It was the middle of May that we were officially told that the new generation of Echo Show devices was coming to Australia. Since then we’ve seen the retail release and had a bit of time with both the Echo Show 5 and Echo Show 8. This has built on the recent experience where we pitted Alexa vs Assistant, and based on the Echo Show 5 experience; Alexa is moving further ahead.
Having recently spent some time with the latest Echo Show 10, the Echo Show 5 feels like a complementary device. Intended to fit into gaps in your daily life, workspace or even bedside table as a smart clock. It is, ignoring its small size (147.72 mm x 85.95 mm x 72.91 mm), an impressive package.
Familiar design and features
Anyone who has, or has used an Amazon Echo Show device in the last few years will immediately recognise it. The general design of the device is minimalistic and unmistakable: The screen, the bezels, the controls and even the positioning of the power inputs. Interestingly, there’s a MicroUSB port on the back of the device which I can’t really figure out. A full-sized USB port or USB-C would be far more useful for charging devices.
The device front is exactly what you’d expect of an Echo Show, it looks like a shrunken version of the 8. While some may see it as a detractor, the screen resolution is pretty low at 960 x 480. I would argue though, that the screen is very small and not intended to be a primary entertainment device. While the resolution is acceptable, at times though, particularly if you’re streaming video it is noticeable. The only real grumble I have about the screen is the automatic light adjustment isn’t particularly good and when the room is dark, the screen really isn’t dim enough without manual adjustment.
The controls too are very familiar, with just four simple options in terms of hardware control:
- A slider to physically block the camera for privacy
- A volume up push button
- A volume down button
- A mute button that disables the mics and camera
The built-in microphones are very good quality as noted a couple of times when calling friends. Not only was the audio quality that they received excellent, but the microphones also picked up almost without fail, calls and requests from across the room and down the hallway. Everything from A/C controls to entertainment and streaming requests.
Internally there’s a single 1.7-inch driver for sound which, honestly, is astounding for the physical size on offer. While it’s not going to stand up to a Sonos or other, higher-end streaming speaker; the Echo Show 5 continues previous experience we’ve had with a good speaker that has a screen attached vs the Google philosophy of a screen with a speaker attached. This results in the Echo Show range of devices offering the best audio experience — that we’ve used — on a smart display.
Keeping in line with other, okay Google, options on the market there are a few other nice features on the Echo Show 5. The scrolling photos are great, and the home screen cycling through weather, news and recent items such as music playback makes accessing items so easy.
Amazon Echo: It’s peak smart home integration
While it’s not got everything, the features and apps aimed at making your home smart are great. In terms of what’s missing, if you’re in the Google platform you’ll find some roadblocks to engaging with an Echo device and Alexa:
- Casting is missing
- You can’t use “Google” streaming services including YouTube, although you can work around this using the built-in browser
- Some services like Kayo Sports don’t have an Alexa skill yet
While there are a few things missing for some users, what the Echo Show 5 does – it does very well. Everything from their own integrated video calling network known as “drop-in”, to automation and home security it generally all just works.
A particular highlight in this area is the integration with Ring, where the skill allows you to have announcements to your speakers when someone is at your door. Perhaps more useful, through a routine, you can automatically open the stream from your doorbell or camera s to your Echo Show device. The novelty value is cool, but if you’re in a two-story house that could be a really welcome capability.
It’s very capable for entertainment
We’ve already mentioned the fact that there are some areas where the Echo Show 5 is lacking when it comes to streaming media. If you’re not using services like Kayo Sports and are happy with YouTube via the built-in browser then you’ll enjoy the other features here.
As you’d expect, Amazon Prime works perfectly and Netflix is a treat. Both are simple touch controls that make navigating your viewing simple and fast. As a complement to the video streaming and — as mentioned earlier — music playback, the sound quality is surprisingly good. Particularly for the broad sound range that it delivers, most impressively, it actually includes reasonable bass.
Don’t get your hopes too high, it’s not going to please an audiophile but for what you pay and the physical size of the display it really is a surprise packet. The sound has plenty of volume to fill a small room and is well balanced to not be intrusive, shrill or droning.
Should you buy one?
During testing, the experience with the Echo Show 5 (2nd Generation) has been dominantly positive. So the short answer of would I recommend one is yes, but with a few caveats. These caveats are a quick revisit of points already made:
- If you’re deeply invested in Google’s services and unwilling to change, move on
- Some streaming services are absent
- The physical size makes this a complementary device, not a primary option
- The audio is great for a device this size, for bigger sound, you’ll spend a lot more
The strengths of the Echo Show 5 and Alexa shine through when you look at smart home and — with the noted service absences — entertainment. I have a suite of home security equipment all of which integrate perfectly through Alexa skills, as do the home automation items we have. Streaming video is smooth and easy to navigate whether it’s an installed app like Netflix, or through the Silk browser on YouTube.
The hardware makes the 2nd Generation Echo Show 5 a great investment too. While it is relatively low resolution, the screen is more than acceptable for its physical size and deals with streaming media well. It’s bright enough for a well-lit room and has pretty good adjustability for dimly lit areas.
Coupled with the great quality of microphone that detects your instructions, or transmits your voice clearly on video calls results in an excellent user experience. While there is a fairly low percentage of potential buyers who will see this as a primary device, it’s ideal in limited space or as a complementary device to your primary smart screens.
I had some bad experiences with Alexa devices in the early days, but the last generation of Echo devices and the experience with Alexa more recently has won me over. If you’re keen to pick one up you can do so online at Amazon, or the usual retail outlets for $119.00 – A bargain for what you’re getting.