Review: Amazon's Echo Show 5 is a quality bedside companion

Posted:
in iPhone
Despite some interface issues, Amazon's Echo Show 5 is one of the best smart displays under $100, whether or not you're hooked into the Alexa ecosystem.

Amazon Echo Show 5


As a kid, an aunt and uncle of mine had a talking alarm clock in one of their bedrooms, and it was one of my favorite things to play with. "The time is 2:34 p.m.," it would say if you hit a button -- in the late '80s and early '90s, that seemed futuristic. No one needed it of course.

No one needs a smartspeaker or display on their nightstand either, but it is nice to have. I've become accustomed to falling asleep to YouTube or Spotify, and it's convenient to have the lights come on and NPR kick in when I tell a speaker to "start my day."

Confusingly the Echo Show 5 is actually Amazon's third Show model, and marks a couple of radical shifts. The first is price -- it's a reasonable $89.99, whereas the bigger second-gen Show is $229.99 -- a tough sell when a Google Nest Hub is $79.

The second change is size. The product's name stems from its 5.5-inch screen, which is of course the main way Amazon managed to get the price down.

Amazon Echo Show 5


Setup can be quick or lengthy, depending on whether it's your first time with an Echo and/or how many smart home accessories you have. For me it was quick -- thanks to earlier review work all I had to do was pair it with my Amazon account, pick a room, and tweak a few settings, mostly through the Alexa iOS app. If you're new you might spend up to 30 minutes or more, not the least because you'll want to build "routines" (custom commands and automations) tailored to your lifestyle.

Once that's in place, the Show 5 mostly behaves like any other Echo. It accepts every Alexa command you can think of, among them some that only work with a Show or Spot, such as viewing compatible security cameras. A few general commands are enhanced by extra information, among them recipes and weather.

Much like Lenovo's Smart Clock there are substantial interface changes to accommodate a smaller display and bedside use. The UI is more explicitly clock-centric for example, and there's a "sunrise alarm" that will slowly brighten the display starting 15 minutes before an alarm set between 4 and 9 a.m. You can even slap the top of the device to snooze, again like the Smart Clock.

For the most part it's a smooth experience. Amazon's default clock layouts make it easy to glance the time, date, and current weather, and while they normally mix things like trending media into rotating info, you can customize that content and/or turn off rotation completely.

The most useful data is typically the daily weather forecast, which gives you fair warning on whether rain or snow is on the way and when it might stop.

Amazon Echo Show 5


There's an assortment of options for layouts, including many stock wallpapers and the ability to use your own images via Amazon Photos or the Alexa app. It's relatively simple, though you'll probably end up in front of the Show tapping through menus to complete customization. It seems to me that if you can upload wallpaper via the Alexa app, you should be able to configure the rest of the clock that way too.

That slight awkwardness is a recurring theme with the UI. If you want to access any media and smart home options without voice, you have to swipe right-to-left from the right side of the screen, then tap the correct category. Even so there's something to be desired, since the Spotify app for example will only show your most recently-played content.

Likewise, while you can watch Prime Video, NBC, and YouTube on the display, there's no particularly good way to navigate onscreen -- it's best if you know exactly what you want and ask Alexa. Due to the ongoing schism between Amazon and Google, even that won't work with YouTube. You have to say "launch Firefox" (yes, that Firefox), tap the YouTube thumbnail, then navigate that site's mobile interface. There is at least an option to dictate text whenever an onscreen keyboard pops up.

Amazon Echo Show 5


Weirdly, I actually found myself preferring the Show 5 for YouTube over my Google-based Lenovo Smart Display, for the simple reason that I no longer had to cast from my iPhone if the video I wanted wasn't recommended or easily cued via voice.

Sound-wise the product is serviceable. While its speaker is more powerful than the one in the Smart Clock, I preferred the latter's crispness. Thankfully you can pair with a better speaker via Bluetooth or 3.5mm.

Privacy is a natural concern many have with Amazon, and the Show 5 probably won't allay all your worries. It's worth noting though that its camera -- meant for video calls -- has a physical shutter, so combined with a mic mute button, you can block any unnecessary recording.

