May 2021 saw a whole host of updates and refreshes to Amazon's product lineup, from a new Fire HD 10 tablet, to a second tier of Fire Kids Pro devices, to updates to the Amazon Halo band and service. All of this is no doubt clearing its older devices from the decks in preparation for Prime Day 2021, where we're bound to see some impressive discounts on all Amazon devices (likely including this latest Echo Show).
When I first saw the spec sheet and read the relatively minor updates to the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen), I knew that I'd still like the device, but I didn't think I'd be overly impressed with it as a refreshed product. After using the near paradigm-busting Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen) and experiencing its show-stopping features like its rotating display and impressive speaker array, the updates offered on the new Show 8 felt like a sad trombone 'wah wah.' However, as I sat down to write this Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) review after a few days of using it in my home office, I was reminded of that adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The previous version was a product that we'd recommended as the best Amazon Echo Show for over a year now. In my estimation, this iterative update means that the second-gen speaker remains the best of Shows. It may technically be slightly inferior to the rotating display/camera system on the Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen), but it's definitely a better value than its larger sibling.
Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen)
Bottom line: Not much has changed from the first to the second generation of the Echo Show 8, but that is actually a good thing. The 13MP camera is vastly superior to the 1MP shooter on the previous model, as is the new panning feature that keeps you in the frame of the call. If you've been waiting to purchase a smart speaker, this is a fantastic one to get.
- Perfect size for most spaces
- Dramatically improved camera
- Best affordable video-calling device
- Display and camera don't rotate
- Only two color options
- Can't play Amazon Music HD content
Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen): Price and availability
The Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) was announced in early May 2021 alongside a second-generation Echo Show 5 and an all-new Echo Show 5 Kids device. The updated Show 8 smart speaker features an improved camera system and retails for $130 at Amazon and other retailers. The device starts shipping on June 9, 2021.
As this device is stationary and doesn't have a rotating motor like the larger Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen), Amazon offers a bundle with an adjustable (manual) stand for $155. There is also currently a bundle available on Amazon that includes a Blink Mini security camera for just $10 extra.
Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen): What we like
One of the things that I actually admire about Amazon devices is their consistency from generation to generation. If you were to pick up one of the best Kindle e-readers or Fire tablets from the past few years, you probably wouldn't be able to notice much difference between them and the newer devices at first glance. Sure, there are under the hood updates to the processors, cameras, speakers, and display tech, but the general look and feel remain startlingly similar.
|Category||Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen)|
|Display||8.0-inch with 1280x800 resolution|
|Processor||MediaTek MT 8183, 8-core|
|Speakers||2 x 2-inches @ 10W per channel|
|Dimensions||7.9 x 5.4 x 3.9 inches|
|Privacy Controls||Built-in camera shutter and microphone mute button|
|Connectivity||Dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
|Colors||Glacier White and Charcoal|
Likewise, if you were to put this smart speaker next to the previous generation, you likely wouldn't notice any differences, except that the front-facing camera has a rectangular cutout instead of a round one. The dimensions, weight, and design are virtually identical to the first-generation Show 8, as is its price. This isn't really a device for upgraders, but rather new Echo Show customers or converts from other ecosystems.
The eight-inch display is built into a chassis that fits just about anywhere in your home. It is not only good for smaller spaces like your desktop or bedside table, but it doesn't feel diminutive or out of place in more wide-open areas like your living room or kitchen.
Speakers and sound
The Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) is really a smart screen first, and a smart speaker second. Its unique selling proposition has more to do with what you can read or watch on it than what you can hear from it. Still, with its two 52mm neodymium speakers and passive bass radiator, you might just be pleasantly surprised by the sound that comes out of this modestly-sized device.
Those rear-firing speakers can get pretty loud, but I'm happy to report that they still preserve the highs quite well while not losing or getting drowned out by the thumping bass. This was true across various styles and genres, from dance and electronic music to country to classic rock. It doesn't feature the dynamic, room-filling sound of something like a Sonos One or Echo Studio, but the audio quality was pretty even and consistent. I'd be more than happy to have this as the primary audio speaker in a smaller space like an office or bedroom. But even in a larger space like your den or kitchen, it is a lot of fun to start an impromptu karaoke session with the onscreen lyrics available for thousands of songs.
