Amazon’s Echo devices have come a long way since the release of the original Echo in 2014.
The Echo Show 5 is the latest addition to the family of smart speakers and displays.
In essence, it is a shrunken version of the Echo Show which is a rather large device guaranteed to be put in the living room or kitchen. The Echo Show 5 however is designed for smaller spaces, such as a bedside table, or even a home office.
It shares the same overall design as the 2nd generation Echo Show, with a sort of boxy prism design. Surrounding the 5.5” touchscreen is either a white or charcoal bezel and matching mesh around the device. It seems both Google and Amazon are going for soft materials to give these devices are much warmer and inviting vibe.
Due to the prismatic shape of the Echo Show 5 it just looks like a standing screen on your table, which is to say, there’s really nothing too special about this design. Unlike the Google Nest Home Hub, which has a unique pedestal design that gives it something to stand out. I do also wish that the Echo Show 5 came in more colors than just the standard white / charcoal (the Nest Home Hub comes in Aqua and Sand in addition to White and Charcoal).
The top of the Echo Show 5 has precisely the buttons you expect it to; a mute button which disables the camera and microphone, separate volume up and down buttons, and there’s a slider that covers the camera, in case you just don’t trust the mute button. It also has two microphones to listen to your commands.
Unlike the Google Nest Hub, Amazon included a 720p camera in case you wanted to drop in on the device, or you wanted to video chat with another Echo Show user.
With the Google Nest Hub I totally understood Google’s decision to omit a camera, and I wrote that while they can mainly promote it as a privacy issue, I was more convinced it was because they don’t have a video chatting platform worth discussing.
Amazon however does have a video chatting service. Echo devices can call each other, with video appearing if it is two Echo Show’s. Additionally, you can call from the Alexa app on your phone, and even Drop In on an Echo show directly from your phone.
This feature was met with some hesitation, because the Echo owner didn’t need to answer the call. However you need to opt-in with the feature, and ultimately it’s useful for those with elderly friends or family members that they can easily check in on without the need to teach them how to operate the Echo.
The back of the device houses the single 4W speaker, as well as the power port, a microUSB port, which I assume is for servicing, and a 3.5mm audio jack so you can connect it to a better speaker that you may have laying around.
If the mention of the 4W speaker makes you think, “that doesn’t sound like a lot”, you’ve got keen detective skills, well done. A 4W speaker isn’t particularly powerful or loud, but it suffices for low volume background music. I’ve been listening to Spotify whilst writing this review and am pleased with the audio performance. It obviously doesn’t rattle my neighbors’ fillings with the bass, but it’s present enough without distorting the rest of the sound. As with most small speakers, the louder you set it, the less impressive it sounds, but thankfully around 35-50% volume fills the room and sounds good for casual listening.
The screen has a whelming resolution of 960 x 480, putting it 195ppi. Perfectly acceptable for something that is designed to be used at a distance, and whose primary interface isn’t the screen.
The one feature I would have liked to see implemented is the use of an ambient light sensor to adjust the screens color temperature accordingly. This is something that most smartphones implement, as well as the Echo’s rival, the Google Nest Hub.
The software is the same that you’ll find on the Echo Show, which I’ve come to really enjoy. My only gripe is that it’s not exactly the fastest device in the world. It’s not laggy in terms of touch input or animation, just a little slow when it comes to jumping between applications, for example when going from Spotify to the Smart Home section takes five seconds or so. I realize this isn’t a large amount of time, just in comparison to the speedy smart phones we’re used to it appears a bit slow.
In my Google Nest Hub review, I complained that the main feature it was missing was some sort of customizable home screen. My favorite feature of the Echo Show is logically present in the Echo Show 5, and that’s the ability to change up what shows on the home screen, and I’m not just talking about your family photos.
You can of course choose the background image, as well as the style of the clock, but more specifically you have the option of an ever-rotating slideshow of curated content, like trending topics in the news and from pop culture, as well as reminders, sports team scores and upcoming games, new recipes etc.
The reason I enjoy this so much is that it gives the display a purpose, and prompts engagement with the device. Otherwise it ends up being a glorified photo frame that doesn’t end up being much more useful than the cheaper Echo Dot or Google Home Mini.
Navigating around the Echo Show 5 is straightforward, though you probably won’t be doing much of it, as speaking to Alexa is still the primary UI. A swipe down will give you quick access to the home screen, brightness slider, do-not-disturb and the settings. It will also show active music if you’re playing anything.
Swiping right will scroll between the clock and the aforementioned homescreen topics. Swiping left will bring up the rest of the quick access apps, such as Communication, which lets you initiate calls or announcements. This menu also lets you quickly access your smart home devices and groups. It shows these are large icons, which makes quick selections easy, but if you have a large amount of smart home devices you might find yourself scrolling for quite a while.
Thankfully you can display by groups (rooms) or by types of devices. This whole menu is probably really only useful if you either have a small number of devices, or if you want to turn groups of devices on or off all at once.
It’s worth noting that for whatever reason, you can’t change the color of a light in this menu, only the brightness. You’ll need to actually ask Alexa to change the color of your Hue lights. Weird.
There’s one primary location where the smaller Echo Show really shines. That’s the bedside table.
At the bedside table, it basically works as the worlds fanciest alarm clock. And it is an excellent alarm clock.
There is a built-in mode called “Sunrise Effect” which will gradually increase the brightness of the screen beginning 15 minutes before your alarm is set, essentially mimicking a sunrise.
This sort of feature will be especially nice in the winter when many of us get up before dawn. I would like to see this featured evolved to integrate with lights, so that your lights turn on at the same rate, rather than just the screen.
Combined with the routine automation controls in the Alexa app, you can make the Echo Show 5 quite the morning machine. A basic but useful example is to turn your bedroom lights on, go through your upcoming events, and tell you the weather and news once you turn your alarm off.
Of course, you can do all of this with an Echo Dot, however once you get accustomed to having the screen with the constant scroll of information, it becomes invaluable, because you don’t need to specifically seek it out.
Additionally, most of the time I really don’t want to talk to it. Especially first thing in the morning, or if my wife is asleep (though you could whisper if you wanted). There’s still a level of apprehension I believe we all have when it comes to using a device only with our voices.
Sometimes being able to just touch the screen to interact with a device is the path of least resistance, and for that reason I really appreciate having a smart display that offers both a great voice AI and a simple screen interface.
All of this brings us to the golden question.
Should you buy it?
Considering all of the features Alexa brings to the table, along with the excellent interface and experience, this is a device I can happily recommend to anyone.
Alarm clocks may have fallen to the wayside in favor of your phone, but the Echo Show 5 is the alarm clock your bedside deserves.