Conclusions

If you're going purely on cost versus features, I'd still pick the Nest Hub first and foremost. It offers a 7-inch display, and Google's platform is ultimately easier to use and more flexible.

Amazon remains the most popular choice for smartspeakers however, which combined with the sheer number of compatible accessories means you may want to take a look. It's best in a household that already relies on Alexa, but even on its own, it brings the advantages of that assistant to a format that's perfect for bedrooms or desks.

Score: 4 out of 5

Where to buy

The Echo Show 5 is available from Amazon directly for $89.99 with free shipping.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 16
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,779member
    So...it’s like an iPad, tethered to a table, that’s harder to use. Got it. Sounds great. 
    fastasleepchasmwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 16
    mbenz1962mbenz1962 Posts: 130member
    I plan on picking one up during Prime Day (hoping for a slight discount below the current (90€ price). I have two Echos and they work good as easy conduits to Apple Music. I’ll enjoy the weather display on the Show when I wake up and the sunrise alarm sounds cool.
    I still have my eye out for a HomePod for it’s superior sound and better Apple integration for the kitchen/dining room (where my wife is most of the day), but for the bedrooms (3 with people) we only need “good enough” sound and compatibility with Apple Music since we just primarily use the speakers as lullaby players.
    edited July 8 dewmeCarnage
  • Reply 3 of 16
    Nice - now Amazon can watch me in the bedroom!
    chasmwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 16
    AppleExposedAppleExposed Posts: 1,672unconfirmed, member
    So...it’s like an iPad, tethered to a table, that’s harder to use. Got it. Sounds great. 

    They're really copying Apples design language. I noticed everything that's being put out by companies looks like a version of HomePod with it's soft fabric and unobtrusive look.

    With it's sales if THIS was an Apple product Doom articles would be posted daily!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 16
    BxBornBxBorn Posts: 61member
    So...it’s like an iPad, tethered to a table, that’s harder to use. Got it. Sounds great. 
    except it's only a less than a 3rd of the price of the cheapest iPad...
    bigtds
  • Reply 6 of 16
    BxBornBxBorn Posts: 61member
    Nice - now Amazon can watch me in the bedroom!
    Actually, you can completely disable the mic and camera all together pretty easily or move the shutter over the camera so I'll give them credit for acknowledging folks would want more privacy in the bedroom...
    bigtds
  • Reply 7 of 16
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,779member
    BxBorn said:
    So...it’s like an iPad, tethered to a table, that’s harder to use. Got it. Sounds great. 
    except it's only a less than a 3rd of the price of the cheapest iPad...
    Ya that's because you can't use it anywhere other than an end-table. Currently, I have an iPad sitting next to my bed that I can give commands to, and pick up to use in bed, or tote with me to the can, or to the living room, or wherever. Why would I want a device that's harder to use and I can't move? Because it's cheaper is a good reason!? So is a can of baked beans, but...
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 16
    kimberlykimberly Posts: 268member
    BxBorn said:
    So...it’s like an iPad, tethered to a table, that’s harder to use. Got it. Sounds great. 
    except it's only a less than a 3rd of the price of the cheapest iPad...
    Ya that's because you can't use it anywhere other than an end-table. Currently, I have an iPad sitting next to my bed that I can give commands to, and pick up to use in bed, or tote with me to the can, or to the living room, or wherever. Why would I want a device that's harder to use and I can't move? Because it's cheaper is a good reason!? So is a can of baked beans, but...
    Hey Siri ! .. What? .. Hey Siri ! .. Can you repeat that? .. Hey Siri ! .. Syria is a country in the middle .. Hey Siri ! .. Yes? .....
    bigtds
  • Reply 9 of 16
    AI_liasAI_lias Posts: 306member
    BxBorn said:
    So...it’s like an iPad, tethered to a table, that’s harder to use. Got it. Sounds great. 
    except it's only a less than a 3rd of the price of the cheapest iPad...
    Ya that's because you can't use it anywhere other than an end-table. Currently, I have an iPad sitting next to my bed that I can give commands to, and pick up to use in bed, or tote with me to the can, or to the living room, or wherever. Why would I want a device that's harder to use and I can't move? Because it's cheaper is a good reason!? So is a can of baked beans, but...
    You would want one because it is more specialized and easier to use for its intended functions, than an iPad. Actually, you'd want one because it's made to be left at that location, precisely. Also, because the sound is better, etc. But you already knew that, just wanted to be cute.
    waverboy
  • Reply 10 of 16
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,779member
    kimberly said:
    BxBorn said:
    So...it’s like an iPad, tethered to a table, that’s harder to use. Got it. Sounds great. 
    except it's only a less than a 3rd of the price of the cheapest iPad...
    Ya that's because you can't use it anywhere other than an end-table. Currently, I have an iPad sitting next to my bed that I can give commands to, and pick up to use in bed, or tote with me to the can, or to the living room, or wherever. Why would I want a device that's harder to use and I can't move? Because it's cheaper is a good reason!? So is a can of baked beans, but...
    Hey Siri ! .. What? .. Hey Siri ! .. Can you repeat that? .. Hey Siri ! .. Syria is a country in the middle .. Hey Siri ! .. Yes? .....
    I don’t seem to have this problem. Not on my iPad, and not on my HomePod which is so good at listening it can even be operated in the next room. 
    edited July 8 AppleExposedfastasleepchasmwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 16
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,779member

