I've had a variety of smart home devices in my home for years, and though the things can frustrate me sometimes, I ultimately still find value in them. To me, one of the essential parts of having a connected home is a great smart speaker, and up until 2021, for me, that has been Google Assistant devices — preferable one with a display. Amazon has been making major strides in its Echo Show user interface lately, and the newly released Echo Show 15 brings all of those efforts to fruition onto a beautiful, large display.
To me, the large, 15.6-inch display had the potential to be the perfect canvas for managing smart home devices, a calendar, shopping lists, consuming content, all by touch and voice with Alexa. I've had a Nest Hub Max on my kitchen counter for years now, and I really enjoy it, but even at 10 inches, the screen can feel cramped for certain tasks. Plus, the introduction of widgets on the Echo Show 15 brings even more functionality that my beloved Nest Hub Max lacks.
However, bigger doesn't automatically mean better. To keep the price of the smart display from getting too out of hand, some concessions in hardware and features had to be made. Amazon tried to walk a line in offering hardware that is unique in size and quality, along with software that takes advantage of it. It is a daunting task, and for the most part — it's a success.
Amazon Echo Show 15
Bottom line: The Echo Show 15 blends the voice control of Alexa wonderfully with a sharp 15.6-inch display that offers various bits of visual information at a glance, thanks to the widgets. Whether it's hanging on a wall or resting on a tabletop, the Echo Show 15 is an excellent addition to almost any smart home.
- Excellent, large display
- Perfect for busy families
- Widgets make great use of the screen size
- Can be orientated in portrait or landscape
- Visual ID if finicky
- Needs more widgets
- Rear firing speakers can be an issue
Amazon Echo Show 15: Price and availability
The Amazon Echo Show 15 was announced during Amazon's fall event in September 2021. It became available for pre-order at $249.99 in November 2021, with units shipping in early December. The Echo Show 15 can be found at multiple retailers such as Best Buy, Kohls, B&H, and, of course, Amazon.
Amazon Echo Show 15: What's good
As someone who is slowly starting to dive back into Amazon's world of Alexa and its Echo devices, of all the smart display options available — the Echo Show 15 is the one that most intrigued me. When it was announced in Fall 2021, I instantly saw the potential for it because it had everything that I put into my DIY digital calendar and more.
While the screen size is large at 15.6 inches and there are two 1.6-inch rear-firing speakers, it all fits nicely into the relatively thin 1.4-inch photo frame-like case. The whole device feels very well constructed, and that's good, not only because it costs $250 but also because if you take advantage of the included wall mount, you don't want to risk the unit coming apart and falling.
|Specs||Amazon Echo Show 15|
|Dimensions||15.8 x 9.9 x 1.4 inches|
|Camera||5 MP + Shutter|
|Display||15.6 inches, 1920x1080|
|Audio||2 x 1.6-inch speakers|
|Sensor||Ambient light sensor
|Included display hardware||Wall mount|
But, if you either don't have the wall space to hang the Echo Show 15 on or just would rather put the device on a tabletop, you can do so — but it's going to cost extra. There are three different official stands that can be purchased separately. The $30 option, which I got to test out, attaches to the back of the smart display and lets you change the viewing angle. But you'll need to choose landscape or portrait orientation to start, and if you want to change that, you will need to bust out the screwdriver.
The other mounting options are a $40 stand that does offer rotation without using a screwdriver to make the change. Then the $50 choice is designed to allow you to mount the Echo Show 15 under your cabinets with some orientation flexibility. Though I liked the tabletop stand I got to test, the display's large size was going to take up too much counter space for my taste.
So instead, I used the TV wall mount that I was already using for my home-built digital wall calendar to hang the Echo Show 15. Not only did this option mean I didn't have to drill any more holes into my wall, but it also let me adjust the angle of the display and rotate the orientation as I chose.
After deciding where I wanted the smart display to reside, I plugged it in and set it up. Following the prompts on the screen and the Alexa app made the setup process easy, but the Echo Show 15 was the first to include a new step — Visual ID. However, it is worth noting that this feature has made its way to the Echo Show 10 3rd gen and Echo Show 8 2nd gen. Visual ID allows these Echo devices to recognize each individual registered to show information specific to them.
