Amazon’s Alexa is the shape-shifting chameleon of smart assistants – last month the Echo Look saw her become your camera-equipped fashion advisor, and now she’s turned into the screen-packing Echo Show.
But why has Amazon made what appears to be a voice-controlled Jetsons video phone? After all, one of the coolest things about smart assistants like the Echo and Google Home is that they’re invisible brains that settle all your family debates, while running your smart home in the background.
Given that this is one question Alexa won’t answer, here are six things you need to know about the new screen-toting addition to the Echo family.
1) It wants to be the mission control of your smart home
Asking Alexa to voice-control your Hue lights is one of the best things about being alive in 2017, but having a screenless voice assistant is less useful when it comes to security cams and baby monitors.
This is where the Echo Show comes in. Say ‘Alexa, show me the kids’ room’ or ‘Alexa, show me the front door’ and, assuming you have compatible kit like Netgear Arlo, it’ll show the feed on its 7in touchscreen.
Quite how much of this functionality will be available from the off isn’t clear, and Amazon hasn’t yet revealed what the resolution of its 7in screen will be. But Alexa hasn’t been slow in learning new Echo skills and it already has a good headstart with compatibility for the likes of Ring’s video cams.
2) It’s the Jetsons video phone you probably won’t use
Amazon seems particularly keen on the Echo Show becoming the 21st century equivalent of your landline phone, sitting in the kitchen so you can video call mum for advice on how the hell you’re supposed to make these macaroons.
To be fair, its ‘drop in’ feature does look like a handy, frictionless way for families to stay in touch beyond epic phone calls. If your contacts have allowed ‘drop in’ access, you can see on the screen whether they’re available – then beam into their home via the 5MP camera by saying ‘Alexa, drop in on grandma’.
Exactly how and when phone calls will work isn’t clear, as Amazon and Google have both struggled to bring voice calls to the Echo and Home. But given how prominently Amazon has shown the feature in its video, it seems confident about leaping over any remaining regulatory and privacy hurdles.
3) It'll bring video flair to existing Echo skills
Thanks to that 7in touchscreen, the Echo Show is able to bring bonus video features to some of the Echo’s signature talents.
This means flash briefings will now come in video form, songs played on Amazon Music will get on-screen lyrics, and shopping requests will show images of the product you’re about to voice order, like you’re starring in some kind of sci-fi sitcom.
Of course, you’ll also be able to watch movie trailers and YouTube tutorials for fixing your DIY disaster. All of which sounds like a handy way to avoid constantly pulling your phone out of your pocket - and for Amazon, it nicely counters Google Home’s ability to hook up to your TV via ChromeCast too.
4) It should sound better than its cousin too
Aside from the obvious physical differences– the Echo Show stands at 18.7cm tall, compared to the 23.5cm Echo – the new, screen-equipped Echo does, on paper, have slightly better hardware for playing music and picking up voices.
The Echo Show has two, 2in stereo speakers (compared to the Echo’s 2.5in woofer/2in tweeter combo) and an extra microphone in its array, for picking up your commands even while Spotify’s blaring.
Of course, without the original Echo’s 360-degree sound, the Show will probably be best placed near a wall or in a corner, rather than your coffee table. We’ll reserve judgement until we've auditioned it next to our Sonos Play:1.
5) It'll be US-only (for now)
So far, the Echo Show has only been listed on Amazon’s US site, with a launch date of 28 June 2017 for both the black and white versions.
We’re anticipating a similar situation to the original Echo, which arrived in the UK nine months after its US launch.
Our Amazon contacts are remaining tight-lipped, but we’ll be pestering our Alexa for clues, given that she was given an easter egg that hinted at the Echo’s UK launch in September 2016.
6) It won't quite fall into 'impulse buy' territory
We just about justified our impulse-ordering of the original Amazon Echo before pay day, particularly as it became available for just £120 on Black Friday.
But the Echo Show is, naturally, a bit more wallet-bothering at US$230. Given that the original Echo’s price is currently like-for-like in pounds and dollars, that would suggest a UK price of around £230.
Still, considering what the Echo Show is promising to do, that wouldn’t be too painful a price tag, but let’s hope it arrives over here in time for another Black Friday bargain.