Review: Amazon's Echo Spot is a cool device, but needs to do more with its screen

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in iPhone
The Echo Spot is undeniably a cool product, but without YouTube it's hard to justify over a regular Echo, except for people with security cameras or those wanting the world's best alarm clock.

Amazon Echo Spot


When the first-generation Echo was announced in 2014, I -- and a lot of other people, I imagine -- thought it was an overly ambitious device. It was hard to imagine AI being advanced enough that you could interact with a computer using only your voice. Cut to 2018 though and smartspeakers have not only proliferated, but come full circle, to the point that touchscreens are being added to Echo line to enhance their voice functionality, instead of the other way around.

In most respects the Spot is like any other Echo. Voice commands that work with a standard model will work here, such as alarms, timers, traffic, flash briefings, music playback, and smarthome control. You can also ask general questions, even if Alexa's knowledgebase isn't as deep as Google Assistant's, and doesn't provide Web listings like Siri.

You can push audio from an iPhone or iPad app to an Echo, such as when Alexa refuses to understand foreign artist and song names on Spotify. Multi-Echo audio can be set up to span a home or better fill a room.

The speaker's distinguishing trait of course is its round, 2.5-inch touchscreen, which expands possibilities. Typically you'll just see the time, local weather, and a rotating series of "cards" with things like headlines and Alexa commands to try. Those Alexa suggestions can be handy, since even if you already own an Echo you might be a little bewildered by your new options.

Indeed we found the Spot a little more complicated to set up than a regular Echo, despite already having a number of settings and services configured thanks to previous models. It's not just a matter of finding the right brightness level, or choosing from preset or custom wallpapers -- there are also multiple clockfaces, as well as video-enabled skills, flash briefings, drop-ins, and calls, the latter being supported on the Spot, Echo Show, and the iPhone and iPad's Alexa app.

Right away we should address the privacy concerns some people are bound to have, as the Echo Spot has a small camera above the screen. While worries about the Echo line can be overblown, it's understandable to be nervous about people dropping in on a camera feed unannounced. By default, thankfully, the feature is restricted to authorized contacts only. You can also limit it to devices in the same household, or turn it off entirely. Settings will moreover let you disable the camera, though this breaks auto-brightness.

Amazon Alexa app on iPhone


I suspect a lot of people are changing these options (or using a piece of tape) because of where they probably sit their Spot: the bedroom. Its size and screen are perfect for a nightstand, as are a lot of its functions, but the last thing most people want is for friends and family to see them dishevelled or naked.

Key features (in bed)

What makes its features great for the bedroom? On a simple level, there's always-on time, weather, and calendar/reminder notifications. Many of us are so accustomed to prodding our phones to check these things that the convenience is a novelty.

Amazon Echo Spot


I also found it nice to be able to watch the news while resting, though there's a limited number of video-compatible briefing sources (more on this later).

Above all, voice turns out to be wonderful for controlling alarm functions. You can not only set a standard alarm trigger -- including some celebrity voices, such as Missy Elliott -- but ask to be woken up to a specific song, station, or playlist on services including Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, TuneIn, SiriusXM, and iHeartRadio. No Apple Music sadly, but that's unsurprising.

As an example, I asked our Spot to wake me up to the local NPR affiliate via TuneIn at 6 a.m. every weekday. Like that, I had a work schedule ready to go.

Amazon Alexa app on iPhone


Homeowners with Alexa-compatible security cameras -- such as August's Doorbell Cam Pro, Netgear's Arlos, and Logitech's HomeKit-ready Circle 2 -- will enjoy the privilege of being able to able to tune into live views. I did find the Spot slow to load feeds in some cases, mainly with the Arlo Baby.

One downside to putting a Spot in a bedroom is that it can take some time to create and tweak automation that works for you and/or your partner. I had to create routines that would change the volume at particular times of day, for example, and for whatever reason you can't make an Echo stop playing music with a multi-action routine, which meant having to tell the Spot to stop playing music and shut off lights using two separate commands.

Amazon Alexa app on iPhone

Sound quality, and video redux

As a speaker the Spot merely sounds alright. It's far better than the tinny Echo Dot, yet comparable to a second-gen cylinder Echo, which is to say it has some bass and reasonable clarity, but won't wow you with its power or fidelity. On its own it's best for radio, podcasts, or playing that song that just won't get out of your head -- audiophiles will want to connect an external speaker via Bluetooth or 3.5mm, or maybe jump straight to the Alexa-ready Sonos One, which is also getting AirPlay 2 compatibility in July.

The One of course lacks any display, but here's the thing: apart from serving up the time, weather, and alerts, the Spot has a hard time justifying a screen. 2.5 inches isn't much of a viewing experience for video, and even then, there's nothing to watch apart from flash briefings, recipes, security cameras, and Prime Video content. YouTube would be a tremendous boon, but the ongoing tiff beween Amazon and Google makes that unlikely in the near future.

To be fair, you also can do things like check your calendar, manage shopping lists, or make the previously-mentioned video calls. Along with Prime Video however those are still better suited to the 7-inch screen on the Echo Show.

Conclusions

Most people can safely skip the Echo Spot if they want and get another smartspeaker. There are better-sounding options, and if you want its alarm functions any screenless Echo will do, so long as you're prepared to say "Alexa, stop" before leaving for work. The Spot lets you dismiss alarms with a touch.

For all my caveats though, I couldn't help but enjoy it. It sounds good enough, and I never realized how much I missed the convenience of an alarm clock, much less one that could play Spotify or show me if that bump I heard is a burglar or just a family member getting milk. Something I haven't even mentioned yet is that the Spot looks damn sweet wherever you place it, like something from "2001" or a Thievery Corporation album cover.