Visual ID profiles are stored locally, so each Echo that you want to use the feature on will need set up individually.
Once I completed the setup process, I began connecting my Google Calendar, selecting the Amazon Photo albums I wanted to display, and picking out widgets. Because the screen is so large, there is plenty of space for all of these things to reside on it and still be legible. You can choose to leave the Echo Show 15 in standard view that, depending on how you set up the display, will keep your widgets on the right when in landscape mode with photos on the left. However, you can select photo frame mode for full-screen photos with widgets just a swipe away.
As for those widgets, these are some of the absolute best parts of the Echo Show 15. Because the screen is so big, it allows for photos to still be large enough to be enjoyed while adding functionality to the rest of the display. You can choose from Shopping List, Maps, Sticky Notes, To-Do List, Weather, and more. Currently, there are 15 widgets to pick from — all designed by Amazon. Some resizing and customization options are available for the widgets, but not much.
Aside from setting widgets on your Echo Show 15, some preset shortcuts are accessible by swapping down from the top of the screen. There are shortcuts to the device settings, routines, the Widget Gallery, Photo Frame Mode, and more, along with going back to the Home screen from any app you are in.
Speaking of apps, the Echo Show 15 wants to be available for all sorts of functions in your home, but maybe none more than the kitchen. Smart displays are great for helping with cooking, thanks to the access to 1000s of recipes. To help you decide what to eat, the Echo show 15 has direct access to delivery options from local restaurants, Domino's, Blue Apron meal kids, Whole Foods Market, and Amazon Fresh. If you prefer to cook your own meals, there are also recipes from Epicurious, Tasty, Allrecipes, and more.
Of course, a large screen like the Echo Show 15 just begs to be used for content consumption, and it delivers. As the first Echo Show with support for full-HD streaming from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon's own Prime Video, and others, it is great for being entertained while cooking. It is missing options like Disney+, HBO Max, and YouTube TV, though. If you prefer music to help with your culinary groove, you'll have that with Amazon Music, Spotify, and Apple Music. There's even TikTok built-in if that's your thing.
Further utilizing the Echo Show 15's screen real estate, there's picture-in-picture available too. So whether you're watching a movie or following along with a recipe, you can have a live feed of your front door camera, nursery, or any other camera connected to your Alexa account, playing simultaneously.
The Echo Show 15 brings not only a wonderful entertainment element to a room but also a lot of utility.
By acting as more than just a connected display and offering interactivity through touch and voice, the Echo Show 15 has the potential to become the central hub of nearly any home. Sure its ability to be a source of entertainment thanks to its streaming ability, the glanceable information made available through widgets can add immense value to the smart display.
Amazon Echo Show 15: What's not good
The Amazon Echo Show 15 has a lot to like. But, this product is still in its infancy from a software standpoint. In terms of hardware, it has a lot going for it. Amazon did a wonderful job, from great build quality to its traditional photo frame design. However, a couple of hardware-related things could have been better thought out.
One of those items is the camera. I'm glad that Amazon included a physical shutter to block the camera, but I'm not happy that the company put a paltry 5MP sensor in it. The Echo Show 10 3rd Gen and Show 8 2nd Gen come with a 13MP camera with auto-framing. Not only is the image quality far better than the Echo Show 15's, but the auto-framing feature makes so much sense for a device that is large enough you're more like to use it while moving around your space.
Visual ID is a bit finicky, and part of that is likely software, but poor image quality from the camera sensor doesn't help it.
During video calls, image quality from the Echo Show 15 was noticeably not great. It was grainy and easily blown out with bright lighting. While video calling isn't what this smart display was designed for, there's no reason the Echo Show 8 2nd gen should offer better optics at over $150 less. The other feature that uses the camera on the Echo Show 15 is the Visual ID feature, and there's a good chance that the poor image quality could be partially to blame for its finicky performance.
