Amazon’s new Echo Show is all about video calling

The always-on Echo Show works like a video-enabled telephone, allowing anyone to drop in with a simple voice command.

May 16, 2017

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The always-on Echo Show works like a video-enabled telephone, allowing anyone to drop in with a simple voice command.

The Echo Show brings a 7in display to Amazon’s already-successful
Echo line of voice assistant devices. Source: Amazon

Amazon is not being shy about its big bets in artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. The company announced two Echo devices just a few weeks apart. One of those is the new Echo Show, a 7in touchscreen and camera designed to make it easy to conduct video calls with friends and family. Unlike the Echo Look, which was unveiled at the end of April, the Echo Show will be available widely for $230. The Look can only be purchased by those who have an invite.

The Echo Show not only adds functionality to Alexa thanks to new hardware, it changes how users interact with an Echo product. The Echo Look added a camera to the digital assistant, but it didn't have a screen and it was really made as a niche device to explore Alexa's ability to judge what's visually appealing. Amazon clearly does not think most people are interested in that. They are interested in video chatting with loved ones, though, as the popularity of Apple's FaceTime has shown.

The advantage of the Echo Show over FaceTime, though, is that it's always on and connected. If people receive a call over the Echo, they can immediately see who's calling and decide whether to answer it. This is aided by a feature called "Drop In," which allows users to see who is online and then request to drop in on that person.

The screen gives Alexa a new way of giving users information, as well. Previous Echo devices were limited by needing to relay information through audio only. Now things like the weather and shopping lists can be pulled up on the screen. Users can also tell Alexa to pull up video content, including YouTube tutorials. To complement video and music content, the Echo Show has two front-facing speakers.

In terms of hardware, the Echo Show will probably not impress. The real appeal of this device is Amazon's features and services built into the Echo. Similar devices exist on the market, but none have the clout that Amazon now has with its Echo line of devices and the omnipresence of Alexa. The camera uses a 5MP sensor, it supports Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n (no ac) and the processor is the now-discontinued Intel Atom x5-Z8350. As Apple does with its hardware, though, Amazon is more interested in end-user experience rather than how the specifications look on paper. That's how Echo has become so successful.

This is actually the kind of hardware that can be found in many Windows devices coming from China manufacturersthese days. Microsoft, of course, has its own competing smart assistant called Cortana. It hasn't been lost on Microsoft how easy it is to convert Windows devices into smart home hubs. Microsoft appears to be pursuing precisely this, in fact, with a feature called HomeHub. A Windows tablet as a smart home hub could be both more powerful and more confusing than the new Echo Show. The real hurdle for Microsoft, though, might be convincing consumers to use Windows this way. Hardware can't do that.

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