The product's only real big sin is its price tag. While it's far cheaper than an Echo Show, $130 is a lot ask for the Spot's capabilities until it supports more video platforms, including YouTube.

Score: 4 out of 5

Where to buy

Amazon is selling the Echo Spot in black or white for $129.99 with free shipping. People buying a pair receive a $40 discount.
nunzy

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 15
    nunzynunzy Posts: 662member
    This is just a spy machine. Amazon want to be a monopoly.
    watto_cobraDAalseth
  • Reply 2 of 15
    nunzy said:
    This is just a spy machine. Amazon want to be a monopoly.
    Yep, the spy in the Bedroom and indeed Amazon wants to be the 'last retailer standing'. I've drastically reduced my spend with Amazon and hey Amazon, stop sending me emails advertising the very thing I have just bought. Do I really want multiple cement mixers?

    No word in the review about the Microphone. It isn't just the camera that needs to be dealt with.
    Needless to say, I won't be buying any Amazon or Google so called 'smart speakers'.

    edited June 17 nunzywatto_cobraDAalseth
  • Reply 3 of 15
    zroger73zroger73 Posts: 689member
    When did this become AmazonInsider?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 15
    eightzeroeightzero Posts: 2,143member
    My iPad mini makes a nice bedside device. Little dock for it makes it pretty handy.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 15
    Roger_FingasRoger_Fingas Posts: 106member, editor
    zroger73 said:
    When did this become AmazonInsider?
    We cover many things connected to Apple devices as well.
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 6 of 15
    macguimacgui Posts: 889member
    For the last ~7 years, my alarm clock has been my iPhones. It's not ideal but it's worked well enough that replacing it with an alarm clock wasn't a priority.

    After having an couple of Dots for awhile now, the Spot is a definite maybe. I'm not a member of the THB (Tinfoil Hat Brigade) so I'm not askeered to have one or two in the house.

    I remember way back when, a staple of sci-fi TV shows like Science Fiction Theater and Capt. Midnight/Jet Jackson was the large communicator view screen. Our heroes would be in a room discussing something when the screen would turn on and there'd be someone ready to relate much needed information. No ring, no alert tone, there they were. We see that on some shows today.

    I always thought that was pretty cool. Now, not so much. I do like the idea of video calls on the Spot, just not the Drop-In aspect. If anything, I think getting hacked is more likely than Amazon tuning in to catch my girlfriend and I playing Uppy-Downy. I don't do auto-answer on my phones and wouldn't do it on the Spot.

    Other than that, my main objection is the price. I'll compromise with a Dot for $40 over a Spot for $130. The video aspect is appreciated, but not for that much money.

    The aesthetic of the post also appeals to me. I love the round display and the small footprint. One feature that would really make me happy is the option to tell Alexa to switch to a paired BT speaker, when I want a bit more volume, or better sound (depending on the BT speaker).

    If/when these get down to $60-70, I'll pick one or two up. They could be my perfect clock-radio replacements.


  • Reply 7 of 15
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,283member
    macgui said:
    For the last ~7 years, my alarm clock has been my iPhones. It's not ideal but it's worked well enough that replacing it with an alarm clock wasn't a priority.

    After having an couple of Dots for awhile now, the Spot is a definite maybe. I'm not a member of the THB (Tinfoil Hat Brigade) so I'm not askeered to have one or two in the house.
    I’ve been using a Dot for clock, alarm clock, “radio,” and white noise machine for about 1.5 years. It’s great not to have any lights on in the room at night and very helpful to just say “Alexa...” to make a request.
    edited June 17
  • Reply 8 of 15
    AI_liasAI_lias Posts: 249member
    I would also be interested in the electromagnetic field it generates next to your head on the night stand. The old alarm clocks used to be pretty bad in that regard. 
  • Reply 9 of 15
    eightzeroeightzero Posts: 2,143member
    Time for someone to note the hilarity that would ensue if your girlfriend or SO really was named Alexa and you had one of these in the bedroom. "Alexa, please..." etc etc....

    OTOH, you could always set "Alexa" as your agreed upon safe word. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 15
    I’ve been using a Dot for clock, alarm clock, “radio,” and white noise machine for about 1.5 years. It’s great not to have any lights on in the room at night and very helpful to just say “Alexa...” to make a request.
    and the wife (who happens to be called Alexa) mutters, 'for christ's sakes, go get it yourself. For the millionth time, I'm not your personal dogsbody.

    How did we exist as a race before all this so called 'smart' stuff. Is the result of it that we are dumbing down?

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 15


    Amazon Echo Spot


    That is a very cute graphic!

    I wonder if, over time, the graphic adapts itself and becomes more like your bedroom!!

    edited June 18 watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 15
    I'd advise anyone who uses an amazon device just to check the privacy settings and what data they're holding on you. I didn't think much of it as I don't really have anything to hide but was still quite alarmed when I discovered that EVERY time I used voice search on the fire-stick, it's recorded and stored "for learning purposes". That includes every time my 2yo daughter has said "peppa pig" or "blippi" into it, they've saved recordings of her voice too! There's an option to delete the stored recordings deep in the my account pages but no option I saw to turn off recording altogether.
  • Reply 13 of 15
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,171member
    The world's best alarm clock is Mrs Rayz2016.

    I reject this review!


  • Reply 14 of 15
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 5,587member
    AI_lias said:
    I would also be interested in the electromagnetic field it generates next to your head on the night stand. The old alarm clocks used to be pretty bad in that regard. 
    Can your be more specific? What old alarm clocks?
  • Reply 15 of 15
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,283member
    AI_lias said:
    I would also be interested in the electromagnetic field it generates next to your head on the night stand. The old alarm clocks used to be pretty bad in that regard. 
    Can your be more specific? What old alarm clocks?
    I would assume your traditional clock radio.

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