“A fine update to the smallest Echo Show, but we'd wait for it to go on sale.”
- Decent price, especially once sales hit
- Good screen
- Does all the Alexa stuff
- Loads of Amazon goodies at hand
- Browser experience is bad
- Screen a tad laggy
We live in a continued era of speeds and feeds. A time in which every new thing has to be bigger. (Or smaller.) Faster. Louder. Better in every way, otherwise, it’s decried as a mere iteration, not worthy of whatever little attention we have left.
Then there’s something like the third-generation Amazon Echo Show 5. Let’s not beat around the bush here: If you’ve used the second-gen Echo Show 5, you basically know exactly what you’re getting here. Small screen. Decent speaker. Camera. Microphones. Amazon Alexa, and all the smarts that comes with the assistant. And that includes support for the Thread and Matter smart home standards.
And, yes, it’s a little faster. And sounds a little better — all for $5 more than before. We’ll talk more about that price at the end.
For the uninitiated, theis a smart display, in the same category as Google’s Nest Hub, and Apple’s — well, Apple still doesn’t have anything like this. But whereas Google’s Nest Hub bottoms out at 7 inches, the Echo Show 5 scales things down a little more, with a 5.5-inch display. (Lenovo has a 4-inch option with its Smart Clock, but there’s a good chance this is the first time you’re ever hearing about that.)
The whole thing is about the size of — well, about the size of a small smart display. It’ll fit fine on a desk — though I prefer something with a slightly larger screen if it’s going to be in front of me all day, otherwise why bother at all? It’s perfect on a nightstand. Not too big as to cause a distraction, but still big enough to be seen.
There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the display. It has the same size and 960 x 480 resolution that the 2021 model enjoyed. It’s still mostly responsive when you touch it, though there are some noticeable lags. It’s not that you’d expect it to be as fast as a phone, but it happens often enough that you’ll want to avoid using a finger if at all possible. Visuals on the screen are alright at that resolution, too. Sure, you maybe can pick out individual pixels. But you also should not pick out individual pixels and should instead consider a visit to a museum or at least step outside for a minute and touch some grass. It’s worth noting that the ambient light sensor works as advertised, which is good if you’re going to have the Echo Show 5 in a bedroom.
The display looks okay but isn’t the best for touch. And that’s maybe not a deal-breaker, because the microphone array works well. For what it’s worth, it now has a three-mic array, up from two in the previous model. More (mostly) is better since that’ll allow the device to hear you more clearly, and from a farther distance. If you don’t want the Echo Show 5 listening in for your commands, one of the three buttons on top of the body will kill the mic.
The other two buttons, by the way, are volume buttons. And the buttons really are where you’ll find one of the bigger (or at least more apparent) changes in this year’s model. Before, you had three round buttons with their actions stenciled on top. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, and you almost certainly will memorize the positions of the buttons, so you don’t have to always look to see whether you’re going to mute the mics (on the left), lower the speaker volume (in the middle), or increase it (the button on the right).
The order of the buttons remains unchanged in the 2023 Echo Show 5, but they have a new design. The volume-up button is now shaped like a thin plus symbol. The volume-down button is shaped like a thin minus sign. And the mute button is shaped like a circle with a line through it, which makes more sense than having a tiny person with their hands over their ears. (That’s what I’d have gone with, anyway.) It’s a different design language — better or worse? That’s your call — and everything works exactly as it should. Probably the best part is that it allows the fabric cover to extend nearly all the way to the front of the device, which just looks cleaner.
One thing that’s missing this time around? The outdated micro USB port on the back that you almost certainly didn’t know was there. (Amazon always intended it to be used for an Ethernet adapter.) You do you, but given that the new Echo Show 5 has dual-band Wi-Fi, it really isn’t the sort of device you’d expect to plug in, to say nothing of how that’d make it look aesthetically.
The speaker also has changed ever so slightly. It’s now a single 1.75-inch speaker, up from 1.65 inches. When it comes to speakers, size is just part of the equation. And it’s entirely possible that you won’t notice a difference in sound unless you have the second-generation Echo Show 5 up next to the new one. In any case, audio is sufficient. It’s not great, but you shouldn’t really expect it to be from something this small, and this relatively inexpensive. It’s not horrible, but I also wouldn’t rely on it as a regular music-maker. But a basic dispenser of information, or maybe even podcasts, it’s adequate.
And the Echo Show 5 keeps its 2MP camera, for what that’s worth. That’s enough megapixels to get done whatever video calls you might do on such a device. And though Amazon’s Echo devices and Alexa app handle video calls competently, the bigger issue is getting you to use it in the first place in a world dominated by WhatsApp, WeChat, FaceTime, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, and Signal, to name but a few.
More important, though, is that the camera retains its physical shutter. The little switch is in the same place as before atop the Echo Show 5. Toggle it, and if you’ll cover the camera lens, and also get a notification on the screen that the camera is inoperable. That’s the only way that should be done.
In a vacuum, the Echo Show 5 is a perfectly capable little device. It’s the sort of thing I’d plunk down in a guest bedroom, maybe. Perhaps on a desk — but, again, I prefer something with a slightly larger screen. That’s just a preference, though; it’s not a knock against the Echo Show 5.
But how much you spend on an Echo device very much depends on how deep you are into the Amazon ecosystem. And to be perfectly fair to the Amazon ecosystem, that may well be deeper than you realize. Alexa is just the tip of the iceberg. You’ve got services likefloating visibly above the surface. Same, too, for Amazon Music. Both of those are available on the Echo Show 5, of course.
A device with a screen — even a small one like the Echo Show 5 — screams for photos, too. And if you’ve ever used Amazon Photos, you already know that it’s really good, too. Amazon’s video calling isn’t bad. And there are tons of apps available on all sorts of Amazon devices. (That said, the Silk browser experience is still … not great. Which means things like YouTube are nonstarters.)
The biggest problem, then, is that Amazon remains the third option in a world dominated by Android and iOS. It’s a great alternative, but alternatives require the user to do more work than the default for things like voice and video calling, messaging, and photos. You either already need to be invested in the Amazon ecosystem (missed opportunity for “Amazon Echosystem,” maybe?), or willing to become so.
In any event, that conundrum isn’t new to the Echo Show 5. It was true for the previous version, and for the other displays in the Echosystem. (It’ll catch on, just you wait.) On its own, the Echo Show 5 is just fine. It’s a good way to get Alexa into whatever room you want, with some extras that sweeten the deal. Just make sure they’re extras you’re actually going to use. Because if not, a less expensive Echo Dot with a clock display may be all that you need. It’ll sound better, and save you a few bucks, too.
And your decision may well come down to the whims of Amazon pricing. At the time we’re writing this, the Echo Show 5 retails for $89. The 2021, meanwhile, is on sale for $74. (It’s normally $129.) That should be a pretty easy choice.
Sales prices come and go, though. Meanwhile, the various variants of the Echo Show march on, steady as they go.
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