Visual ID is a great concept. Google's version of this idea works wonderfully on my Nest Hub Max. But on the Echo Show 15, there were plenty of times it wouldn't recognize me, even if I was directly in front of it with good lighting. The Visual ID feature is new for Amazon, and it hopefully can be improved with some software updates. It may take some extra effort to get better on the Echo Show 15 because it'll need to overcome a less than ideal camera sensor too.
The other bit of hardware that lands on the disappointing side of the line are the dual speakers. Sure they are smaller and don't offer a lot of bass, but that's not my issue with them — the audio quality actually isn't all that bad. The issue is the location of the speakers — they are rear-firing. Now, if you attach the Echo Show 15 using the included wall mount, then the speaker orientation likely won't be an issue for you.
However, if you choose to use a stand and place the smart display on a counter with nothing to bounce the audio off of, or the wall isn't up against the device, then there's going to be a problem. I had to set the volume to near max to hear the dialog of a Netflix movie while prepping my lunch. When listening to music with my family roaming around the house, people in the adjoining room complained it was too loud while what I heard was perfectly acceptable.
The speaker situation isn't a deal-breaker for the Echo Show 15, but it is something to be aware of, and one of those things I wish were different.
Though the speaker layout can't be fixed via a software update, one that can and I hope does are the widgets. Don't get me wrong, out of the box, the widgets are pretty great. But, I would like further customization options and offerings from third parties, which Amazon is opening up to developers. For example, the smart home widget doesn't allow for device groups to be selected. So you can only pick individual devices to show up in the widget. It would also be nice to change the background color of the widget page or have more options for arranging and resizing the widgets.
Amazon Echo Show 15: Competition
As for an off-the-shelf option that offers a complete package that the Echo Show 15 does in 2021 — it doesn't exist. Even though, like my colleague Derrek Lee, I wish there were. Sure the Amazon Echo Show 10 is an option that has many of the same features found on the Echo Show 15 but lacks the display size and mounting flexibilities.
On the Google side, the only thing even remotely close to the Echo Show 15 is the Nest Hub Max. But that will be more of a competitor to the Echo Show 10. Google's offering lacks widget customization even to the level of what Amazon has. A smart display with as large of a screen as the Echo Show 15 with its level of polish and functionality quite simply isn't available.
You can accomplish parts of the Echo Show 15 by doing as I did and building your own, which can be done for far less money than pre-built options cost. If you don't want to or don't feel confident in going the DIY route, some companies like DAKboard sell customizable displays that are ready to hang. But they won't have the voice assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant available.
Amazon Echo Show 15: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You want a large multi-functional smart display.
- You are already in or are interested in the Alexa ecosystem.
- You want helpful, glanceable information from a central display.
- You want a large smart screen for entertainment and assistance.
You shouldn't buy this if...
- You want full control over customizing the layout of the display.
- You plan to use the Echo Show 15 for a lot of video calling.
- You don't want to mount it on the wall and want great audio.
The Echo Show 15 accomplishes many of the goals that Amazon set for it. It's a great-looking device that does a good job of utilizing the screen size. The large screen also means it's perfect for watching videos, so long as you either mount it on the wall or a tabletop near a wall. Because the rear-firing speakers make listening difficult if they don't have something to bounce off of. The poor camera also means that you won't want to use the Echo Show 15 for a lot of video calls.
The Amazon Echo Show 15 is fantastic as a large form smart display. Perfect, no. But the primary gripe I have about it can be improved with software. It also doesn't mean that, as a product for sale right now, that I would hesitate to recommend the device. However, if you can afford a $250 smart display, have a place to put it, and are either in the Alexa ecosystem or willing to be a part of it, the Echo Show 15 is wonderful.
The widgets, along with the 15.6-inch screen, make this a win — right now. Amazon has already opened up the software to allow third-party developers to make widgets for the Echo Show 15, and hopefully, they do. Sure the built-in camera isn't great, but I don't see that as the primary function of a device like this — only as an optional one. The location of the speakers kind of stinks, but the sound quality is good enough and won't stop me from using them.
The Echo Show 15 is hands-down my favorite smart display right now because of what it is and can become. Does this mean that I'm getting rid of my Nest Hub Max from the kitchen — no. But it does mean that the Echo Show 15 will draw me further into Amazon's world because the smart display is that good.
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