Since its inception in 2015, Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant has always been a disembodied digital form trapped in a box of electronics. The original Echo was a cylinder, later models have had a spherical shape, and the Echo Show devices are effectively wedges with screens on the front. Alexa behaves in the same way on all of them: you ask it to do something, then it provides a polite response and does that thing.
The new $249.99 Echo Show 10, which starts shipping on February 25th, is the first Alexa-powered device that is more than just a speaker or a screen sitting on your shelf. It is, simply put, an Alexa device that moves — just a little.
The Echo Show 10’s motorized base allows Alexa to spin the screen around so it is facing you, and the built-in camera and tracking algorithms allow it to keep the screen pointed in your direction whenever you’re using it. It’s a little glimpse into a future Alexa robot that could become much more than a voice powered remote control.
It’s just a glimpse, though, and Alexa in the new Echo Show 10 is largely the same Alexa you get on the prior Echo Show and every other Alexa-powered smart display. You ask it for information — a weather report, a favorite playlist, news, calendar appointments, and so on — and it will give you a polite response and show the requested information on the screen.
Unlike the prior Echo Show models, which all share a similar wedge shape, the Echo Show 10 has a completely new design, with a floating touchscreen above a cylindrical base. This allows the Show 10 to do two things the prior version couldn’t: tilt its screen and spin around nearly 360 degrees.
Tilting the screen requires you to manually pivot the screen forward or back, but the spinning happens automatically thanks to the silent brushless motor inside the base of the Show 10. Both of these capabilities make it much easier to position the screen just right, whether you are using it to watch Bridgerton on Netflix (yes, the Echo Show supports Netflix now!) or place a video call to a family member across the country.
Along with that motor, the base houses three speakers: a 3-inch downward-facing woofer and two 1-inch tweeters, which are positioned just below the screen. This ensures that whenever the screen is facing you, the speakers are as well.
The display is the same 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 touchscreen from the prior model. It’s certainly far from the highest resolution screen in your home, but it’s vibrant and bright enough to see from a few feet away. Around the display is a chunky bezel, which isn’t a problem I will care about until Amazon comes out with a model that has a thinner, more modern bezel that immediately makes this one look silly.
The top edge of the screen has a mute button, volume up and down, and a shutter that you can use to block the view of the camera. The prior 10-inch Echo Show didn’t have a physical shutter, though Amazon did add it to the smaller Echo Show 5 and Echo Show 8.
In the upper right corner of the bezel is a new 13-megapixel camera. The camera is a central component for the Echo Show 10’s ability to track your position and move itself accordingly. Amazon tells me it uses echolocation and computer vision to place your location and spin the screen around to face you, even as you move throughout the room. All of this processing happens locally on the device — unlike voice commands you say to Alexa, which are primarily processed remotely on Amazon’s servers. You can turn off this movement in the settings or with voice commands or simply slide the shutter closed.
This new design, which you can get in either a dark charcoal or light gray color, means you have to be more conscious of where you place the Echo Show 10 to get the most out of it. Whereas the prior model’s shape encouraged you to shove it in a corner of a countertop, the new Echo Show needs room to do its spinning dance. You can limit the range of motion it has depending on where you place it, and if the Show hits an obstacle while moving, it will ask if you want it to remember that obstacle is there and limit its movement accordingly. But if you want to let the Show spread its wings as much as possible, you won’t want to put it in the corner.
Those requirements make the Echo Show 10 a much more obvious device in your home than before. It has to sit out in the open to really benefit from its unique abilities and its miniature vintage iMac looks command a bit more attention than the older model. The best position I could find for the Show 10 in my home was on the standing height countertop that separates the kitchen from the dining room. From there, the Show 10 could spin relatively freely and follow me as I moved from the kitchen to the dining room and back.
The Echo Show will only move when you interact with it, so don’t expect it to be a little robot with personality sitting on your counter. That was the biggest draw for the ill-fated Jibo, which was designed specifically around its robotic personality and would “wake up”, turn towards you and greet you whenever you enter the room. The Echo Show 10 will remain stationary and dormant until you ask it for something or touch the screen.
Once you utter a voice command or tap the screen, the Show 10 will come to life, rotating itself so that it is always facing you. If it is playing music, a video, a recipe, or any other ongoing thing, it will continue to rotate itself automatically as you move around the room. Amazon touts this as being particularly useful when following a recipe, as the screen is always visible to you as you move around gathering ingredients and following steps.
It’s also much easier to use for video calls than the prior Echo Show, which always had a fixed field of view. Now the Show will use its much higher resolution camera to digitally zoom and track you when on a video call (just like the Facebook Portal) to keep you in frame. Add the ability to tilt the screen and the motorized movement and video calling is a much better experience than before. Amazon says this subject tracking works across group calling, Skype, and will work with Zoom when support for that comes out. The effect is subtle, but it will generally try to keep you in the center of the field of view and roughly the same size (about from your head to your waist), even when you move away from the camera.
