Echo Show 8 review: A solid compromise

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At this point, you would be forgiven for losing track of Amazon Echos. The Echo Show 8 is the third Show smart speaker you can currently buy, ignoring all the older generation ones, and it sits in a range that encompasses five other smart speakers (Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Studio, Echo Dot and Dot with Clock) as well as plugs, inputs and buttons. 

 
So where does this sit in the big Echo family and, more importantly, is it worth your time and money?

Echo Show 8 review: What you need to know

The Amazon Echo, if you didn’t know, is a speaker with an AI virtual assistant called Alexa. It can respond to voice commands from “Alexa, how’s my commute looking?” to “Alexa, play Hotel Yorba by The White Stripes”. The Echo Show is the same, but it adds a screen to the mix.

 
What’s the point of having a screen on a smart speaker? That’s a question Amazon is still coming to terms with but it does have its uses, from streaming Amazon Prime Video to showing graphics for a seven-day forecast when you ask about the weather.
 
This new version is 8in in size, putting it between the 5in cheap version and the expensive 10in Echo Show 2.

Echo Show 8 review: Price and competition

The Echo Show 8 has a list price of £120 but as it’s been released bang in the middle of Amazon’s Black Friday sales, it’s already available for £60, which is a bit of a bargain.
 
But let’s treat it at the list price for the purpose of fair comparisons. The Echo Show 5 is £40 less at £80, while the second-generation Echo Show normally sells for £100 more at £220.

 
Just like the smart speaker market, the smart screen fight is largely being contested between Amazon and Google. The two Google screens are the £120 Nest Hub (née Google Home Hub and also half price for Black Friday) and the £220 Nest Hub Max. These are similar, but use Google Assistant and, crucially, let you stream supported apps to the screen (Plex, Netflix, etc.) via Chromecast. Notably, only the larger model has a camera for video calls.

Echo Show 8 review: Design

Looks-wise, the Echo Show 8 is just a larger version of the Echo Show 5, although as the screen is bigger, the bezels look less prominent, leading to a slightly classier look. A triangular base houses the speaker, with the screen facing outwards at a slight angle. As with the smaller one, you can physically cover the camera shutter using a switch on top, and there’s a button to mute the speaker too, for privacy. 

The 8in touchscreen has a resolution of 1,280 x 800, which is an improvement on the 960 x 480 panel found in the Show 5, and actually the same as the 10in model. That means you’re getting the highest pixel density (ppi) of all the Amazon smart screens here.

 
The screen itself is fine, by the way: perfectly bright and vibrant, although a little reflective, which is something to consider if you have a lot of natural light where you’re planning to put the speaker.
 
It’s also not the nicest screen to touch and has a plastic, toy-like feel which is a fingerprint magnet. This isn’t an issue beyond the initial setup where you have to type in your password, though. After that, it’s mainly short taps and swipes with voice controls taking over proceedings.

Echo Show 8 review: Performance

As an Echo smart speaker, the Show 8 is a decent performer and it does everything a regular Echo does, including music, trivia and smart home control. I’d peg sound quality somewhere between the third-generation Echo Dot and a full-sized Echo, which isn’t bad going and perfectly serviceable for a smart screen. Crucially, the dual 2in, 10W speakers are a big step up on the single 1.7in, 4W speaker that powers the Echo Show 5’s audio.

 

But the full-size Echo is cheaper than this (outside of Black Friday sales, anyway), so does the screen actually add anything? It certainly has the potential but outside video calls and being able to check up on supported security cameras, said potential isn’t met most of the time. 
 
Yes, normal Alexa functions are mildly enhanced – you’ll get weather icons on screen, lyrics for songs played on Amazon Music Unlimited, radio news footage is replaced with television clips, and you can use your finger to skip to a certain part of a given song – but most of the time it’s either just transcribing the words Alexa says, or acting as a glorified digital photo frame showing other people’s photos. Yes, you can set your own photos to appear on the Show when idle, but it’s a fiddly process and far less fluid than on the Google Nest Hub, which just shows any pictures on Google Photos with no third parties required.

 
There are exceptions to this. The recipes function is quite good, for example. Say “Alexa, show my recipes for tacos” and a selection of text recipes from BBC Good Food will appear on the screen. Pick one, and then Alexa will read out the text on screen, step by step. When you’re ready for the next stage, just say “Alexa, next step”.
 
Certain third-party skills are also enhanced. If you’ve ever played the Deal or No Deal, or Pointless games on an Echo, you’ll find they’re infinitely improved by graphics from the shows themselves.
 
The other key function is video. While this should be a killer feature, it isn’t as good as it could be. This is partly down to a lack of app support: there’s no iPlayer, Netflix or Plex, with only Prime Video being built-in directly. Yes, you can work around this using the built-in Firefox or Silk web browsers but this is slow and fiddly and far from guaranteed to work. I had limited success with Plex but it was like pulling teeth. So how is Amazon Video? If you have a Prime subscription, then all Amazon’s videos are available to you and can be kicked off via voice commands. Just say “Alexa, play The Office” or “Alexa, play Seinfeld” and it’ll play the next episode where you last left off. It gets a bit more fussy if you want a specific episode, though.
 
Ask for Seinfeld season 2 episode 12, or even just season two and Alexa can’t handle it. You can load up the Prime app, but with no way of searching for specific programmes, you’re stuck with a selection of whatever Amazon’s algorithm thinks you should be enjoying, rather than what you actually want to enjoy.  
It’s a similar story with YouTube. When I asked Alexa to play a taco recipe on YouTube, it played the top result, which was a Mexican Taco Pizza recipe. In other words, it’s not the easiest way to get at the videos you want and, while you can ask Alexa to “show” you Taco recipes on YouTube, which then gives you a selection to choose from, it’s still not as easy as just finding the video you want on your phone and then Chromecasting it, like you can with the Google Nest Hub.

Echo Show 8 review: Verdict

 
It may sound like I’m down on the Echo Show 8, but I’m actually not. If you’re into the Amazon ecosystem then it’s a reasonable smart speaker with a screen attached and a huge library of shows to make doing the washing up slightly less tedious.
 

For me, though, the Google Nest Hub is a better buy. Google Assistant is smarter and the ability to Chromecast video means that you can find exactly what you want to watch, rather than relying on Alexa to second guess you.

 
If you’re a fully paid-up member of Team Alexa, though, then the Echo Show 8 is a good value product which neatly plugs the gap between the budget-feeling Echo Show 5 and the offputtingly expensive 10in model. Viewed through that Amazon-centric lens it’s the perfect compromise.



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