Who doesn’t want their very own ‘Alfred the butler’?
Dressed in black or white fabric, the new Echo Show looks almost as sharp as one, ironically. The new design is all-screen at the front and all-speaker at the back. But the thick bezels are very first-gen tabletish.
Still, over the outgoing model, it is a definitely more progressive and upmarket looking. It is angled for touch but built for voice, so there’s no app screen on the Show. Instead, you can ask Alexa to show you “recipe for butter chicken lasagne” or “play Made in Heaven” while you whip up a family secret.
You can swipe down from the home screen to bring up basic settings but there’s no screen that shows all supported apps.
That is just Alexa’s way of making you chat her up more than you would like to, although you can always bypass some of the long-drawn instructions by just touching the selection on-screen if you happen to be within arm's length.
Alexa: hit or miss
The one endearing quality of Echo devices has been its ability to pick up voice commands over ambient noise, distance or even music. A total of 8 far-field mics on the Show do a good job of summoning Alexa over any of the distractions that might be ongoing on or off-screen. But if you’ve inked it to a proper hi-fi system via the Echo Link, like we did, you’ll have to give a good shout to summon Alexa. The camera is placed smack in the middle of the mics and enables you to make video calls now but only to another Echo Show, Spot or Alexa app-enabled smartphone. Support for Skype is supposedly incoming but no other third-party video calling app is likely to supported, limiting the use of this potentially high-usage feature.
Up top, there’s the infamous mic on/off button allows for some quiet time without feeling like you’re behind a one-way interrogation glass. Although the same cannot be said about the camera, which may or may not remain on at all times. You can deactivate it but it detects motion when there’s no one around to put the screen in sleep mode, which could hint at the fact that it’s always watching when. Maybe. But then again, we don’t use our phones, tablets or laptops with duct tape all over them so there’s no more reason to worry.
It’s fairly easy to get Alexa wound up in a flurry of spoken instructions, especially during search-based skills like recipes, shopping, ordering food etc. Touch would be easier but it hesitates a moment before actioning. Some of the partnering apps and skills include Ola cabs, Zomato, NDTV and Times Now for news amongst others.
Making simple choices and decisions on Zomato like ordering a Pizza Margherita is easy as pie, yes, the irony. Alexa does have a habit of getting too caught up in reading out all the options and instructions on screen and if you interrupt her in the midst of reading out the options, it sends her into a spiral of backlogs and never recovers. This erratic behaviour is app and skill dependent though.
News worked well and so did shopping on amazon.in so it’s all about experimenting. Amazon Music is the preferred music streaming service with Gaana and JioSaavn as second tier choices but there’s no Spotify support as yet.
Video: passes the screen test
Although not a 1080p Full HD screen, the 720p resolution is good enough for a casual catch-up of a TV show or dropping in on a fellow Echo user. The generous 10.1in size won’t tire you out either. The reflections might just though but it’s not a serious enough problem that can’t be fixed with a little nudge to the appropriate angle.
Voice search works seamlessly for Amazon Prime Video or Music, obviously. Support for YouTube is only through a browser (Amazon’s Silk or Firefox) so voice search is a hit or a miss. You can’t always find the content you’re looking for but Prime Video works well, picking up a show from the exact same point where you may left it on another device!
But forget about Netflix support or local streaming apps either and that’s where it quickly starts feeling more expensive than it deserves to be. A nice touch is the constant feed of news on the home screen while idle. The mix of local and international news, sports and entertainment is great for a work desk and staying up-to-date with the latest headlines.
Sound quality: big but boomy
Sound quality gets a bump with the help of twin 2in drivers and a passive radiator helping create bass. It’s certainly loud and punchy with news, especially sounding larger than life with a great spatial quality. But since the speakers are facing the other direction, sometimes watching shows or movies can seem a bit disjointed as the audio doesn’t always feel like it’s corresponding to the action on-screen. There’s a bass-heavy sonic signature but that can be tuned by asking Alexa to reduce or increase either the bass, mid or treble frequencies.
That could be considered nit-picking though and for the purposes the Echo Show will be used for, it’s a great upgrade to the previous generation and almost as good as the standalone Echo Plus.
Amazon Echo Show (2nd Gen) verdict
As a tutor to your kids or as an assistant to indulge your general knowledge cravings, Alexa is prompt and useful but for everything else, it’s only slightly better than its AI counterparts. If a fellow friend/Echo user permits, you can simply drop-In a video call unannounced and the video quality via the 5MP is good so if you have an Echo ecosystem, it works really well and integrates the best with simple home-automation like smart plugs, light bulbs and an increasingly wider range of air-conditioners! Considering the Echo Show to be the ultimate Bluetooth speaker would be a wrong approach.
Treat it like a smart screen instead and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at its range of talents. It’s like a digital photo frame on steroids and while it’s not as compact as the Echo Plus, it does allow a bit more functionality. Still, its heavy price tag is a party pooper and at best, it is an indulgent gadget, not an essential one like the Echo Dot or Plus can be.