Most of us (me included) have come to rely on a smart device to help do basic everyday tasks. Some might call it laziness, but for others it is just convenience.
Amazon’s smart device lineup has an Echo for almost everyone, and the latest addition is the Echo Show 8 (second generation). It sits comfortably between the lower-end devices like the Echo Show 5 and the high-end Echo Show 10. So what does the second-gen bring to the table, and is it worth spending your money on? Well, read on to find out.
The clone show
If you get the feeling that the “new” Echo Show 8 looks like the old Echo Show 8, that’s because it does. Both are nearly identical with that wedge-like design, speakers at the back wrapped in fabric, and the 8in display dominating the front. The touch screen is surrounded by chunky bezels that seem to have been borrowed from the first-ever Apple iPad.
But a closer look reveals the differences. One of the biggest updates is the new 13MP camera, replacing the measly 1MP snapper on the previous gen device. The bigger camera means a bigger housing on the top-right corner. At the back, the ports are placed towards the bottom, but the missing 3.5mm audio jack might upset some folks. You can no longer extend the Alexa brain to dumb speakers so it’s disappointing to see it go.
Brains and brawns
Setting up the Echo Show 8 is as easy as applying for a Maldives visa, only without all the unnecessary paperwork. The setup process seems to be getting easier every year, and makes the Echo devices feel more accessible than rival smart devices. Having used Echo speakers before, it is easy to communicate with Alexa, and ask her to get things done. It’s damn easy to ask for the weather, your morning news headlines, when your favourite football or cricket team plays next, play a certain song or playlist, and much more. The learning curve isn’t too steep for first-time users either.
Being a smart display, you will find yourself looking at things on the 8in (1280x800 pixels) more than listening to Alexa say it. Have some time between your office meetings, ask Alexa to play the remaining episode of Good Doctor on Prime Video. Feeling Master Chef-y? Ask Alexa to show you how to make a fancy chicken dinner.
The Echo Show’s display looks great, and it’s speakers sound good too. Despite the overall compact size, the pair of 2in neodymium drivers and a passive bass radiator surprise you with their sheer power. The speakers get loud enough to fill a decent-sized room, but without losing the clarity and nuance. It is a tad bass-heavy by default, but one can easily go into the Alexa phone app to tweak the audio settings. The sound won’t impress an audiophile, but then again, it’s not meant to.
You can ask or command Alexa in English or Hindi, and it understands them quite well. The smart assistant feels smart and capable, but only as long as you use the compatible apps and services. For instance, if you ask it to play a YouTube video, it will open the web browser, and show the video as a search result. If you want to look at your personal photos, they better be saved on Facebook. Even Instagram photos don’t show up.
Big B in da house
One of the highlight features of the new Echo Show 8 is the support for Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan’s voice. As you may have already seen in the TV ad, the Echo speakers will now be able to use Big B’s baritone voice to talk with you or answer your queries. Unlike the TV ad though, Mr Bachchan won’t actually be sitting at your desk.
One can enable this feature by saying the phrase, “Alexa, introduce me to Amit ji.” This enables Big B’s voice, but to get access to this feature, one will have to pay an extra ₹199 for a year’s access.
Once enabled, you can ask “Amit ji, how’s the weather?” or “Amit ji, kitney aadmi thay?” and the answers are a mix of factual and entertaining. Having said that, Amitabh Bachchan won’t completely replace the standard Alexa voice. You wonder how many will actually pay an extra ₹199 for this feature. It’s a neat party trick and the guests might have a good laugh, but apart from that, there’s little value here.
Another new feature is the much improved camera onboard. The 13MP camera sitting at the top-right corner is quite useful for video calls, especially with its auto framing feature. With this, the lens will automatically pan and zoom to keep you in frame. While it is not as drastic as the owl-like Echo Show 10, the feature works well, allowing us to move around a bit while on a call. The brilliant camera is however limited due to compatibility issues. You can only use it to make video calls to other devices that have Alexa enabled on them.
That said, the camera is far more useful as a home security camera. Using the mobile app, you can remotely access the Echo Show 8’s camera to show you what is happening in the room. It is a great way to snoop on your family members (not that you should) or use it as a baby monitor. If you’re worried about privacy, a built-in camera cover lets you hide the all-seeing eye when not needed.
The second-gen Echo Show 8 may look like the first-gen Echo Show 8, but there are enough improvements to make this a meaningful upgrade. The first-gen is still available on Amazon India for ₹8,999, but the second-gen is worth the extra ₹2,000. If you’re in the market for a smart display and don’t want to spend a bomb, the second-gen Echo Show 8 is a great device. Certain limitations and compatibility issues stop it from being the absolute best smart display around, but for most, it won’t matter.