The virtual assistants in smart speakers are not going to be restricted to just an audio-only experience. Absolutely not. Last year, Amazon launched the Echo Show with a display size that resembled a tablet and added a whole host of visual elements to the experience. Along the way, the second generation was also launched, with improvements based on the learnings from the first one. This in a way also kickstarted the smart display ecosystem, which now includes Google Home Hub, the Lenovo Smart Display and the Facebook Portal line-up. Each has its own unique strengths and attractions, safe to say—it does everything that the Amazon Echo line-up of smart speakers manages to do, including music, news updates, sports scores, answers to any random queries you may have, routines from other apps and more, all with a simple voice command. But now does more too. The second generation of the Echo Show is has been launched in India, after Amazon skipped the first one last year. This doesn’t come cheap though and is priced at Rs 22,990 but this is indeed a rather different experience than what we are used to. In a way, the versatility is just a rather nice add-on. This also gives Amazon a first mover advantage over Google too.
Come to think of it, this actually isn’t the first smart display that Amazon has launched in India. You might remember the Echo Spot (Rs 12,999) with its unique circular display. However, the Echo Show is a completely different beast altogether. What you get is a 10.1-inch 720p display leaning back at a slight angle and a rather chunky design that holds within it a very powerful set of audio hardware. The display in the Echo Show now is larger than the 7-inch display of the first generation, which makes this more comfortable to view from a distance as well. On the top spine are three physical keys—for volume control, to turn on mute so that the Alexa virtual assistant doesn’t listen to you till you disable this and also the power key.
The kickstand-ish design and space behind the display is where sit two neodymium audio drivers, each 2-inch in size as well as a passive bass radiator for lower frequency handling. The audio drivers are positioned for side-firing. The Echo Show supports Dolby audio as well, something that is a rather generous positive to emerge from Amazon’s association with Dolby for the smart speakers—the newest Echo Plus is another speaker to take advantage of this.
Smart speakers are extensively used for music playback, and that is where the Echo Show will completely surprise you. The loudness and clarity, both of which are available in generous quantity, are at par with the Echo Plus smart speaker. But it is the wideness of the sound which really blows you away. If you have a TV show running on this, the sound that accompanies it could even put a lot of televisions to shame. The way the sound spreads around the room with ease, makes you take a second look to see if there is actually a wireless speaker connected with the display and placed somewhere else—and there is no such thing being done, but what you are seeing is pure brilliance. You have the equalizer settings in the app which help tweak the sound a bit, but largely, the default settings do work well for most genres of music as well as podcasts, video streaming and news.
The display means a rather diverse variety of usage scenarios become possible with the Echo Show. First up, this can become your video streaming partner anywhere in the home. You can place this on the kitchen counter, your dining table, a study table or even a bedside table and stream shows from the Amazon Video catalogue or even YouTube via the Amazon Silk browser. The entire library of content, as you would get on the Amazon Video app on your phone or the Fire TV Stick is available here as well, complete with voice commands. It is great to watch a stand-up comedy show for instance, as you carry on dealing with other tasks occasionally in the interim. It must be fun to cook while catching up on the latest episode of All American on Amazon Video. That said, there is still no way to access other video streaming services to make better use of this rather slick display—Netflix, Hotstar and the likes are currently not available.
Secondly, the ecosystem gets a boost as well. Voice commands as well as the touchscreen make it much more intuitive to control smart home devices too. Finally, you will now be able to make video calls to anyone who uses Skype, the Alexa app on their phone, an Echo Dot or an Echo Show. You can also use any one of these devices to drop in on another device, perhaps to check if the pets are okay at home or if the children are indeed studying sincerely.
At the moment, Alexa plugs into the Amazon Music library, the Amazon Video library for video streaming as well as JioSaavn, Tunein, Gaana and Hungama for music streaming. At present, Spotify is not available for the Echo devices in India, but since Amazon and Spotify have the partnership in place globally, there is hope it’ll be rolled out in India in the near future as well.
The display is quite rich in terms of colour and very bright as well—if you are keeping this at close quarters, you might want to dial down the illumination a notch. We never noticed any lack of sharpness, though you will notice reflections on this from time to time because of the glass layer.
One really unique use case that we did get quite used to in the time we had with the Echo Show was the ability to simply access the Xiaomi Home Security cameras by voice—“Alexa, show camera 1” and you’ll get the live visuals of what the camera sees, on the Echo Show’s screen. You have the complete flexibility to add or remove Alexa’s access to these cameras from within the Alexa app on your iPhone or Android phone, and also rename the cameras to whatever name is easier for you to remember—baby room camera, porch camera etc., for instance.
As far as the privacy aspect goes, some users may not be comfortable with an active camera sitting in their living room or bedroom. The Amazon Echo Show lets you disable the camera completely via the settings app—for the additional peace of mind.
We do feel however that some more customization options should have been available for the home screen—the screen that will be visible most of the time when you are not using the Echo Show. For instance, we would probably want to customize the date and time display, add a few more animations for weather and maybe even add the sports scores for our favorite football team.
Despite loving the entire experience of a large display to go with the voice commands and the smartness of Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant, there is still something that rankles all along. The Echo Show isn’t friends with my phone. There really is no way to cast or push a lot of the content from your phone to this smart display, to make better use of this visual real estate.
At the end of the day, the Amazon Echo Show that you will be able to buy in India is a second-generation device but do remember that smart displays still are a very niche category. That means Amazon Alexa on the Echo Show (as does the Google Assistant on the Home Hub) are still limited and working within fairly rigid boundaries at the moment. They are in many ways isolated at the moment, from your smartphone in particular. Over time, more apps, services and functionality will make their way to the Amazon Echo Show. And it will also play well with your phone, letting you push content from apps to the display. At the moment, what this does is take everything that Alexa does with voice and adds the visual element of a display. It is great, mind you, to be able to see a visual illustration of sports scores or the weather, or even access your security cameras instantly. Or have a fantastic little device which plays Amazon Video and YouTube content at a simple voice command. It is this sort of functionality that will make this the centerpiece of conversations the next time your friends or relatives come over. And things will only get beefed up in due course.