Five Thoughts on the Amazon Echo Show

And what happens when a voice-first company makes a device with a screen

Jan Dawson
Jun 30, 2017 · 8 min read

The Screen – hamstrung and laggy

The touch screen is the biggest single feature of this device that’s new, so I’ll start there. I’ve long argued that voice assistants need a screen for visual confirmation, for results to queries too complex to handle by voice alone, for recipes, and so on. So I was eagerly anticipating the implementation of that feature on this device.

Communication and contact friction

One of the common themes in the formal reviews I read was that the reviewers had no-one to test video calling with except the nice person at Amazon PR. Given that these testers had in many cases already been emailing with that PR person, calling them was likely straightforward because their names appeared in the list of contacts on the Echo Show. But in real-world use, things are rather different, as I discovered when I started testing the feature.

Speakers are great but intimidating

The speakers on the Echo Show are, as promised, quite a bit better than those on earlier Echos and the Google Home. The loudness and clarity are both much improved, and sitting right in front of the speaker is uncomfortable when the volume is all the way up.

A video device with no way to browse video

One of the things the screen on the Echo Show can do is play video, currently only from Prime Video and YouTube. As such, you might expect voice commands such as “Alexa, browse Amazon Prime Video” would bring up a selection of videos to watch, but you’d be wrong. There doesn’t seem to be any way to browse Prime Video at all. There isn’t even a Prime Video skill or app. However, if you know exactly what you want to watch, you can call it up – “Alexa, play Man in the High Castle” brings up a listing of episodes for the Amazon original, and similar commands work for other videos found in Prime Video and YouTube. This feels like another example of the limitations of a voice-only interface — Amazon doesn’t seem to think users will want to browse anything, merely invoke specific content by name.

Naggy home screen

I should note here that I’ve had the Echo Show sitting next to me on my desk while I work, in order to enable frequent testing as things have occurred to me throughout the day. One thing that’s made me very aware of is the home screen on the device, which is always on unless the device is effectively turned off, and which displays a continuous cycle of messages throughout the day. Those messages, in turn, combine the somewhat useful with the completely inane, as shown in the time lapse video embedded below:

Final thoughts

As I mentioned at the top, I was intrigued by the notion of a voice speaker with a screen, because the screen could potentially add a lot of value. And there are glimpses of that added value with the Echo Show. But for today, the implementation is still flawed in some pretty big ways, from the laggy screen to the selective use of touch as an interface, to the nagging home screen and the high-friction process of adding new contacts. Much of this could be easily fixed in software updates, and I’d hope that Amazon will make quick changes to deal with some of these frustrations. Whether it does or not will indicate both how serious it is about this device, and the degree to which it’s willing to sacrifice its voice-first approach to true usability.

Beyond Devices

A blog about consumer technology from Jan Dawson and Jackdaw Research. Original home at www.beyonddevic.es. Jan Dawson is an analyst and consultant who helps consumer technology companies understand market trends and devise strategies for success.

Jan Dawson

Written by

Director, Research & Insights, Vivint Smart Home. Previously, Founder and Chief Analyst at Jackdaw Research.

Beyond Devices

A blog about consumer technology from Jan Dawson and Jackdaw Research. Original home at www.beyonddevic.es. Jan Dawson is an analyst and consultant who helps consumer technology companies understand market trends and devise strategies for success.