I’ve been an Echo user for a few years now and even though you know what every iteration of the device entails, Amazon has done a great job of keeping interest levels high with screens, bigger screens and now...rotating screens!
2021 gets one of the biggest updates yet, fusing the usability of a large 10.1in screen and the smarts of an Echo into one unit with a one up, the rotating screen. Designed to move almost anywhere, this 350-degree mini version of Bigg Boss uses brushless motors to silently stalk you wherever you are in the room. But, since it’s an Echo device, it is polite and will ask you if you like being followed…
Easy as expected
Setting up the Echo Show 10 is standard fare, and I’ve noticed that with each passing year, it’s become easier to get up and running with a new Echo device and integrate it within your Alexa ecosystem at home. This is commendable since the number of features, cross-integration and skills have increased exponentially. Amazon’s crack team has really cracked this model of a simple, all-knowing smart assistant that seems more accessible than Google Home devices, and a lot more cooperative than Apple’s Siri.
After the usual process, the Echo Show 10 will ask you to assign an idle position for its screen as a resting place when not in use and you can also select the coverage angle for the owl-like head. If you can’t be bothered with speaking to Alexa, you can of course, just manually title and turn the screen to your desired position too, without any adverse effect on the mechanism.
Learning its lessons from the paranoia surrounding privacy, Amazon has wisely chosen to have both a mechanical shutter to cover the camera lens and an on-screen button to shut the motion control off. As always, one of the few physical buttons atop the screen shuts off the microphones completely too. You can go totally incognito and use the Echo Show 10 just as a desktop clock/reminder/BT speaker if you like. It’s also this versatility that makes the Echo devices so enduring and no matter where you are on the “gadget geek” graph, you WILL find a use for it!
It sits on a secure rubberised ring and the rotating screen doesn’t affect its bearings at all. The built-in DSP also adjusts the sound in relation to the surrounding acoustics, which in this case is handled by two 1in tweeters firing from the sides, and a top-mounted 3in woofer. Although it looks similar to the Echo Studio in general shape, the driver complement is closer to the Echo (4th gen) and it sounds like it too. The screen is 720p with a resolution of 1280x800 pixels and honestly, is good enough for what it is designed to do, so don’t get caught up with numbers here. The number that you may want to appreciate is the new 13MP camera that improves your Alexa calling experience exponentially compared to the single-digit camera resolutions of other Echo devices.
Your pet owl
First up, let’s get the party trick out of the way, shall we? Does the screen rotation work or is it a gimmick? A bit of both really. For starters, it doesn’t work in low-light conditions so if you’re planning on using the Echo Show 10 for a candle-lit dinner and planning to be followed by Alexa from the dining table to the couch, she ain’t doing it.
The motion tracking works via a combination of audio cues gathered from the built-in mics and visual cues from the on-board camera but if one of them is working in less than optimal conditions, the screen can get confused or won’t budge at all. So, keep the lights on if you like to be seen! But in daylight or fully illuminated conditions, the tracking is eerily accurate, following you around the room with either your favourite Prime Video show, video calls or recipes.
It even stops when you stop, giving it an almost droid-like personality that is charming. If there are multiple members calling out to it, it also accurately faces the screen in the direction of the voice command, or you could also just ask Alexa to “turn left” or “turn right”. I personally found it very useful while catching up on daily news just by asking Alexa to “show me today's headlines” and going about my household chores while the bright and vivid screen kept up with my whereabouts around the living area.
Of course, Alexa video calling is the biggest poster boy for this feature and works just as well too. In fact, the rotating screen also unlocks the remote home-monitoring security cam feature via the Alexa app on your phone. So if you don’t want to invest in a full-fledged CCTV system, the Echo Show 10 lets you peek around your apartment in a handy way.
Speaking of speakers
Sonically, none of the Echo Show devices have set new benchmarks and this one is no different. While the 2-way, 3-driver system is adequate for catching news, recipes or video calls, listening to music on it as a primary speaker will be less than fulfilling. Below 50% volume, it sounds balanced and even has a richness to the bass that is likeable at close quarters. You can actually use it to watch movies by your bedside or late night radio.
But the moment you start moving further away from the unit and ask Alexa to raise the volume, it sounds strained, thin and one-dimensional. On bass-heavy tracks, I could also hear the mechanical camera shutter flap vibrating so I had to change location and select a more damped surface to keep the Echo Show on.
Technically, the biggest stumbling block in all Echo Show devices has been the actual positioning of the speakers, which are typically behind the screen, facing upwards or sideways. This robs the sound of outright intelligibility and clarity unless you’re sitting at the correct angle, and this new Echo Show 10 suffers from the same limitation, where the large screen obstructs most of the direct sound from reaching your ears. This isn’t going to be a problem for most folks for whom the Echo Show is simply a family entertainment device and not for belting out Black Sabbath.
Having a built-in Zigbee home hub and an ever-growing expanse of skill sets definitely works in the favour of the Echo Show 10. Its biggest strength is still Alexa and the fact that its hit rate is the best amongst any smart speaker. Playing music on Amazon Music, Hungama or Apple Music delivered the desired result, and you can even specify which service you want the song to be played from. Having the screen also helps in delivering suggestions based on the current track and the options of having lyrics displayed opens up a world of impromptu karaoke sessions.
Native video apps include Prime Video and Netflix and you can get to your favourite show and episode in under five seconds without lifting a finger. That kind of control is addictive, even if it’s just over a gadget! Unfortunately, Amazon still hasn’t been able to make amends with Google, so YouTube searches still trigger the Amazon Silk browser and you get the YouTube web version instead of a native app. It will get the job done but requires more work.
It’s hard to fault Amazon’s constant updation of Alexa and all of their devices benefit from its ever-growing range of skills. But on a device like the Echo Show 10, it’s only highlighted further with contextual suggestions, home screen prompts and the brilliant use as a security camera. The hugely improved camera also makes you want to “Drop-in” more often on whitelisted friends or family members and its versatility as kitchen help is undeniable.
The only real pitfall here is the high asking price and even though the smooth motion and noiseless operation reek of great engineering, it’s hard to justify the price tag for one hero feature.