Digital voice assistants were the stuff of science fiction stories until a few years ago. Now, we take them for granted – even the “hub” versions that come with a screen, like the Amazon Echo Show series and the Google Nest Hub devices.
But Amazon’s Echo Show 15 takes the futuristic hub idea to a whole new level: it’s a 15.6″ Full HD screen that you either hang on your wall or mount on a countertop, which then serves as your house’s digital hub. You can use it to share and display to-do lists, check the weather, look at pictures, watch videos (even Netflix), control other smart home devices and communicate via video calls.
Remember those movies (Back To The Future II comes to mind) where future homes had big touch-screens that did, well, everything we used to do with sticky notes and fridge magnets? Well, that future is here now.
But at £240, is the Echo Show 15 genuinely ready for prime time? The tiny speakers and mediocre camera are two among a list of issues still hindering this nifty device – so in this review, we’ll dig in and find out who can benefit from this flashy digital hub.
Quick Look – Amazon Echo Show 15
What is it: A 15″ hub that combines Alexa’s voice assistant skills with a smart touch display, speakers and a camera.
Interface / Usage
Value for Money
- Beautiful, bright display that looks good even in light-filled kitchens
- A selection of helpful widgets and shared family calendars and lists
- Can be used as a streaming TV with Prime Video, Netflix and YouTube
- Feels snappy and easy to use thanks to a powerful new CPU
- Tiny speakers (bass is particularly lacking)
- 5MP camera is mediocre
- Only a handful of widgets, for now
Features and Specs
- Size: 402 x 252 x 35 mm
- Weight: 2,215 g
- Screen: 15.6” (1920 x 1080)
- Processor: Amlogic Pop1 Octa-core With AZ2 Neural Network
- Camera: Front 5MP (With camera cover)
- Speakers: Dual 1.6″ full-range drivers
- Connectivity: Dual Band WiFi (WiFi 6 not supported) / A2DP Bluetooth
- Widgets: Calendar, Shopping & To-Do Lists, Prime Video, Netflix, Silk web browser, Spotify, Amazon Music, Recipes and more
- Extra Features: Can be used to control other Smart Home devices / Video Calling / Camera can be used as a drop-in security camera (or blocked for privacy)
The Echo Show 15 is a vivid demonstration of what screen-based digital assistants can do. It can truly be the central hub of your house and your family, and alternate as a digital picture frame, quick video calling device, and a smart home hub. That being said, these are clearly early days – it’s expensive, some of the hardware is limited, and there isn’t MUCH you can do with it – yet.
Table of Contents
Who Is The Echo Show 15 For?
I always start my reviews with this question – but it becomes extra important with the Echo Show 15 – as this device is clearly not for everyone, at least at this point in time and at this price level.
Alexa, Amazon’s digital assistant, needs no introductions at this point: it almost single-handedly created and popularised the voice assistant market with the first Echo devices.
But while the early Echos were voice-only devices with built-in speakers, the Echo Show models soon followed, combining Alexa’s voice assistant capabilities with touch screens. In this series, you will find the Echo Show 5, Echo Show 8 and Echo Show 10 – with the number signifying the device’s screen size.
The Echo Show 15 does what tech companies love to do – it makes things even bigger, with a 15.6″ screen.
The basic functionality is still here – you can ask Alexa for information (like the weather or even trivia questions), and can either listen to her answer – or see the answers on the screen.
You can use the device to play music (but the speakers are disappointing – more on that later), and you can even watch news clips and streaming TV shows via Netflix, Prime Video and YouTube – so if you ever wanted a TV in your kitchen, this is the next best thing.
But with a screen this big, the point is not just to use it as a fancy clock or picture frame but also to make it your Family Hub. Do you currently have sticky notes on your fridge, with family chores? Lists of To-Dos synched across your family members’ phones? A family calendar you have to keep going into?
The Echo Show 15 tries to replace all these things, and show each family member their own list of helpful information, that can be shared across devices and persons.
And lastly, the Echo Show 15 can also be used as a hub for your other Smart Home devices (such as a Ring doorbell, security cameras, smart WiFi plugs, etc.). Strangely, though, the Echo Show 15 doesn’t include a built-in Zigbee hub – so it CAN’T directly control many devices that use that standard.
Another thing to remember is that you need to be willing to go all-in on the Amazon ecosystem – while it does play nice with SOME 3rd party services (like Google’s calendar), many aspects will work best with Amazon’s services. If you want to show your own photos, for example – you have to use Amazon’s Cloud Photo Storage, and can’t use Google Photos or iCloud – and that’s just one example.
If this long list of features makes your heart beat a little faster, and you love being an early adopter of cool tech devices – the Echo Show 15 will certainly scratch that itch. That being said, at its current price, it’s more of a niche product rather than a mass-market device ready for prime time.
After all – a cheap 10″ tablet (like Amazon’s own Fire HD 10 Tablet) can do most of what the Echo Show 15 can do – and much more – at a fraction of the cost, with the form factor being the main differentiation.
But let’s dig in deeper…
Setting Up The Echo Show 15
At 2.2kg, the Echo Show 15 is pretty heavy. And while the display looks flat in the pictures – there’s a thick “belly” behind it, housing the speakers and electronics – so if you hang it on your wall, don’t expect it to lie completely flat like a modern flat-screen TV.
In the box, you get everything you need for hanging the device on the wall – but you DON’T get a tilt stand, so if you’re not planning to hang the Echo Show 15 on your wall, you simply have to buy a stand. As of this writing, Amazon sells only one model – the Sanus Tilt Stand.
The Echo Show 15 can be used either in landscape or portrait mode – but you have to decide beforehand. Even with the Tilt Stand, you can’t easily change the orientation – you have to unscrew the device from the stand first, turn it around, and re-screw everything. And the same goes for hanging it on the wall, of course.
The power cable is annoyingly short at just 1.5 meters – that may be OK for a kitchen counter that has a power socket next to it, but hanging on the wall would get tricky, unless you hang it right above a power socket. Amazon sells a proprietary extension cable, of course – but why make people spend more from the get-go?
On top of the Echo Show 15, you will see Volume Up/Down buttons, as well as a Mute Microphone button if you want Alexa to stop listening to you altogether. There’s also a camera slider that lets you block the camera, for some added privacy.
Setting up the Echo Show 15 is easy, even if this is your first Echo device. Once you plug it in, Alexa greets you and immediately asks for a WiFi connection.
The setup can be completed directly on the device, but for many functions to work properly, you also need to download the Alexa app on your smartphone, and set up some of the settings via the app.
The Echo Show 15’s camera is positioned on the front of the device – and the device can use it for Visual ID: you let it take and scan a picture of each family member, and then, whenever that person walks into the room – the device will automatically switch to their profile, with personalised information.
Using The Echo Show 15
The star of the show here are the widgets – these are new and don’t exist on the smaller Echo Show devices (yet?).
However, the library of widgets is relatively small at the moment – you get a calendar widget, to-do lists, weather, notes, Spotify, recipes from Cookpad, Smart Home control, and a few others.
Hopefully, more 3rd party widgets will be added in time, but you’re stuck with a limited selection for now.
However, you also get Amazon’s Silk web browser built-in, so you can browse to practically any website, which adds some of the missing functionality from not having plenty of widgets.
Once you select which widgets to add to the main screen, they’re placed on the right side of the display, next to the clock and a revolving selection of images.
Unfortunately, there’s minimal control over the placement of the widgets, and their size – most can’t be resized at all, so once you run out of “space” on the main screen, you’ll have to scroll with your finger to see the rest of your selected widgets, instead of seeing everything at a glance.
Furthermore, when you want to interact with some of the widgets (change something on Spotify, for example) – the widget needlessly blows up and fills the screen, taking the other elements out of view. Remember Windows Vista and its humongous calculator app on desktops? This feels the same.
You can interact with the Echo Show 15 in one of two ways – either by touching the display or using Alexa with your voice.
As an Alexa device, this works as well as you would expect, and Alexa is as helpful as ever for setting kitchen timers, checking (and showing) the weather, setting reminders (who will then be shown on the appropriate widget on the screen), and adding to your shopping list, which is again very useful in the kitchen.
The Visual ID feature works well – it instantly recognises any person that walks in front of it (as long as you set it up beforehand – which is optional), and knows that person’s preferences. For example, if you ask for the news – it’ll show you your preferred news service.
The Echo Show 15’s performance is quite good, especially compared to the smaller Echo Show devices, which were painfully slow at times. The device is powered by Amazon’s AZ2 Neural Edge quad-core processor, and while it’s not as swift as a modern mobile phone – it’s pretty snappy.
Music And Video On The Echo Show 15
As smart as Digital Assistants like the Echo are – most people use them for music listening first and foremost.
However, that’s one aspect where the Echo Show 15 is somewhat of a disappointment. By keeping it thin, Amazon had to make sacrifices with the speakers – so they’re flat and tiny, and have almost no bass at all.
It’s fine for watching videos and listening to podcasts, and it’s OK for some casual music listening in the kitchen or the hallway – but even the basic Echo devices sound better than this, not to mention the Echo Studio (see our review), which takes music listening on the Echo to a whole new level.
And if you always wanted a TV in your kitchen – this comes close. For now, you get Amazon’s Prime Video and a Netflix app, but if you want other video streaming services – like YouTube – you have to use the web browser (not having a full YouTube app is really annoying – but it goes back to Amazon’s ongoing issues with Google and YouTube).
You only get Full HD resolution (and not 4K), but that’s mostly sufficient for a 15″ screen. The screen is very bright, which is a big plus, as you’re likely to use it in well-lit areas.
If you hang the Echo Show 15 on your wall, it’s probably not going to be used for actual TV watching, standing up in front of it in the kitchen – but it can be pretty useful for watching cooking videos. Or for glancing at G.I. Joe cartoons on YouTube while cooking (something which may or may not be happening in our kitchen every day).
Thanks to the camera, the Echo Show 15 can also be used for video calls. For now, though, you can only use Alexa’s own video calling feature, or Skype.
To use Alexa’s video calling, you need the other person also to have an Echo/Alexa device – or at least the Alexa app installed on their phone – which isn’t as common.
Skype is a better option for some, but we’re hoping Zoom support will be added in the future (it already works on a few other Amazon devices, such as the Amazon Fire TV Cube).
However, the placement of the camera doesn’t lend itself very well for video calling – it’s on the left corner of the device, so when you look at the screen, it doesn’t look like you’re looking AT the person you’re talking about to.
And lastly, if you have smart home security cameras, or Amazon’s own Ring Video Doorbells, they work nicely with the Echo Show 15. When someone rings the doorbell, for example, you’ll get a notification on the Echo – and the doorbell’s video will instantly show up on the screen.
Bottom Line: Is The Echo Show 15 Worth It?
Let me get that out of the way first: the Echo Show 15 is a cool device. It feels futuristic, slick, and something the younger version of me was fantasising about 20 years ago.
That being said, this 15.6″ version feels very much like a 1st generation device, especially with some of the hardware compromises.
I’m pretty certain that future versions will have a better camera (who uses 5MP for anything these days?), better speakers and even a better display and CPU.
The same goes for the software – the selection of widgets will surely get better, though as always in the tech world, that depends on whether this first iteration is successful.
So, while the device may improve in the future – you’re being asked to pay £240 for it TODAY – which is a hefty sum.
Should you spend that money on Version 1.0 of the Echo Show 15? If you’re an early adopter, and if you’re a big fan of Amazon’s ecosystem (with other Alexa devices spread around your house), this will give you a nifty glimpse into the future, and will supply that tech-based excitement that few devices provide these days with (how many identical smartphones can we still get excited about?).
But if your primary concern is the promised functionality, and especially if you want this primarily for listening to music – then you should probably wait for future versions.
Note: The manufacturer supplied the Echo Show 15 for this review. As always, this did not influence my unbiased opinion of the product.