No other company has put the smart assistant experience is as many homes as Amazon. The company has been exploring so many different shapes, sizes, and prices for its Alexa-based hardware over the last couple of years, and it can be difficult to keep it all in your head. While some of these experiments have left us wanting more, there's a general trend In these products that are easy to appreciate.
Amazon has been absorbing user feedback for years now, and applied changes where it matters most. Last year that meant a massive push into higher quality speakers for better audio streaming, which resulted in several killer little speakers with quite a bit of boom behind them and some bigger things you can use to really kit out your living room nicely.
This year, the focus is clearly on privacy and usability, and there are fewer places in the Alexa ecosystem those two things were needed more than with its Echo Show line. As we've seen in several places now, having a display attached to your smart speaker means you can do incredibly useful things like streaming video and getting actual visuals with recipes, weather, or front door alerts. While the previous Echo Show models certainly did these things well, the size wasn't quite right for most other rooms in the house and Amazon's privacy record is starting to rightly cause people to doubt this is the platform for them.
Would you believe me if I told you the Echo Show 5 actually does a really good job addressing each of these concerns while also standing out as its own great little addition to the Echo lineup? I'll do my best to explain how that works below.
- Clever, compact design
- Great speakers
- Improved privacy tools
- Auto-brightness isn't well tuned
- Amazon's photo services still aren't super useful
Amazon Echo Show 5: What I like
From the moment this alarm clock-shaped box slides out of its impossibly slim packaging, it's clear this is different from the other Echo models I've used in the past. The smaller profile (the "5" in the name refers to the size of the screen) makes it super easy to tuck away on a ledge in the kitchen or on the corner of my desk. The angle the display sits at is perfect for a bedside alarm clock or an end table next to me on the couch. Where previous Echo Show models left me moving everything around trying to find the ideal place for it to fit, this new smaller design immediately fits just about everywhere.
The initial set up for this Echo Show is fairly standard. Plug it in, connect to Wi-Fi, log in to Amazon, profit. Logging in is also easy; because this thing is so small, you can easily pick it up and type on the display with ease. The keyboard on the screen splits so you can type with your thumbs, and the keyboard itself is convenient enough to not really feel like it's in the way of anything while you do so. I would probably still prefer being able to add these displays to my Alexa account through the app like you do with voice-only models, but this is the most convenient the login system has been on a Show so far.
I want one of these smart displays in every room of the house.
Like other Echo Show models, the physical buttons couldn't be simpler. Volume up/down buttons and a microphone on/off switch is standard, but there's a fourth little option that is new to this model. A camera shutter really should be table stakes at this point, and Amazon seems to get that. Flick the switch, and not only is the camera covered but the camera sensor is electronically disabled and will not activate. Even if you use Amazon's Drop In feature for video chats, only the audio will engage, and that only happens after a long tone is heard.
While not new with this model, I'm using Amazon's new Privacy Hub and additional security features on this speaker. Being able to say "Alexa, delete what I just said" and know that last query isn't saved for someone at Amazon to pore over is nice, but the Privacy Hub offers a lot more flexibility and control for how Amazon accesses and uses your data. And while this isn't the intended feature, having teens in your house willing to mess with one another by telling Alexa to delete what the other kid said is actually pretty funny.
The voice commands for Echo Show 5 are all the same as you'd get on any other Echo Show, which means they've improved quite a bit since the release of the last one. I can say things like "Alexa, read my book" and have it know I want to pick up where I left off on Audible or "Alexa, play Episode Three of Good Omens" and have it actually do exactly that. These are things Alexa has struggled with in the past without very specific commands, but contextual computing has been a big part of Alexa's growth up to this point so they are problems no longer.
The way this is set up now, combined with the compact design of the Echo Show 5, really impressed me. I want one of these smart displays in every room of the house — from the living room to the kitchen to my office to the laundry room.
Because of the smaller nature of this model, there are a few new features for modifying the clock face so it fits the room you're in as well as a visually more appealing shortcut system for accessing smart home elements and other visually significant features through this display. You can have the standard but not super useful "news" feed we've seen on other Echo Show models, or you can shake things up a bit with a healthy selection of options for personalization.
However, the real feature here is the swipe over for shortcuts. Drag your finger from right to left and you can quickly poke at lights, door locks, or the thermostat. This is visually more attractive than previous iterations, and because the display is nice overall, I can use it without my glasses on at night.
Amazon Echo Show 5: What I don't like
The $80 Google Nest Hub caught my attention for two big reasons: my personal integration into the Google ecosystem and the insanely good display. It's not a great speaker, it's a little big for a bedside clock, and the microphones are iffy even if the room is quiet. The Echo Show 5 crushes The Google Nest Hub when it comes to microphones, speakers, and size, but the display could be better and there are still a couple of key things the Google ecosystem has its claws in that can't be replicated elsewhere.
You have to go looking for the privacy features, and I think that's a mistake.
Amazon's photo clock face for the Show 5 is great, but I'm never going to use it. To get it working correctly, you have to either manually feed Amazon Photos content from your phone or computer, or connect a Facebook folder for it to grab on to and pull pictures from. Neither of these things connect with me particularly well, and even when I did add a Facebook folder the results were still a little clumsy. Added photos to the folder wouldn't show up right away, and if I tool a vertical photo it wound up with black bars on the sides instead of grabbing another photo to fill the display. In this respect, Google Photos is just better in every possible way and it's a shame there's no way to connect the two.
The display on the Echo Show 5 is more than enough for my office or my kitchen or my living room, but the lowest auto-brightness setting is still way too bright in a totally dark room and that makes using it in my bedroom a little challenging. The Google Nest Hub display is so good at getting dark it's spoiled me, but it's also something more companies should strive to master. I can manually set the Echo Show 5 to be very dark, but the auto-brightness never gets it right on its own. If I'm putting a gadget in my bedroom, it needs to be able to not blind me at night.
As much praise as I feel Amazon deserves for pumping the brakes and re-evaluating how much power users have on data collected for improvement, I don't feel like Amazon does nearly enough to advertise this. There's no "hey check out the Privacy Hub for settings" when you're setting the display up, or any kind of notification in the Alexa app once the display is connected. You have to go looking for the privacy features, and I think that's a mistake. Amazon has the ability to put privacy front and center, but it feels like that's still not a priority for the company right now.
Amazon Echo Show 5: Should you buy it?
I find myself frequently getting to this part of the review with an Alexa-based thing and telling you the hardware is great if you're already in the Alexa ecosystem. But not today. It doesn't matter who you are, the Amazon Echo Show 5 is a great addition to your home.
The speakers are great, the microphones are great, Alexa as a platform is growing up, and it couldn't be more clear Amazon is paying attention to feedback from users and continuing to improve over time. This is a great place to start your Alexa experience if you've never tried one before, and a fantastic addition for anyone looking to add to a smart home they've already started.
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