original) and a faster processor being the only major changes.
The first Echo Show 8 was priced at £120 on launch; so is this one. Given that you can now pick up the original from Amazon for just £80, is the new model worth the extra wedge?
Design and build quality
The 2021 Echo Show 8 sports the exact same wedge-shaped design as the original model, with the majority of the exterior being wrapped in a mesh fabric. The front is pretty much all screen: an 8in 1200 x 800 touch display with a fairly chunky frame. Built into that frame’s upper-right face is the camera, which has a sliding physical cover for times when you want to make damn sure nobody’s watching.
A microphone button on the top of the speaker lets you toggle Alexa’s ears on and off, and next to it are volume up and down controls (although you can, of course, simply ask Alexa to adjust that if things are too loud or quiet). On the back there’s just a socket for the power connector, the original Echo Show 8’s 3.5mm audio output not making the cut; while we doubt many were using it, it’s a shame to lose that option.
The new model is greener than its predecessor: 30 percent of its plastic and all of its fabric and aluminium is recycled. It’s good to hear that but let’s be honest: if your purchases are driven first and foremost by sustainability and ethics, you probably aren’t shopping at Amazon in the first place.
Setup and features
Setup is dead easy: pull the speaker out of its minimalist packaging (also 98 percent recycled cardboard), plug it in and it’ll ask to connect to your home Wi-Fi. Once that’s done, you log into your Amazon account, confirm your time zone and address (for weather, traffic, news and the like), decide which “zone” of your home you’d like it to locate itself in, name the speaker and… that’s about it.
As someone who has had an Echo Plus speaker living in the corner of their kitchen for some time, I’m quite familiar with asking Alexa to play music from my Spotify account, set timers, convert baffling US weights and volumes (a “cup”, you say?) and settle dinnertime arguments over who has won the FA Cup the most times. She’s a useful tool (no offence intended, Lex), if not one I’d consider essential. The Echo Show 8’s screen opens up a whole new dimension of functionality and features, though: TV shows via Netflix or Prime Video; video calls; recipe videos; photo viewing and more.
There are some limitations that quickly reveal themselves. If you want to watch YouTube videos, you have to do so through the device’s web browser – there’s no built-in app and no way to cast a video from your smartphone to the screen. Also, while certain popular third-party services like Netflix, Facebook, Spotify, and Apple Music are fully supported, many aren’t: you can’t ask Alexa to stream video from Disney+ or Now, or music from Deezer or Tidal. Photos from your Facebook or Amazon Photos collections can be displayed, but not from your Instagram or Flickr archives. In other words, a significant portion of the Echo Show 8’s features may not be of much use to you – it really depends on which services you use and which you don’t.
The things that do work, though, work well. Say “Alexa, play Neon Genesis Evangelion on Netflix” and the unmistakable strains of the cult animé series’ intro sequence will be blasting out of the Echo Show 8’s speakers in seconds; say “Alexa, show show me photos from Facebook” and you’ll be treated to a slideshow of your most recent uploaded images; ask for a weather forecast and you’ll get (a nicely detailed) one up on screen, tailored to your current location.
For some, the Echo Show 8’s headline feature will be its video calls. These aren’t the only purpose of the device’s camera – it can also be used as a quasi-security cam or video intercom, beaming a live window of whatever’s happening in front of it to your smartphone via the Alexa app – but they’re a big part of its appeal. Now your contacts can ogle you in glorious 13MP detail rather than 1MP potato-vision, and the camera has a basic face recognition tracking mode to ensure everybody in the room gets fitted in the frame. You can video call anyone in your contacts list who has a camera-equipped Echo device, or a smartphone or tablet running the Alexa app.
You can also make standard voice calls using the Echo Show 8 (again, by asking Alexa to call a specific contact) and this seems to work for pretty much anyone – no need for the recipient to own an Echo speaker or have the Alexa app on their phone.
We’re used to small speakers delivering big sound by now, but the Echo Show 8 still surprises with its sheer power. A pair of 2in neodymium drivers and a passive bass radiator produce audio that’s big on low-end growl (a little too big at times) and able to fill a decent-sized living room, but capable of clarity and nuance too. While it’s not going to impress audiophiles who’ll happily spend more than its total value on a pair of stereo interconnects, the Echo Show 8 does a capable job when it comes to music, podcast or audiobook playback.
If you don’t like the sound profile, you can open up the Alexa app on your phone and tweak bass, mid-range and treble separately. You can also pair it with the optional Echo Sub subwoofer (£120) if you want better bass, although as previously mentioned the Show 8 can muster up quite a bit of that on its own – so much so that it can cause a bit of unwanted resonance depending on where you place it. Stick it somewhere stable and it works well, but on a rickety table it’ll have everything nearby vibrating ominously. Be warned.
As well as streaming music or audiobooks through connected services like Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify or Audible, it also works as a standard Bluetooth speaker – which is really handy.
Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd gen) verdict
The new Echo Show 8 might not be a huge step up over the original model, but its improved camera and slick, swift operation make it a worthwhile and timely update. If you’re a user of Amazon services or the small but significant selection of fully supported third-party services, the combination of Alexa, a decent screen, a sharp camera and powerful audio performance make this diminutive smart speaker a worthwhile addition to your home. If not, well, we suppose it makes a pretty nifty Bluetooth speaker-slash-paperweight…