On the downside, even though Amazon is now "giving away" lossless audio to all Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers, you won't really be able to hear the improved quality on this device. Additionally, good luck listening to YouTube Music if you subscribe to that service, as there is no official app support. You can, however, watch YouTube and listen to YouTube Music through the built-in browser on the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen).
Photo frame and display
While it may not have all of the whizbang features of Google Photos or Apple Photos, Amazon Photos is a really good photo storage solution, particularly if you're already a Prime member. Prime subscribers get free unlimited photo storage, along with 10GB of video storage (you have to pay to upgrade that). It's a great option to consider, whether you're looking for an alternative to Google Photos or simply a secondary backup.
Like the Nest Hub speakers and Fire TV devices, the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) makes a great digital photo frame, and Amazon has added in some new features with this version to make that experience even better. Now you can allow family and friends to share their recent photos with you via the shared home screen, which is sure to make for some interesting viewing experiences.
Another common use for Echo Show devices is for watching video. While it's perfectly serviceable as mini TV, allowing you to watch movies and shows on a variety of streaming platforms, it's really best for bite-sized content. Amazon positions it as the perfect device to watch cooking shows or recipes as you prepare a meal, or to get caught up on important news stories while you get ready for your day. At 1280 x 820p, it is techincally an HD screen, and while the viewing experience won't rival your flatscreen or your laptop, I found videos to be pretty sharp and colors to be fairly accurate.
The new camera system also allows you to use the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) as an additional security camera through the look-in feature via the Alexa app. You may think it's not as useful as the rotating camera on the Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen), and you'd be right — to a point. Thanks to its wide-angle lens with pan and zoom capabilities, you can actually see a decent amount of the room in which the device is placed. So if you want to use it as a secondary home security camera, consider where you place the device in your space.
If you're someone who is paranoid about having a camera in your home, you can disable it when it's not in use. As with the previous generation of Echo Show devices, the camera system also includes physical privacy controls, such as a sliding camera cover and mute button so that Alexa can't accidentally hear you when you don't want her to.
As with the larger Show 10, when the device is used as a security camera, a persistent notification banner pops up along the top of the display, letting anyone in the vicinity know that an approved household member is operating the camera remotely. This is a nice privacy feature that prevents your friends or family from spying on you without your knowledge and hopefully prevents any unintended viewing experiences...
This new camera not only makes for a nice security system, but it makes the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) an absolutely fantastic video calling machine. Amazon uses a similar trick with the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) camera as Apple has implemented with the latest and greatest iPad. According to Daniel Bader's review of the iPad Pro (2021) for iMore:
The FaceTime camera is an all-new 12MP ultrawide setup that uses the additional resolution to crop in and "follow" you as you move around the frame. It's a trick that works surprisingly well in most situations, especially when, like I was last weekend, propping the iPad on a table for a family Zoom call with a restless toddler.
The biggest differences here? Aside from the Echo Show not having FaceTime, it does beat the iPad in megapixels (13 MP vs. 12 MP), it doesn't require a stand to prop it up, and it is orders of magnitude cheaper than the iPad Pro. Of course, it's also less powerful, it's not really a productivity device, and it's not really mobile in any true sense of the word. But it is worth pointing out that you can get a comparable video calling experience to the iPad Pro for much less money.
I test drove the pan and zoom features on a video call with my colleague Nick Sutrich the other day, and we had a lot of fun trying to roll our chairs out of frame to test the limits of the camera (which was surprisingly more difficult than you'd think). We also enjoyed that it would pan up if you stood up or pan down when you returned to your seat. There was a slight delay while the camera/display adjusted to the new frame. Still, we actually found this to be a benefit rather than a drawback because we weren't made sick by the camera constantly trying to reframe us as the autofocus does on many digital cameras.
Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen): What could be better
As much as we liked the previous generation and as similar as this new version is to the older one, there's understandably not a whole lot for us to criticize here.
While I like the overall design of the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) and the fact that the camera can pan to keep you in the frame, I don't love that I can't see what's on the display when I'm moving around. Sure, I could buy a stand to adjust the angle or pitch of the device, but that's a manual process and not automatic like the Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen). Although I don't consider it likely, I do think it would be pretty cool to get a version of an Echo Show 8 that had a rotating display; essentially, an Echo Show 10 "mini," if you will.
Amazon missed an opportunity to build in sleep tracking features or Halo band integration.
Amazon has been delving into health and fitness tracking recently with its Halo band and service, so it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity that the company didn't try to build in any health or sleep features into the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen). Especially with Google adding Soli sleep tracking to the Nest Hub (2nd Gen) and bringing Fitbit closer to its company vest, any chance to have the Echo Show further aid your health experience seems like a worthwhile investment for Amazon to make.
Like all Echo (and most Ring) devices, the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) is primed and ready to serve as an Amazon Sidewalk hub. Sidewalk is Amazon's neighborhood-level network that borrows tiny bits of your and your neighbors' wireless internet signal to help do things like extending the range of smart home and security devices and track lost items or pets. Amazon says that Sidewalk is completely private and secure, but you can opt out of Amazon Sidewalk while setting up the device.
Amazon Photos is a great service for Prime members, but it's still not as good as Google Photos.
As much as I praised the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) as a great digital photo frame, it's still not as good at this task as a Nest Hub, in my opinion. Amazon Photos itself is a fine service, but it's not on par with Google Photos when it comes to delightful tricks like automatically surfacing key moments, adding cinematic effects or filters, or even doing things like smartly cropping or rotating images it displays.
Finally, I do wish that some of the promised features like the new animated visual and audio in-call reactions and AR effects were available at launch and not "soon." I understand that they're not integral to the device and shouldn't hold up its release, but it bugs me when companies release a product promising features that don't ship with it upon release.
Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen): Competition
The main competitor to the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) is obviously the similarly-sized Nest Hub (2nd Gen) from Google. Google's smart screen costs $30 less than Amazon's, has special Sleep Sensing features thanks to its built-in Soli radar chip, and offers a better photo-viewing experience. On the flip side, it doesn't include any cameras, so it won't function as a video calling device, and the Sleep Sensing feature will be put behind a paywall at the end of 2021.
Another good option to consider is the Lenovo Smart Display 7. It's been around for over a year and a half now, but it still looks and sounds great and has Google Assistant and Google Photos features baked right in.
If you can still find it — and you probably will be able to for the time being — the first-generation Echo Show 8 offers a near-identical experience to the new device at a now reduced price. If you don't care about the better camera experience, or if you don't really plan to use your Echo Show as a video calling device at all, why spend the extra money?
Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen): Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You are comfortable in the Amazon/Ring smart home ecosystem
- You do a lot of video calling from your smart home devices
- You want a quality, affordable Alexa smart speaker
You shouldn't buy this if...
- You prefer Google Assistant and the Google/Nest smart home ecosystem
- You want the best audio experience possible
- You're a YouTube Music subscriber
There's no mistaking that the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) is an iterative update to the previous version. It looks, feels, and sounds like the first-generation speaker, but the one important new feature it brings may be a difference-maker for many, and that's the camera system. Its 13MP wide-angle camera with pan and zoom capabilities is the perfect new feature for the pandemic/post-pandemic era, and it dramatically improves video calls when you're staying in and home security when you are venturing out again.
I do not believe that it's worth the upgrade from the previous version if you have a first-generation Echo Show 8, but it's absolutely worth the money if you don't already have one.
Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen)
Not much has changed, but that is actually a good thing.
With this 2nd version, you still get an HD display and decent stereo speakers in a package that can fit just about anywhere in your home. The 13MP camera is vastly superior to the 1MP shooter on the previous model, as is the new panning feature that keeps you in the frame of the call. If you've been waiting to purchase a smart speaker, this is a fantastic one to get. We just wouldn't recommend upgrading from the first-generation right now.
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