You can also tap into the camera’s feed from the Alexa app wherever you have an internet connection, turning it into a makeshift home security camera. You can even remotely pan the camera around the room using the motorized base. Google’s Nest Hub Max smart display has a similar security camera feature (minus the motorized movement) and Amazon says it plans to bring it to older Echo Show devices, as well. You can also use the camera’s people detection abilities to trigger routines through the Alexa app, such as for automatically turning lights on or controlling other smart home gadgets.
But beyond just moving the screen so it faces you as best it can, the experience of actually using the Echo Show 10 isn’t much different than the prior versions. This is still very much a voice-first experience — you say “Alexa,” ask it to do something, and it does it. Amazon has made some minor tweaks to the software so the screen will sometimes show you more information than it used to, but for the most part, it isn’t as transformative to use in practice as it might seem on paper.
The movement also makes the Show behave in weird ways. It’s difficult to touch the screen or use the volume buttons on the top edge whenever the Show 10 is playing something because the camera’s view easily gets blocked and the Show will wiggle side-to-side to try and get you in frame again. If you do successfully touch the screen or adjust the tilt angle while it’s moving, the Show will sometimes complain that an obstacle was in its way and will cease motion until you toggle the feature off and back on again. Amazon says both of these things are by design, at least for now.
And despite Amazon’s claims that the Echo Show 10 is always in view when you need it, the reality is that pivoting the screen around a fixed point doesn’t really make the Show 10 any easier to use when cooking or actively moving around a room. Sure, it might be facing me a little more directly when I look over my shoulder while going from the refrigerator to the counter, but it’s not that hard to see what’s on the screen on the prior model from an oblique angle. Until the Echo Show 10 can actually get up from its spot and move around — or even float, Jetson’s-style — it still requires that you walk up to it to interact or really see what it’s trying to show you.
Still, there’s something weird and disconcerting about a screen that follows my movement as I go from the kitchen to the dining room. The Show 10’s tracking abilities will lose me if I walk too fast or if I go outside of its (surprisingly generous) range, but for the most part, if I’m in view of the screen when it’s playing something, the screen is pointed in my direction, looking at me with its one eye. It takes getting used to and I’m not sure I’m there yet.
Thanks to that new three-speaker system, the Echo Show 10 does sound good for listening to music. It can fill a room with ease, though the bass tends to get boomy, like most other Echo devices. A quick adjustment to the EQ in the Alexa app takes care of that easily enough, though.
I was less impressed by the trick of making sure all of the speakers face you all the time — there just wasn’t much of a difference in sound quality between when they weren’t exactly pointed in my direction and when they were.
Amazon has borrowed some features from its competitors to improve the display. Most notably, it has the ability to tune the screen’s colors to the lighting in the room, which should improve how photos appear on the screen. It’s not as good as the Google Nest Hub at this trick, but it’s better than it used to be. The big limitation with using the Echo Show 10 as a digital photo frame remains that you have to have your images in Amazon’s Photos service or uploaded to Facebook, neither of which are things I personally use.
Since the last iteration of the 10-inch Echo Show was released almost three years ago, Amazon has increased the number of video services that you can watch on the screen. The big recent addition is Netflix, but you can also watch Hulu or Amazon Prime video on it. Sadly, it’s still lacking access to other services, including HBO Max, Apple TV Plus, Peacock, YouTube TV, and more, despite the fact that Amazon supports most of them on its Fire TV devices. Watching YouTube videos also remains a laughably bad experience that involves launching the Echo Show 10’s built-in web browser with a voice command, then manually searching for a video you want to watch. There’s still no way to cast a video from your phone to the Echo Show 10, which remains an annoying limitation.
I have lived with an Echo Show in my kitchen for over three years and even though I find its functionality limited, my family and I do get a lot of value out of it. We manage our shared grocery list through it, we get weather and news reports from it, we listen to music from Spotify on it, we control smart home gadgets with it, and we ask it for answers to random trivia whenever the mood strikes.
I had hoped that the new Echo Show, with its new pivoting screen and tracking abilities, would add even more to that experience. But for the most part, the new Echo Show isn’t much better than the prior model at all of the things that we use it for. The one area that the updated model has notably improved is video calls, but as I said earlier, that’s just not something we use the Echo Show for in my home.
The real value of the Echo Show 10, then, is that it’s neat. It’s a new spin on the smart display that we haven’t seen before, and it’s fun, if a bit awkward at first, to watch it do its thing. But I wouldn’t call it necessary, and if you have the prior Echo Show, you don’t gain much by upgrading. (If you really want the camera shutter, a little electrical tape goes a long way.)
I’m more excited about where Amazon will go next — after all, rumors the company is working on an Alexa-powered robot have been around for years. Perhaps I’ll wait for Alexa’s next move.
Photography by Dan Seifert / The Reporter Door