Amazon’s mid-sized Echo Show 8 is the best smart display in its range. It is larger and more capable than the small Echo Show 5, while costing much less than the larger Echo Show 10. The Echo Show 8 is useful for watching videos, listening to music, getting weather reports, smart devices for home use and make video calls. , and more.
So it’s no surprise that the second-generation model, which retails for $129.99 and ships this week, isn’t rocking the boat. It’s largely the same smart display as before, but with slightly faster performance and an improved camera for video calls. It has the same screen, design, speaker system and set of features as its predecessor.
It makes sense to improve video calling capabilities, given the amount of video calling that was done while everyone was sitting at home during the pandemic (and to a large extent still sitting). The new Echo Show 8 borrows the 13-megapixel camera from the flagship Echo Show 10, replacing the pathetically low-resolution, mediocre 1-megapixel camera that came in the first generation. As before, there’s a mechanical privacy shutter that you can slide in front of the camera to both turn it off and block the view.
The improvements in video calls are immediately noticeable. You can use the Echo Show for video calls to the Alexa app on phones or other Echo Show devices, or you can make Skype, Zoom or Amazon’s Chime calls from it. In my testing with Zoom calls, the image is much sharper and more pleasant to look at, with better color and much more detail.
The Echo Show 8 doesn’t have the motorized base on the larger Echo Show 10, but it can still automatically frame you and follow you as you move thanks to its high resolution. The autoframing isn’t as good as the Center Stage feature of the new iPad Pro, and it moves much slower and tends to constantly reframe itself, like you’re the star of a Ken Burns documentary. But the Echo Show is a $130 smart screen, not an $800 tablet, so it’s hard to complain as long as you stay relatively still during video calls. If you don’t want the camera to auto-frame, you can say “Alexa follow-off” to turn it off.
That said, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. The new camera has a much wider angle lens, allowing it to perform those auto-framing tricks. But it can also cause the image to look distorted at times and is not always very flattering.
The Echo Show 8’s 8-inch screen works fine for one-on-one video calls, but it’s too small to use comfortably for a group conversation. When you’re on a screen-sharing call, it’s hard to see what’s happening, and while you can view messages posted to a chat, you can’t type anything on the Echo Show’s display. Joining Zoom conversations is done entirely by voice, but it’s much easier to invoke the Zoom app on the Echo Show by saying “Alexa, open Zoom” and then entering a meeting code or launching one yourself. the touch screen.
I’ve also observed an echo of my own voice in several Zoom conversations, both individual and group conversations, making it difficult to use the Echo Show for anything related to work. Other parties on the line also said there was an annoying echo in my voice when I turned off my microphone. Amazon says it is investigating this issue and I will update this review if a fix is found.
The new processor in the second-generation Echo Show 8 makes the smart display more responsive to taps and swipes than its predecessor. It’s not a huge difference, and Amazon’s software still has a long way to go to make it more useful via touch, but when compared side by side, the new menus and screens open up faster.
Elsewhere, the changes are either nonexistent or very minor. The wedge-shaped design is exactly the same; you can still get it in the same white or black color options as before. (Unpleasantly, both colors come with a white power cord.)
The display has the same resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels, but can now adjust its color and white balance according to the lighting in the room. Like the new processor, the difference isn’t huge, but the new model is slightly warmer and more pleasant to look at when the adaptive color setting is enabled. I’m even more impressed with the ability of Google’s Nest Hub to mimic the look of a printed photo by matching the color to the lighting in the room.
The dual driver speaker system is unchanged and sounds just as loud and full as the first generation. The Echo Show 8 can fill a small room with sound surprisingly well, and the bass response is better than expected. Sometimes it may even sound to bassy, but you can easily adjust the EQ in the Alexa app to compensate for that. Unfortunately, Amazon has dropped the 3.5mm output on the back of the new model, so it’s not possible to wire it into a larger speaker system.
You can watch Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and Netflix on the Echo Show, but Disney Plus, Peacock, HBO Max, and many other streaming services aren’t available. YouTube is available through the Echo Show’s Silk browser, but it’s not as seamless as it is available on Google’s Nest Hub, and you can’t easily cast videos from your phone to the Show’s screen.
The Echo Show 8’s software is the same as the software released on the Echo Show 10 earlier this year. Amazon is starting to make better use of the display, with split screens showing weather data alongside news, but it still feels very much like a voice-first device. While the new Echo Show 8 is faster, tapping through all the screens to get to the smart home controls is still a chore, and managing what’s on the display’s rotating information screens requires a lot of menu diving. and try and error to get what you want. (And even then, you’ll probably still be nagged about new Alexa Skills or other Amazon promotions you don’t care about.)
There are, of course, many, many other things you can do with an Echo Show smart display – far too many to cover in the context of this review. The things I find most useful for are weather reports, managing a shopping list, and viewing the video feed from a doorbell or security camera.
The Echo Show 8’s main competition is Google’s second-generation Nest Hub, which has a slightly smaller 7-inch screen and costs $30 less. The Nest Hub supports more video streaming services, has a more convenient touch interface, can track your sleep, and works with the Google Assistant instead of Alexa. But it doesn’t have a camera for video calls, the single speaker is blown away by the Echo Show’s dual speakers, and it’s much slower and laggy to use. Ultimately, the choice comes down to how you want to use the smart display and which smart assistant you prefer.
Facebook’s 10-inch Portal is another option if you plan on using a smart screen primarily for video calls, but it basically loses to the Echo Show 8 in every other aspect.
If you prefer Alexa, the new Echo Show 8 remains the best smart display to get, as it has a screen large enough to read from across the room, doubles as a great speaker, and comes with a host of camera-related features, including the above video calling and security camera features. It’s also over $100 less than the motorized Echo Show 10, while still offering many of the same features and capabilities. And given Amazon’s frequent discounts, you’ll likely be able to find the new Echo Show 8 for less than the sticker price often.
The new Echo Show 8 doesn’t redefine what a smart display can be, but it’s still a very good virtual assistant with a screen at an attractive price.
Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge