No matter which flavour of digital assistant you prefer you have to admit that Amazon were not just first to the party but set the bar extremely high with their smart displays. Since then others have come at them with their best efforts and yet Amazon continues to iterate and improve with each product.
Everything that Amazon has learnt from their early generations show in the complete package they bring to the Echo Show 8. The smart display has everything you could want from a smart display in 2020, well nearly everything but that depends on where you sit on the ecosystem fence — although there are workarounds that may suffice.
Let’s sift through the different things that Amazon do well and everything, if anything, they don’t when it comes to their Echo Show 8.
The design is as expected, as is the hardware
The Alexa design is just as those that have come before it — from a distance. Available in a black or white colour the Echo Show 8 has a rounded wedge-shaped design with a cloth backing on the rear of the device.
The design is very minimalistic with just a few functional buttons on the top of the device and three ports visible on the rear. The three ports are the power socket, a microUSB port for charging devices — not all that useful in 2020 to be honest, and a headphone jack.
The buttons on the top are the volume up and down buttons and a privacy switch each for Alexa listening (ie. turns microphones off) and a slider to physically slide a cover over the lens to prevent snooping for those security and privacy conscious.
The Echo Show 8 makes for a device that is not overly huge and bulky such as the 10-inch Echo Show and not too small to really be much use from any more than a metre or so like the Echo Show 5.
The front of the device features an 8-inch touch LCD display with a 1280 x 800 pixel resolution — the same resolution as the bigger Echo Show and a better resolution than the Show 5. The display is crisp, bright and colourful allowing for viewing at quite a wide viewing angle.
The display has an auto-dimming function that worked better than any other smart display I have tested out with it dimming quite low when the lights were off and up bright when the lights were on — as you would and should expect.
Inside are two far field microphones which worked extremely well even when calling quietly from a different room.
Accompanying the mics were a couple of 2-inch drivers powered by up to 10 watts. It may not sound like much but the sound produced was actually quite good — for a smart display. While not at the Nest Hub Max quality it was better than the Nest Hub and better than the Lenovo Smart Display 8 which we reviewed recently. The sound was able to go quite loud without any significant distortion and the bass was not bad — it once again was not Bose or Sonos smart speaker quality but was definitely decent enough.
The speaker quality can also be further improved by adjusting the equaliser found in the Alexa app on your smartphone or on the smart display itself — Amazon have made a device where you barely need the smartphone for anything — not for setting it up, not for playing music etc.
The Echo Show 8 use their own protocol for video calling and as such the person on the other end will also need to either have their own Echo Show of some variety to be able to video chat with you or have the Alexa app installed and logged in to. The Alexa app is free on the Play Store and anyone can create an account so if this is something you want to use it can be easily done.
The quality of the camera has come under fire from some sections of the tech world but although the camera was only 1MP it looked to be crisp, well detailed and without much noise to me. The video quality was actually surprising given that the camera is only 1MP.
Alexa features the Echo Show 8 does well and some it doesn’t
Amazon has a more mature smart home ecosystem than Google and it shows with a lot more integration — in saying that though there was no easy way for me to integrate my Fibaro Z-wave controller like there is with Google Home. All other smart home products integrated well with plenty of functionality — things such as my Samsung TV had better integration than with Google Home.
Of course if you have a Ring camera or doorbell the Echo Show devices are the only smart displays that can be used to show the cameras. It is not automatic but if you get a notification you just ask the device to show the camera you want it to:
“Alexa, show [Ring Device Name]”
“Alexa, hide [Ring Device Name]”
“Alexa, Go Home”
Prime Video, as you would expect, is quite good and there are also various streaming apps for the smart display such as ABC iView.
It is good for Amazon Music (and Apple Music and Spotify) but no good for Google Play Music or YouTube Music. The display, as stated above, has some decent-sounding speakers so it is ideal for listening to music videos — although there is no YouTube access unless you access it through the YouTube website rather than an app. No YouTube app is a big miss for the Echo Show 8 and to be honest I cannot see it ever arriving given the existing animosity between Amazon and Google.
Of course there is a work around to get access to YouTube — ask Alexa to open its browser, then navigate to YouTube, log in and you are good to go.
“Alexa, open Silk”
“Alexa, open Firefox”
“Alexa, open YouTube” [which opens YouTube in your default browser — either Silk or Firefox]
Another glaring omission, but for this one there is no workaround, is Netflix which is unusual. The display is certainly good enough to display Netflix given the Nest products that support casting to them. Maybe one day.
I liked how the display scrolled through various functions on top of photos and images I have chosen — for example it scrolled through various news items, weather and possible Alexa instructions that I may need at that time. Some may not like that if they are using it as a photo frame but I did not mind it at all.
So who should buy it?
Do you own a Ring doorbell or camera(s) and want to be able to show them on a smart display? Have you chosen the Amazon side of the smart home fence or are you still sitting on the fence and have both? Do you have full access to the full suite of Amazon products?
If any of the above are you then this is the smart display that you should be looking for. It has a great sound to it. The display is sharp, bright and colourful. The design is stylish and a perfect size without being too large and obtrusive.
The far field microphones are great for picking up commands accurately and quickly. There is no repeating of instructions here — as long as you don’t mumble too much at it of course.
The device is only let down by not having YouTube or Netflix app support which could be a deal breaker for many people — but accessing YouTube is not that difficult. For me I have enough Ring video cameras for it to be useful. I like being able to ask it to show the camera and it is a darn sight faster than trying to access the camera on my phone.
To get full use out of it though I would need to get myself full access to Amazon Unlimited Music.
The Amazon Echo Show is easily the best smart display that Amazon have made in my opinion which is really staying something. If you are already well invested in the Amazon ecosystem, and even if you are not then this is a great device to consider — just don’t expect to play Netflix on it.
The Amazon Echo Show 8 is available online now for $229 from Amazon (obviously) with free shipping for Prime members.