I see you Amazon. You’ve been sneaky about your home automation conquest, but now there’s no hiding anymore. In the beginning, you were just keeping up with Apple and Google, with your little speakers and the ever-friendly Alexa.
Next, you launched the Echo Look. “Don’t worry” you said to your competitors. It’s just an Echo with a camera, so people can buy clothes and get fashion tips. You guys don’t sell clothes, right?
But the cat is out of the bag Amazon. This new Echo you’ve just launched shows your plans for world domination. You’ve sneakily completed an entire smart hardware ecosystem right under the noses of the competition. So let’s have a look at what Amazon’s been cooking up.
If you want to be cynical about it, the Echo Show is just an Echo speaker with an LCD screen bolted onto it. So in a way, it sounds like something that’s stepping on the toes of a tablet with Alexa running on it.
But this is not a mobile device, like other Echoes you’re supposed to find a spot for the Echo Show in your home that it can be used by everyone. That’s an important difference when compared to a personal mobile device. The fact that it has to be plugged in is testament to that idea.
The screen in question is a seven-inch touchscreen, but ironically the Show is advertised as a totally hands-free system. It makes sense, of course, there are lots of cases where it would simply be quicker to tap a command than speaking it.
Although Amazon doesn’t list things like resolution or refresh rate on the official product page, it probably doesn’t matter all that much. LCD screens, even low-end ones, are all pretty much good for general use and no one is going to notice a retina display on a 7” screen that’s not handheld.
There’s also a 5MP front-facing camera, which turns this into the first “video phone” you may actually want to buy. Underneath the screen, there’s a stereo two-inch speaker array, which is a departure from the speaker setups other Echo devices have. While an Echo speaker has no “front” per se, the Echo Look is meant to be used from one side only, so it makes sense to have TV-style speakers integrated into it.
I has the same near-field microphone technology as the rest of the clan and uses eight mics in total. Apart from the touch screen, there are three physical buttons on top of the unit. Volume up, volume down and a kill-switch for the microphone and camera. It will be interesting to see what Amazon’s advanced microphone array can do for call quality.
Because this is plugged into a wall the need for ultra-low power components is lessened, so you won’t find a Qualcomm CPU in the Show. Instead, we have an Intel Atom x5-Z8350 at the heart of the machine. If you’ve been following mobile computing you may notice that this is the same family of processors that power the Windows Surface tablets.
Android can also be run on these chips, so I doubt that the Amazon Show will have anything related to Windows at its core.
Obviously with the hardware in place Amazon can add all sorts of software functionality to the look. Right now most of the expected stuff is there. For one thing, you can use it as a machine to watch Amazon’s video products. Support for Netflix and Hulu would, of course, be great, but who knows if Amazon will let their competitors in on their hardware. Stranger things have happened though. YouTube is already present and correct, which would have been a deal breaker if it were missing.
One of the most compelling use cases is as a monitor of compatible IP cameras. You can simply ask Alexa to show you a camera and she will. There’s a lot of potential for security applications with the look and perhaps we’ll see things like alarms and automated recording and uploading of footage to the cloud.
Amazon has now solidly turned the Echo from a cool smart speaker to a total AI interface for home automation. Alexa is now essentially an operating platform, bordering on an operating system proper.
The best part of the Show is how it fits in with existing Echo devices. You don’t need to have an Echo Show in every room, the device only makes sense at certain strategic points where the screen will be suitable.
Think of rooms like the kitchen, bedroom or gym which are perfect for a Show. Your living room already has a screen, so an Echo Dot is fine. The show isn’t much more expensive than the big Echo speaker and if you buy them in pairs Amazon will cut you a big discount.
What has changed however is how I would recommend you go about buying into the Echo product line. Before my advice would have been to buy some Echo Dots since there’s no super compelling reason to buy the big Echo in terms of functionality. But the Echo show offers so much more than just a Dot, it makes sense to start with one or two Shows and then build out the system with additional dots as time goes by.
The only reason to start with a Dot now is cost because it’s no longer true that you aren’t losing important functions. The Show is the most complete Echo device on the market.
We shouldn’t forget about the Amazon Echo Look either. It’s almost as new as the Show and is different enough to make them parallel products. Certainly, both the Look and the Show have cameras, but as you may have read elsewhere, the Look as a special camera array made for machine vision applications. On the other hand, unless you’re a fashion fanatic there’s no real reason to buy the Look right now, but I’m sure new applications will launch for that hardware, especially in combination with the Show.
Amazon has thrown down the gauntlet and only time will tell whether Google and their ilk saw it coming or are now on the back foot. What we do know is that right now Amazon has one of the slickest and most complete home AI systems that money can buy. Unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg, that is.
If you’re already a proud owner of Echo speakers, don’t miss out on my compilation of the best accessories to make them even better. They’re still amazing little devices and you’re going to be hanging on to them for a while!