Amazon Echo Show (2018) Review & Rating

The original Amazon Echo Show was a natural evolution of the Echo speaker, adding a touch screen to provide visual information in addition to spoken answers to questions. It worked well enough, but a very stark design, anemic sound, and limited touch-screen interactivity left us underwhelmed (and the release of the smaller, less expensive Echo Spot made it even less tempting). Amazon kept working on the idea, though, and the result is a completely new Echo Show. The 2018 model is sleeker, louder, and features loads of new touch-screen features, all for the same $229.99. It addresses nearly all of our issues with the original model, with the promise of even more useful features like Skype video calls in the future. That earns it our Editors’ Choice for smart displays.

An All-New Look

The new Echo Show benefits from a complete design overhaul that makes original look downright clunky and, well, ugly in comparison. It’s still a fairly big, chunky piece of plastic at 6.7 by 9.7 by 5.0 inches (HWD), with a vaguely triangular cross section and a front face tilted slightly upward. But the front is now dominated entirely by a 10-inch, 1,280-by-800 touch screen instead of the original’s 7-inch screen sharing space with a large speaker grille, and the corners are rounded, eliminating the harsh edges of the first edition.

The screen is framed by a half-inch glossy black border on the sides and bottom, expanding to an inch on the top to accommodate the 5-megapixel camera and four pinholes for the far-field microphones. The top edge of the Show features volume up/down and mute buttons, and four more pinholes for the mics.

Amazon started wrapping its Echo devices in fabric with the most recent speaker models, and that aesthetic has made its way to the Echo Show. The Show is available in black or white (the border around the screen is black on both models), and the entire back of the speaker is covered in the same grille cloth as the Echo. The two-inch speaker drivers have been relocated from behind a front-facing grille to facing left and right on the back. A small recess on the back holds a power connector for the included wall adapter, a micro USB port for an optional Ethernet adapter, and a Kensington lock port. Between the fabric, the choice of colors, the much larger screen, and the rounded corners, the new model looks much friendlier than the original.

Amazon Echo Show

Alexa and Touch Screen Features

The Echo Show is an Alexa device like the Echo Spot and Echo speakers, and that means you mostly control it with your voice. Just say, “Alexa,” followed by a question or command, and the Echo Show will respond. You can ask for information like weather reports, sports scores, unit measurements, and general trivia, which Alexa will provide with a spoken answer through the speakers and visual information on the screen.

You can also control your smart home devices with Alexa, with over 2,000 different smart lights, locks, thermostats, and other devices currently supported. A Zigbee hub is built in to control compatible devices, just like you get on the Echo Plus.

For media, you can ask Alexa to play tunes from Amazon Music and third-party streaming services like Deezer, iHeartRadio, Spotify, and TuneIn, and even music videos from Vevo. Alexa can also play Amazon Video content on the Echo Show’s screen in 720p, and support for Hulu and NBC is planned. The company is rolling out a new touch-screen interface for Amazon Video, Hulu, and other streaming video services that presents a front page with categories for touch-based navigation instead of the current horizontal list of individual items. At the time of writing, this update hasn’t been launched yet. The Echo Show will also display live and recorded TV from the Amazon Fire TV Recast when it comes out.

While the Echo Show’s touch screen can only play video up to 720p (and obviously doesn’t support 4K or HDR), it’s a significant upgrade over the previous Echo Show’s screen. It’s not just physically larger, but appears much sharper despite the relatively low resolution, and looks very bright and colorful. It works well for reading text responses, following recipes, and watching videos.

Amazon Echo Show

The touch screen gets much more use thanks to a software update that adds several new features and interface changes. The biggest upgrade is the ability to browse the web. Amazon added its Silk browser, which lets you load nearly any web page on the device. This enables you to use YouTube, along with various social media sites that don’t have their own dedicated skills that work with the screen. You still can’t bring up YouTube videos with voice commands like you can on a Google Assistant smart display like the JBL Link View or Lenovo Smart Display.

With its microphones and 5MP camera, the Echo Show supports both voice and video calls. Alexa lets you call most North American phone numbers directly, though it can’t receive phone calls. You can also use Amazon’s Drop In chat functions to make VoIP voice calls and video calls to other Alexa users with Echo devices or Fire tablets. Amazon plans to add support for Skype voice and video calls in the future, as well.

Alexa supports thousands of third-party skills, and Amazon has been encouraging developers to add visual information for Echo Show and Echo Spot users. Finding those skills on the Echo Show is much easier now, with the addition of a skills store you can browse on the touch screen instead of going through the Alexa app on your phone.

Music Performance

Amazon gave the Echo Show’s speakers an overhaul, and the result is a much bigger sound. Our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” sounds powerful, filling our test room and nearly shaking the table the speaker sat on with its low-frequency response. The kick drum hits test the drivers and crackle a bit at maximum volume, but bringing it down slightly helps fix that while keeping things impressively loud.

While the Echo Show doesn’t have specific EQ presets, you can individually adjust the bass and treble in addition to controlling volume by using the touch screen. However, when streaming music over Bluetooth, your phone’s volume control works separately from the Echo Show’s volume; you need to use the volume buttons on the speaker or talk over the music to tell Alexa to turn it up or down.

Yes’ “Roundabout” sounds remarkably good on the Echo Show. The opening acoustic guitar notes have plenty of string texture thanks to strong high-mid and high-frequency presence, and the electric bass sounds punchy and prominent when it kicks in. The high hat, guitar strums, and vocals get a bit more high-end response than sounds natural, but it’s still a fairly balanced, heavily sculpted sound that easily fills a room.

Amazon Echo Show

The Coup’s “Magic Clap” really demonstrates how extreme the Echo Show’s sculpting can be. The rhythmic clapping and Silk-E’s flinty voice come through with plenty of high-frequency presence, and the bass and drums backing the track get plenty of low-end rumble, but Boots Riley’s vocals in the middle frequencies get a bit lost between the two heavily emphasized extremes. Manually turning down the treble and bass and pushing up the midrange helps improve the balance, but it still sounds a bit artificial, if powerful and energetic.

While the Echo Show is easily the most powerful smart display we’ve tested in terms of audio output, its heavily sculpted sound signature keeps it a notch below the JBL Link View in terms of overall audio quality. Of course, the JBL Link View is a Google Assistant device, so if you’re an Alexa user, you’ll be plenty happy with the Echo Show.

Improved in Every Way

The new Echo Show improves on the original in every way. It looks better, sounds better, and does much more, all for the same price. The first Echo Show underwhelmed us with its unremarkable audio quality and its relatively small, dull screen. This version can fill a room with sound, looks remarkably bright and crisp despite its 720p resolution, and incorporates a web browser and several other new features that make it far more usable. It’s a good-looking, impressive-sounding speaker to keep on your kitchen counter, desk, or bedside table, and it earns our Editors’ Choice.

If you haven’t chosen a voice assistant ecosystem yet, the JBL Link View is a very good Google Assistant equivalent to the Echo Show, with a similar size, performance, and price. If you already like Alexa but don’t want to spend more than $200 on a smart display, the Echo Spot is still an excellent bedside clock and speaker that can perform almost everything the Echo Show can, just with a much smaller screen and less power. You can also get an Amazon tablet, like the Fire HD 8, and simply use Show Mode to make it act like an Echo Show, with or without the optional dock, though it won’t sound nearly as good.

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