Tuesday, July 18, 2017

REVIEW: Amazon Echo Show - Jetsons or Junk?

Amazon Echo Show
Amazon Echo Show

As a kid I was a big fan of the Jetsons, so I dreamed of the day when voice conversations would be video conversations as portrayed in the show. Years later I'd get to work in telecommunications where I had the benefit of working with high end video and teleconferencing technologies so I know what is possible - and I know how hard / expensive it is to do it right!

Despite all of this, I'm also a consumer like you so I don't have wheelbarrows of cash to throw at the problem and my family members aren't as geeky as me, so if there's going to be a video phone in the house - it better be super easy to use.

This is why when Amazon announced the Show, I immediately placed my order for two. I had dreams of having one at home and sending the other cross-country to my parents in Texas where they could easily stream video (and I hoped photos) of my 4 kids from my home to theirs.

Our family already successfully embraced an Echo in the kitchen and I keep an Echo Dot on my bathroom countertop, so I'd consider myself an existing fan of the Amazon Echo platform. In fact, I have a past working history with some of the key people at Amazon who built the Echo, so I wanted to love this product.

Would this be my dream video phone for an affordable price come true, or would it be another close but no cigar attempt at the awesome portrayed by the Jetsons?


The out of box experience was excellent. It was nicely packaged and super simple to set up. It took about 20 minutes of updating before it was ready to go, but aside from that it was pretty painless. That said, I still don't think my 80+ year old parents could set it up, so I feared that I'd probably have to fly to Texas to deliver their unit to them if everything went as planned.

Video Calling Experience

Now I'd love to show you a video of how things went, but video of video is awful and doesn't do any video product any justice. I've tried to do video of video in the past and trolls have destroyed the product I was trying to review because they quite simply are focusing on the quality of the video and not the reality that you see in real life. As a result, I've refrained from going down that path in this review.

With that said, my neighbor works at Amazon so he received his Echo Show the same day. This was handy for me because we were able to quickly do a video call in the evening under poor lighting conditions and really see the Show at its worst.

My experience was that the audio was good - better than your typical cellular phone call - but at night it was clear that that high ISO performance of this video camera wasn't very good. In fact, I'd have to say it was awful - but those were the worst conditions.

Video conditions under good lighting conditions are about the same as a good 720p webcam, but not as good as I have seen from higher end web cams. It's definitely no worse than what you get from your typical Macbook or Windows based laptop though.

Drop In - Not really good as a baby monitor

One interesting (or creepy depending on how paranoid you are) feature is called Drop In where you can instantly connect to another Show without having to call it. One of the benefits of this shown in advertisements is as a baby monitor, but the fixed camera position doesn't really allow for that in a practical way. I have a 20 month old in a crib and thought I'd try this, but it proved to be a distraction for the baby and was immediately taken out of service for this duty.

You can also imagine what can go wrong with Drop In too (definitely won't be replacing the Dot in the bathroom with a Show with Drop In - ha, ha)!. I didn't see a way to limit who could drop in, so it was all or none, but I suspect that limitation will be addressed in software at some point in the future.

I liked the concept for home security purposes while traveling, but again the fixed camera meant that it was pretty useless for that as well. Simply put, this is a good feature that would be better served on a device with a remote controllable camera and of course restricted so that my neighbor can't accidentally drop in on me at night - ha ha.

Compared to FaceTime

I've been using the iPhone since 2008 when the 3G came out, and I've never looked back. When FaceTime came out on the iPhone 4, I was an instant fan. Years later when I'd work on Skype at Microsoft, I embraced Skype but whenever my wife and I were apart we'd gravitate to FaceTime between our iPhones rather than using Skype (which we preferred when we ere on our computers).

To this day the big advantage that I see with FaceTime is that it's on my phone which means I can seek out better light - often a nearby window during the day or bright room at night. It's selfie camera quality before the iPhone 7/7 Plus  wasn't very good, but now that it's improved I have to say that it's still my preferred mechanism for video conferencing with family members. It's also so easy to use my 81 year old mom can figure it out, so that's saying a lot!

Bang for the Buck

in my opinion, my Xbox One with Kinect performs significantly better for video conferencing with Skype which is saying a lot as I have few good things to say about my Xbox One. Given the fact that the Xbox One with Kinect is currently $284 at Amazon and the Echo Show is $229.99, it's easier to recommend the Xbox route as you get a lot more for your money with very little extra to spend. You'll also gain the advantage of being able to Skype with anyone which is a larger audience than those with access to Amazon video conferencing.

However, with the show it feels like you have an embedded Amazon Fire HD laying on its side so there's something nice about having a decent quality touch screen at your fingertips. There's also a lot of fun apps and experiences that you have with the Echo that aren't on the Xbox, so I'd still have to say for what you get that the Show is a very good value.

Overall, I didn't see much of a benefit to the Show over what I was already used to with my Echo. Yes, I could read what Alexa was saying and she'd suggest things to ask her which was nice, but that's not worth the premium price.

Photos Support was Disappointing

Yes, I could show photos - but only temporarily from my Amazon  Photo Albums - not continuously like I do from my Meural frame. This was a MAJOR disappointment for me as I  hoped to use it as a digital frame while it was inactive.

I could change the background photo to a photo of my choice - but only one photo - not a gallery - so that was a huge disappointment too.

Overall, it seems like the folks at Amazon didn't really see the potential this product has as a digital frame so while the picture quality was good - the software implementations were poor - at best. Again, this may improve over time, but I think an idle time slideshow isn't something we'd likely see anytime soon based on how I saw the model for all of the other apps on the device.


I wanted to love the Echo Show and my 8 year old son is really disappointed to see it get returned, but in the end I didn't see much value added over my Echo. If I didn't have an Echo already I probably would have liked it a lot more and kept it.

My biggest gripes was that the audio output level was too low - much worse than the Echo (which is pretty good) and the fixed camera and odd viewing angle made it pretty impractical as a video conferencing experience in my household. It was also a dust magnet (click the photo at the top of the article to see what I mean), so neat freaks are probably going to prefer the white one over the black one which is surely going to show the dust much easier.

This is a 1.0 product made by a team that has a good track record with innovation. I think some of my gripes can be addressed in software, but fundamentally a better video camera that can move around is going to be necessary to make this an experience that has more to offer than your typical laptop. Until then, I'd suggest sticking with your phone or laptop for your personal video conferencing needs and keep an eye on this product for future innovation.

Where to Buy?

CLICK HERE to learn more or buy today.

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I am currently employed by Microsoft and have worked on the Skype team, and I've worked with team members at Amazon who have worked on the Echo. I'm also an Amazon affiliate. The opinions here are my own personal thoughts and do not represent the views of Amazon or Microsoft.

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