We were packing for our family vacation when my wife, Sarah, surprised me with news of her new purchase. I asked her if she’d grabbed “the JBL“, our well-worn Bluetooth speaker, and she said, “I have something better!”
My father-in-law, Andy, is a bit of an early adopter, and so he couldn’t pass up a deal he found online for $100 off the purchase of two of Amazon’s new Echo Show. Sarah, who also loves cool toys and can’t pass up a great deal, bought the second Echo Show from her dad before the box had even arrived at his house.
The Show is a really fun product, featuring all of the capabilities of Amazon’s Alexa and the Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, but now with a 7″, 1024×600 touch-screen display. After the easy setup process, we went right for the video functionality, trying to appease our 3-year-old’s desire to hear HandClap for the millionth time by asking aloud for Alexa to “play HandClap by Fitz and the Tantrums on YouTube.”
After downloading the Alexa app on our phones, it was easy to link our Spotify and Pandora accounts. You can then use the phone to select stations, skip, etc. through the Alexa app. Just a moment ago, while sitting upstairs at my desktop, I opened Spotify on my phone, selected Sarah’s Echo Show as my playback device, and turned up Echo Show’s volume through the Spotify app – and I can hear the music clearly, across the house and one floor up!
We instantly loved how easy it is to connect new skills to the Echo Show through the Alexa app. Our first two downloads were Quick Remote, which we used to select channels on the Roku via voice command, and Tell Lord Vader, which we used for the lolz.
Alexa can help you organize your day with to-do lists, and my wife has made use of Alexa’s timer on several occasions while cooking – it’s nice for her to be able to start a timer, hands-free, simply by asking Alexa to “start a timer for ten minutes.” When left idle, the Echo Show’s scrolling news feed can provide a source of entertainment and updates on what’s going on in the world, and seems to feature a lot of cool and quirky stories along with more important current events. Perhaps the coolest feature of the Show, however, is the ability to make video calls to and from other Echo Shows and mobile devices.
Once we settled in on our recent vacation, we set up the Show on the kitchen table and asked Alexa to “call Papa”, Papa being my father-in-law (from my daughter’s point of view). My daughter loved being able to see and talk to her Nana and Papa, and the 7″ screen and robust speaker make it very easy to communicate, even if you step out to the next room. My daughter hasn’t yet gotten the hang of talking to Alexa, but we expect that she’ll soon be blowing up Nana & Papa’s Echo Show with unsolicited video calls.
Another cool feature – something that I haven’t seen on any other device – is the ability to “Drop In” on an Echo Show. If you choose to authorize someone on your contact list to Drop In, they can press the “Drop In” button on the Alexa app (or ask their Echo Show to drop in on yours) to start an instant video call between your Echo Show and the authorized device. We found this helpful on vacation when I was down at the pool, as I could speak briefly with my wife without her having to answer the call.
While there are a ton of great things to be said in review of the Show, we have noticed a couple of areas that we felt were lacking. The first thing that we’ve noticed is that Alexa is very good at interpreting your voice commands……. so long as everything is somewhat quiet in the room. Ambient noise or other people speaking in the background seems to confuse Alexa pretty easily… and in a house with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old running around, we find that we run into this pretty often! I searched briefly on Google for a resolution to this issue, but the initial results seemed to indicate that there is no adjustment for the mic sensitivity.
Do you know of a fix for this problem? Let me know in a comment below!
The other thing that’s disappointed us a bit is that, as of this writing, there is virtually no streaming video for the Show! We have subscriptions (or… access to subscriptions……) for Hulu, Netflix, and SlingTV, but we can’t watch ANY of them on the Show right now!! Technically, this isn’t Amazon’s fault, as they have developed an API for video content providers.. it’s just that Dish seems to be the only provider that has developed a skill for Alexa to date (end of July, 2017).
One last thing that I can think of that’s been driving me nuts – and again, this probably isn’t Amazon’s fault – is that Alexa doesn’t seem to be able to play your Spotify playlists via voice command.
I can pick my own stations on the Spotify app on my phone and play them on the Echo Show…
I can play public Spotify stations from the Echo Show via voice command…
But, I cannot seem to get Alexa to play our personal Spotify playlists via voice command. Pandora will play my personal radio stations via voice command, so perhaps the issue is that there’s some room for improvement in Spotify’s interface with Alexa.
All-in-all, for around $200, is the Echo Show worth it? We think so! It is really cool to have around the house and can add a little fun or ambiance for everyday life and get-togethers. While I wouldn’t necessarily set up the JBL to play some music from my phone in the evening, it’s nothing for me to simply ask Alexa to “play Frank Sinatra radio” for a little bit of background when Sarah is cooking dinner.
My next big idea is to buy a Z-Wave controller that I can use to resurrect some of my 1st-gen Iris home automation components… I did the research on Z Wave controllers that will work with 1st-gen Iris components, and now I am hoping to get to the point that I can ask Alexa to “set the thermostat to 70 degrees!” I’m pretty excited to see what else the Echo Show can do, and am definitely happy with our purchase so far. I’ll keep you posted when I get around to setting up the Z-Wave controller! Any recommendations??