    AI_lias said:
    BxBorn said:
    So...it’s like an iPad, tethered to a table, that’s harder to use. Got it. Sounds great. 
    except it's only a less than a 3rd of the price of the cheapest iPad...
    Ya that's because you can't use it anywhere other than an end-table. Currently, I have an iPad sitting next to my bed that I can give commands to, and pick up to use in bed, or tote with me to the can, or to the living room, or wherever. Why would I want a device that's harder to use and I can't move? Because it's cheaper is a good reason!? So is a can of baked beans, but...
    You would want one because it is more specialized and easier to use for its intended functions, than an iPad. Actually, you'd want one because it's made to be left at that location, precisely. Also, because the sound is better, etc. But you already knew that, just wanted to be cute.
    It’s not being cute. For video like YouTube or Netflix my iPad + AirPods sound better and is more natural to view on my chest or lap rather than an end table; my HomePod sounds way better for music; and my iPad is way better to use and more flexible since it isn’t anchored to a table. 

    The use case for “alarm clock sitting on a table” just doesn’t sound very compelling. 
    edited July 8 AppleExposedAI_liasfastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 16
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,188member
    mbenz1962 said:
    I plan on picking one up during Prime Day (hoping for a slight discount below the current (90€ price). I have two Echos and they work good as easy conduits to Apple Music. I’ll enjoy the weather display on the Show when I wake up and the sunrise alarm sounds cool.
    I still have my eye out for a HomePod for it’s superior sound and better Apple integration for the kitchen/dining room (where my wife is most of the day), but for the bedrooms (3 with people) we only need “good enough” sound and compatibility with Apple Music since we just primarily use the speakers as lullaby players.
    Me too. Being able to access Apple Music from Echo devices is a really big deal, especially when they are paired with a decent Bluetooth speaker. The other big deal features for me are easy access to Ring cameras, Alexa Guard, using Echos as intercoms, and of course the whisper mode. Sure, my HomePod sounds so much better than every one of my Echo devices, but I cannot afford to put a HomePod in nearly every room of my house like I can with Echo devices. C'mon Prime Day.
    mbenz1962
  • Reply 13 of 16
    wandersowanderso Posts: 112member
    Still needs a projector to display the time on the ceiling.  :). Or maybe video if so desired?
  • Reply 14 of 16
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,697member
    People who pretend Siri can’t understand them either haven’t actually used Siri, or have diction issues.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 16
    BxBorn said:
    Nice - now Amazon can watch me in the bedroom!
    Actually, you can completely disable the mic and camera all together pretty easily or move the shutter over the camera so I'll give them credit for acknowledging folks would want more privacy in the bedroom...
    Keep telling yourself that the mic is turned off.. That shutter is a fall sense of privacy yes it blocks the camera but you really never know that the mic is off. LOL
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 16
    Why would anyone want Amazons' intrusive, privacy destroying devices?
    watto_cobra
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