Amazon Echo Show 5 Review: Alexa With a Display Makes For a Cool Smart Assistant
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Whose bedside table doesn’t need a generous helping of smartness?

The Amazon Echo family of the Alexa virtual assistant based smart speakers just keeps on growing. A quick count right now has us at the Echo Dot, the Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Spot, the Echo Show and the Echo Show 5. And that is before we consider the Echo Input and the Echo Sub accessories as well. The Echo Show 5 is the latest addition to the line-up, catching on the trend where consumers seem to prefer a display to go with their smart speaker. Even within the Echo line-up, the Echo Show 5 is the third smart display. If you are left scratching your head at this point, don’t worry, because we shall decipher the entire conundrum for you.

How much will it cost you? The Echo Show 5 is priced at Rs 8,999 and this means it is the lowest priced smart display that you can buy. The comparative in many ways Google Nest Hub costs a little bit more. The Echo Spot is priced at Rs 12,999 and that is a tad perplexing now that the line-up includes this Echo Show 5, while the genuinely brilliant Echo Show will set you back by Rs 22,999.

What is the difference? The Echo Show 5 has a 5.5-inch display (960 x 480 resolution). This packs in a 1.65-inch speaker and has a 1-megapixel front facing camera for video calls, drop-ins and video communications. The Echo Spot, which has been around for a while now, has a 2.5-inch round display. The round display does add a rather genuine dollop of uniqueness to the user experience, but it also limits the utility to an extent if you wish to watch video content. Inside is a 1.4-inch audio speaker and a VGA front camera. At the very top of the pyramid sits the Echo Show, with its large 10.1-inch display (1280 x 800 resolution). This has a 5-megapixel front facing camera too. Audio is great too, as the Echo Show packs in dual 10-watt audio drivers and a passive radiator for lower frequencies. This smart display also supports Dolby Audio, which genuinely makes a lot of difference.

What does it look like? At first glance, the Echo Show 5 looks like a shrunken Echo Show, and it is, for most intents and purposes. The wedge shape design is retained and is covered in fabric this time around as well—right now you get the option of black and white. Whether this is more practical or not depends on where you intend to keep the Echo Show 5. On a bedside table perhaps, or your work desk maybe, and that is where it surely sits more comfortably. All scenarios where your proximity to the smart display will be close, the smaller Echo Show 5 will be a better fit. But if you wish to keep a smart display on an end table, a kitchen counter, the dining table or somewhere in the entertainment console, the larger display of the Echo Show will be significantly more intuitive when you communicate with Alexa from afar.

Is it a visual delight? The simple fact is that this 5.5-inch screen will not really win any display quality awards. It isn’t the sharpest or the richest, but then again, it is made for a purpose and it delivers on that purpose to the fullest. There is the auto brightness mode which adjusts its illumination according to the intensity of lighting in the room and goes completely dark with very dark red font colour for the clock, if you turn off all the lights before hitting the bed at night. Media looks acceptable on this, and that is a successful tick off on the checklist. The basics are in place—the time and weather are available at a glance, and there are enough customization options too.

How about the music? The 1.65-inch speaker this packs in is slightly larger than the rounded Echo Spot. Which means it should theoretically be marginally better when you play back music. The difference in the real world is minimal, but if you listen closely, the Echo Show sounds wider than the Echo Spot, which means more details filter through to your ears. One of the reasons for this is the comparatively wider grille area that the speaker has access to, in terms of delivering the audio. “Alexa, play some new Bollywood music” generates a stream of tunes that are definitely loud and most certainly well detailed to hear. However, you will at times miss the lower frequencies, but that is to be expected since this doesn’t have a passive radiator to deliver the thump. All said an done, this delivers for a variety of content, including music, news updates, weather updates, search results and podcasts.

Can it hear me well? It is an interesting trend. The Echo speaker (the audio-only one, mind you) has 7 microphones built-in, to hear your voice commands. The larger Echo Show has four. Both work with equal accuracy in the same setup and placement scenarios. The Echo Show 5 has only two microphones. And not once did it fail to hear out my commands, irrespective of where I was standing in the room. This is a testament to the fact that Amazon is incredibly confident about its microphones doing the job perfectly, and from what I have experienced, it is truly spot on. And that neatly leads us to the next topic, a very important one mind you.

But what about my privacy? Yes, that is one question which is getting a lot of traction these days, with almost any device that brings a camera and microphones to your bedroom or living room. You don’t need to even look too carefully to realize that there is a toggle switch on the top spine of the Echo Show. First, there is a mute button to turn off the microphones, in case you don’t want Amazon (or possible third-party humans) listening to a clip of your audio conversation with someone. This button was there in the Echo Show as well as the audio-only Echo speakers. The big other addition nevertheless is the shutter button, which physically blocks the front camera lens apart from just the software only option that is also there in the settings app. If someone decides to drop-in at this point, they will only be able to do a voice call with you.

Does it have any skills? Yes, the same set of skills as the larger Echo Show. The Amazon Prime Video library is at your beck and call, for instance. You can browse the web, and get tasks done by third party apps—book a ride with Uber, play music from your Saavn library, open a radio station or control smart home devices with a simple voice command. If you have a smart security camera installed at home, for instance the Mi Home Security Camera 360, you can pull up the live video feed to view on this display.

What is the fine print? A rather unlikely source that can cause you to sigh is Google. Even though Google and Amazon are now rediscovering their friendship and giving each other access to YouTube official apps, Google Cast support and what not, there are some things that still haven’t caught their attention. At present, this smart display doesn’t give you access to YouTube. Nor do you get access to your Google Photos. In my case, Google Photos is the default storage point for all photos from the smartphone, and it would be truly great to have had access to those photos on the Echo Show 5 and indeed the Echo Show. Secondly, the wallpaper can only be changed by uploading an image from the Amazon Alexa app (free for Android and iOS), and that’s just not smart enough support for a truly cool smart display.

Do I need one? Well, whose bedside table doesn’t need a generous helping of smartness adorning it? Or for that matter, this can be your companion in the kitchen, on the dining table or even the living room. The Echo Show 5 tries to do everything that the very capable larger sibling does. In a more compact form factor that makes it incredibly more versatile for a lot of usage scenarios. The Alexa Sunrise feature for the alarms ensures the screen gradually illuminates when it is time for you to wake up, all the skills and ability to control the smart home devices with your voice, Amazon Prime Video at your beck and call, music streaming or news and weather updates at a simple call-out and more, with a display that looks great irrespective of where it is kept. If you already own an Amazon Echo speaker, you would know the versatility of the Alexa assistant. The display just adds a visual treat which adds a new dimension. If you are looking to buy an Echo smart speaker for the first time, the Echo Show 5 should be what you splurge on.

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