Ever talked to an alarm clock before?
No, not after a night out on the town. We’ve been there except instead of an alarm clock, it was a shoe. But, we digress. Imagine one with ears to listen, eyes to see, brains to think, a mouth to speak and heck even a digital face to express itself. No matter how sci-fi it may seem, it’s very much a reality we live in courtesy the Echo Spot from Amazon.
Do all of the above make it the best bedside companion or an ideal desktop dweller? Considering it has Alexa inside running the show, that’s a strong start from the get-go. With a face that constantly splashes screens that suggest commands you can throw at it, it addresses all the learning curves that come with an Echo device.
It’s all housed in a friendly little circular body that looks like your grandpa’s alarm clock jumped into a time machine and popped out in the future. At 12,999 it’s a bit of stretch no matter how AI-inclined you may be but if you do wish to bite that bullet, is this the way to go? As always, there’s only one way to find out...
DESIGN: HITS THE SPOT
Notice how home devices are starting to resemble that friend you mock for his indulgent eating habits? Turns out it’s a shape that screams friendly instantaneously. The Spot’s a delightfully round device, with a circular LED screen to the front. It’s like a friendly butler sat right on your desk awaiting its master’s order.
In both black and white avatars, it oozes simplicity and minimalism while its humble dimensions make it fairly accommodating no matter what the size of your desk / bedside table / kitchen counter may be. It simply does not exude any of the evil overlord vibes that come with sharp edged gadgets that feel downright cold.
Dressed in a smooth matte black suit, our review sample is business in the back and party at the front with its 2.5in circular display. Stick your nose up to it and you’ll notice it isn’t the sharpest screen in all the land, but it works just fine for all that it’s meant to do. Considering you’ll be catching glances walking across the room for a quick timecheck amongst other things, it’s got its viewing angle base covered rather well.
FEATURES: TICK TOCK
Considering how the Spot’s primarily built to be your go-to alarm clock, it packs a healthy dose of faces to choose from to suit all kinds of tastes from modern to retro and lots in between. The Spot showcases its sensitive side by efficiently slipping into night mode as daylight descends by automatically dimming the screen and showing the time on a black backdrop.
So you don’t smash your friendly Spot in a fit of morning rage, it offers to gently wake you up with music from your Amazon library and even lets you set quick timers for tasks. It even acts as a little handsfree device for video viewing once you jump into bed.
It also craves to be your morning newspaper as well. With a quick command, you can pull up a blast of the day’s top stories powered by the likes of NDTV and Times of India. When you aren’t manually doing so, it’ll continue to cycle through news snippets across the screen that you can dive into with a tap.
The screen’s fairly sensitive to the touch and works well for short videos but the real star of the show is Alexa as always. Beyond requesting alarms and timers, you can ask for sports scores and movie times, stream music, create a grocery list, get the weather, control compatible smart home devices, and even hear a joke or a story.
CALLING: BEDSIDE CHAT?
Spooked by the little dot above the circular screen? The Spot’s designed to handle video calling through its built-in cam but that might not matter to someone concerned with their privacy. After all, if you’re plonking a device in a place as private as your bedroom, you’ll want to keep prying eyes out of the equation.
Amazon’s obviously aware of such concerns having chucked in a little button on top of the device that immediately disables the microphone and camera should you have any worries of being watched. You can even permanently disable these features through app settings if you’re truly plagued by the paranoia.
However, if you’re more excited and intrigued by the idea than anything else, you’ll be glad to know that video calls are a breeze between two Spots. Better still, you can video chat anyone using the Alexa iOS and Android apps ridding you of all hardware requirements. Calling a non-screen Echo device? No problem. Audio calls work just as well.
Another feature some folk might find a bit unnerving is ‘Drop In’. It lets any of your trusted contacts get a view into your space without you needing to press a button to accept the call, and you can do the same going the other way. When a call comes in the video feed is blurred for a few seconds, but otherwise you'd have to actively reject the call to stop it connecting.
Amazon says that it's great for checking in on relatives or seeing what a small child or pet is up to when you're elsewhere, but given that most people are likely to use the Echo Spot next to their bed, the idea of a friend or family member taking a glimpse could give you the heebie-jeebies. We'll pass on that, thanks. But it's your call to make.
Audio: good enough
Get a taste of the Echo Plus’ audio skills, and every other Echo will pale profusely. The 1.4in speaker driver in the Spot ensures it isn’t the weakest link in the range, but you’ll be deprived of any meaningful bass or sonic satisfaction. If you must, you can always hook it up to more capable speakers for your fix. There’s a handy 3.5mm audio line-out port. You can use Bluetooth for that, too.
The ability to summon tunes off Saavn / TuneIn / Amazon Music is great, especially with artwork to match on its screen. It’ll do you one better and even scroll through lyrics making for a fun sing-along session. At least for you if not your audience.
Of course, there’s multi-room music when you want to combine the powers of all your Echo devices. Setup couldn’t be simpler via the Alexa app but bear in mind no two groups can share speakers. Considering it packs far fewer far-field microphones than older siblings, it's hard to tell in daily duties. Voices are picked up with ease no matter how noisy the neighbours get.
Amazon Echo Spot verdict
While the screen certainly enhances the Echo experience, it’s yet to prove itself as a critical must-have. Especially when you considering the price of admission costs a solid 12,999. Invest in its abilities though, and there’s tons to look forward to: an effective bedside clock, alarms, timers, music maker, video caller, it’s a solid set of skills.
I’m still not convinced you’ll dive headfirst into the world of Echo with a Spot at its current price. If an entry ticket is what you’re after, the Dot is still the way to go. But, if you’re looking for an additional Echo device that’ll reside in your bedroom and do its duties right by your bedside, the Spot’s well worth considering.