Lost among the slew of Amazon's recent device announcements was an update to the Echo Show. While Amazon absolutely mentioned the second-generation smart display, you may have overlooked it completely amidst all the other devices that debuted: a new Echo Dot, the Chromecast-like Echo Input, that infamous smart microwave, etc. But while it may not have grabbed as many headlines, Amazon gave the $229 Echo Show a fairly significant facelift with a bigger screen, more powerful speakers, and a redesigned outer shell.
The Echo Show remains the primary device that gives Alexa a "face" of sorts. But with that face comes the challenge of managing users' interactions with Alexa. Amazon's other Echo devices make Alexa interactions painfully simple—ask, and the virtual assistant answers. The Echo Show, and similar devices, both enrich and complicate interactions with virtual assistants with its touchscreen display.
Amazon admits it's still figuring out which interactions are best spoken versus seen or touched, but the new Echo Show demonstrates that the company is moving in the right direction.
The new Echo Show has a more demanding presence than the original thanks to its 10.1-inch touch display. Amazon did away with the old design, which positioned the speaker underneath the seven-inch display, by making the larger display the only thing visible from the front of the device. The new set-up looks more sophisticated and more akin to Lenovo's Smart Display for the Google Assistant.
Some users of the first-generation Echo Show reported screen flickering on their devices, but I never saw the screen on the new Echo Show flicker, cut out, or trip up in any way. I was only disappointed in the screen's slow transitions—when tapping on a recipe I wanted to make from the carousel of options, it took a few milliseconds too long to load. The transition between the two pages wasn't choppy or jarring, but the smooth fade from carousel to recipe ingredients took too long for my liking.
Seeing the new Echo Show for the first time in person reminded me of Amazon Fire tablets that now have the ability to go into Show Mode, which essentially transforms them into pseudo-Echo Shows. But the actual Echo Show isn't a tablet propped up by a trapezoidal speaker—there are distinct differences, mostly in UI and overall capabilities.
The rest of the device behind the display is the speaker, and it has an elongated triangular shape that allows the device to be propped up on a countertop or table. The back is covered in either white or charcoal fabric that allows sound to escape and fill a room. The new speaker has two-inch neodymium drivers, a passive bass radiator, and Dolby processing, making it much more powerful than the speaker on the original Echo Show. It gets louder, has deeper bass, and produces richer sound overall.
I listen to a smattering of music with lyrics, instrumental music, podcasts, and audiobooks regularly, and all of that content came through crisp and clear with the Echo Show. It won't replace your home audio system, particularly if you're a stickler for sound quality. But for those who aren't, the Show could easily become your primary speaker in the room you place it in—and it gets loud enough that adjoining rooms will reap its benefits as well.
Amazon put a Zigbee smart hub inside the new Echo Show, allowing users with Zigbee-compatible smart home devices to connect them to the Echo Show without needing another hub. Zigbee and Z-Wave are the two most-popular smart home protocols, which means that those smart lights you have or that smart doorbell you installed the other day will probably connect to the Zigbee hub inside the Echo Show. If you don't have an Echo Show, an Echo Plus, or another device that includes a hub inside of it, you'd have to buy a hockey puck-sized device that connects to all those smart home devices and allows them to communicate with your home Wi-Fi network and with each other.
Hubs can cost upwards of $100, making the Echo Show an appealing device for consumers interested in starting or expanding their smart home. Some smart home devices integrate even further with Alexa and the Echo Show in particular, like the Ring smart doorbell (made by a company that Amazon recently purchased). Saying "Alexa, show me the front door" will prompt the Echo Show to bring up your smart doorbell's camera feed so you can see who's standing on your porch.
Aside from its touchscreen, the Echo Show doesn't have many other interactive portions in its design. Set atop its display are three buttons: two for volume control and one for disabling the mic and 5MP front-facing camera. There will be times when you don't want the Echo Show or Alexa to hear you speak (or to see you through the camera), so including the latter button was crucial. I expect most users willing to have an Echo device in their homes will be satisfied with a mic/camera disable button but some more concerned with privacy may choose to unplug the device completely when they don't want to be seen or heard.
Four tiny mic holes sit on the top bezel next to the front-facing camera, while another four mics sit on the top edge among the volume and mute buttons. On the original Echo Show, all of the mics sat on the top edge of the device, and some original Echo Show users reported bad voice recognition. Amazon didn't address those problems specifically, but the new placement of some of the mics on the second-gen Echo Show may help with that. I can't say I ever had a problem when I tested the original Echo Show, but I also mostly used that device while it sat on my desk about two feet away from my work area. The new Echo Show lives on my kitchen counter, and it picked up my commands from many more feet away without issue.
Updated interface and software
The new Echo Show gives us a look at the updated display interface Amazon has created for Alexa. But it's important to remember that this interface and software aren't dependent on the new Echo Show—first-gen Echo Shows constantly receive updates from Amazon. So all of the updates we explore here will eventually be available on older devices (save for any that have hardware requirements, like using the embedded Zigbee hub).
The default screen on the new Echo Show still shows the date and time, but it now also shows new tidbits of information in an ongoing fade-out cycle. Alerts like news headlines and package deliveries show up on the screen, some of which can be tapped to reveal more information. New score cards with sports team graphics also come up, adding to the bits of passive information you can consume from the device without asking Alexa to do anything.
Swiping down from the top of the screen reveals quick-access icons that let you go back to the home screen and adjust screen brightness. Amazon added two new options to this list: "lights" lets you quickly control connected smart lights, while "routines" lets you program new routines, which are collections of actions triggered by a single phrase.
Those are the closest things to apps you'll find on the Echo Show. Makers of smart displays and the virtual assistants that power them are averse to adding program icons to smart-display home screens, and while I don't like it, I understand why. What's the point of getting a smart display if it behaves, more or less, like the tablet I already have in my home? Not having an app icon to tap requires you to use your voice, which is what companies like Amazon and Google want. Also, adding app icons would make the Echo Show seem too much like a Fire tablet, and Amazon wants to differentiate the two devices. The company has made big improvements to the Echo Show's UI, but some users will still scoff at its notably barebones interface.