Amazon Echo Show vs Echo: Which is the right one for you?

Alexa gets her own screen, but do you really need the visual perks?

When the Amazon Echo debuted, the voice assistant speaker was one of a kind. But if talking to Alexa isn't quite enough, now you'll be able to see some of her skills with the Echo Show.

Revealed this week, the Echo Show swaps out the cylindrical design of the original for a seven-inch touchscreen hub, which lets you make and receive video calls, view cameras throughout your home, watch videos, and a fair bit more that you can't do on the standard Echo.

But with the price bump and size increase comes a question: do you really need these added features? In fact, do you really need another screen in your home? If you're thinking about upgrading from the Echo – or you don't have any kind of Echo just yet – here's a look at how the devices measure up against each other.

Design: Tube or box?

While fairly tall at 23.5cm, the current Echo is slim enough to tuck discreetly into your home, despite its very industrial look. With no screen, the Echo's only flashy component is a circular light around the top that flashes when Alexa is listening, or turns red when you've muted her for a quiet evening.

The Echo Show scraps the original shape for something a lot boxier. It's shorter at 18.7cm tall, but has the seven-inch display sat atop a large speaker grate, with quite a bit of bezel and extra material to boot. It looks rather large in the images, which makes sense given that it's a screen that you'll want to be able to see from some distance.

On the other hand, it could be a bit of an eyesore: Amazon's physical device design tends to go for function over form, and the Echo Show doesn't look like it'd blend into your space as easily as something like, say, the Google Home. But that doesn't have a screen, then, does it?

Features: Now you see it...

As far as we can tell, the entire Echo feature set will be available via the Echo Show. For both, then, you can query Alexa with an array of commands or requests: playing music from various streaming services, asking for definitions and answers to odd questions, controlling smart home devices, calling an Uber, and plenty more.

It's quite a bit, really. In fact, we've profiled some of the best skills that Alexa has on offer, along with many of the amusing Easter eggs you can tap into. And her list of abilities grows all the time, making the Echo all the more capable as few features are added.

Of course, the Echo Show adds a screen to the equation, so some of Alexa's skills take on a new visual component. For example, when playing music, you can have the lyrics scroll on screen – or you could watch a music video instead. And in addition to controlling lights and various other smart devices, now you can pull up a video camera feed from elsewhere in your home.

Video calls are one of the biggest additions, however, as you'll be able to converse with friends and family from your little home hub device. There's even a Drop In feature that lets you mark trusted contacts, and their video calls will automatically be accepted and put through within 10 seconds if you don't decline or opt for audio only. That could be ideal for checking in on sick or elderly family members, for example.

There's some friction to the video calling, however: the person on the other line will either need to have his or her own Echo Show, or otherwise will need to use the Amazon Echo app on iOS or Android. That's right: grandma needs a smartphone for this. Skype video calls won't patch through, nor will something like Google Duo or Apple's FaceTime. That's not surprising, really, but it does potentially make things less convenient for many users.

Sound quality: Stereo, please

The Amazon Echo does a pretty admirable job of filling a room with sound thanks to its 360-degree design, making it great for blaring Spotify streams or listening to audiobooks. However, the Echo Show goes a different route.

Instead of the one speaker inside the tube, you'll get two 2in stereo speakers beneath the screen, which just point outwards in a single direction. That means it'll probably be better against a wall or on a bookshelf, facing into a room, rather than sitting right in the middle of it. But with two speakers, as opposed to the 2.5in woofer/2in tweeter duo in the standard Echo, you should get better overall playback quality.

Price: It's a jump

Here's where the difference becomes extra obvious, in case the screen wasn't enough: the Echo sells for £150 or US$150, while the Echo Show is priced at $230 in the States. No UK price has been announced, along with no UK release date so far, but £230 seems a fair expectation.

That's not dramatically more, given its extra capabilities, but it's potentially enough to pull the Echo Show out of impulse buy range. And while there's a cheap Echo Dot for £50, we're unlikely to see a cheaper Echo Show of any sort given the need for a decently-sized display.

Luckily, Amazon is also offering US$100 off if you buy two, so if you can find a friend to share the bundle cost or you want a couple for your home, then it puts the price of each within shouting distance of the standard Echo.

Verdict: Screen or no?

Amazon's Echo Show is an unexpected and certainly intriguing new form for Alexa, but we'll have to wait until we get hands-on with the device to decide whether it's really worth the extra money – not to mention the trade-off in design sleekness.

Our gut instinct is that while the Echo's voice-activated skills are largely unique, adding a screen into the mix just ends up overlapping too much with our smartphones and tablets. It's not that the screen muddles the Echo's already estimable abilities, but we're not yet convinced that a fixed video call station is a critical addition in 2017 when we're already toting smartphones.

On the other hand, if your flat isn't already inundated with intelligent, screen-packing devices, then maybe the Echo Show has real value for you. We'd guess that the standard Echo hits a sweeter spot in terms of price and functionality for most people, though.

Buy the Echo Show here from Amazon