I had high hopes for the Echo Show 5. After all, as a household we’re pretty much ‘all in’ on the Alexa experience with a variety of devices ranging from the lowly Dot, the original pringles can, through to an Echo Studio. Not to mention an Echo Auto (disappointing for different reasons), as well as FireTVs, Fire tablets, Kindles, and Ring cameras.

Unboxing was very much like every other Amazon device - elegant and thoughtful packaging design. Sadly in this case it was also packaging that was swiftly retrieved from the recycling pile, as it might be the first one that doesn’t find a home with us.

The first disappointing thing was the power adapter. In 2020 it’s disppointing not to take advantage of a standard like USB-C, and instead ship a proprietary power brick which is not powerstrip friendly. As this device is ideal for use in a bedroom or kitchen where power is often scarce it seems poorly thought out, especially as our Dots do use micro-USB, and while the Show does have a micro-USB connector is’s labelled quite clearly as “not for power”.

Distracting display

For a device intended largely as an unobtrusive ambient assistant, it’s quite distracting.

When updating content on thr screen it changes brightness (momentarily dims then comes back up) which often catches the eye without reason. As first I thought it might be because I have the ambient light sensor active, but it still happens when it’s off. The other possible reason might be because I have turned off a lot of the display options so it’s trying to show empty items on the carousel, but that sort of thing should have been caught in testing.

Cycling through background images is quite fast, and there’s no option to keep images showing longer. Transitions between images are not adjustable so can make for a jarring visual experience. Sometimes it just forgets what it should be showing and goes back to the default picture of a camera for a while.

Try “Alexa, annoy me”

At the bottom of the display helpful notifications keep appearing which say *Try “Alexa, do something”*. In the device settings and in the companion app there is an option to turn off “discovery’ notifications but… it’s not honoured. If this was the only fault with the device, I’d probably put up with it. Sadly it isn’t. When you purchase a Kindle you can choose to have Special Offers, but unlike the Kindle you can’t choose to opt out. After spending time with customer support they’re as surprised as I am that this doesn’t work how they think it should either, so I assume it’s another bug that didn’t get spotted in testing.

The banner itself isn’t especially offensive as it’s well integrated into the UI, but I would like the ability to suppress it or decide what to display there - something like what’s currently playing on the Echo Studio in the same group would be useful

Little niggles, it’s a work in progress

There are a few other niggles with the Echo Show that, while not major problems, do make the device less delightful.

  • Clock has no am/pm indicator option, just a toggle between 12 or 24hr.
  • Ring camera integration is poor… often fails to connect, and even when it is connecting there’s a long pause - between 3 and 10 seconds - after Alexa says “ok” where you don’t know what it’s doing (and sometimes it does nothing). Would be nice to have notifications appear (thumbnail?) on the screen with an option to quickly go full screen. The Ring display issue is not really an Echo problem, but they’re both owned by Amazon so should play nicer together. The Ring app has the same issue, and I suspect a lot of the problem there stems from the insistence of going back to their cloud rather than supporting local connections.
  • Using the app, I can only get one calendar attached for each account type, but I want to see work and personal schedule (both of which are Microsoft accounts). There also appears to be no ‘agenda’ type view to see more than the next appointment. As there is no option to turn off the calendar used for “other voices” it means spurious items can easily appear on my calendar.
  • Using the Echo Show 5 in a room with another Echo device - in my case an Echo Studio - causes problems as both devices become attentive and even though they are grouped in the app (so music always plays on the right device) it feels like more could be done to make them work together more seamlessly. Sometimes it seems like looking at the device in question helps determine which will respond (and I could always change the wake word on the Show to “Computer”) but it breaks the illusion of a ubiquitous assistant.
    • If the Show reacts to “Alexa, resume” rather than music resuming on the Studio I get told there’s nothing to resume.
    • With the Ring camera - when I ask to see it sometimes the Studio will respond and tell me it can’t (and suggests I connect a FireTV … why do I need to when it’s already in a group with a device with a screen…)
    • Even after updating devices so one has “Alexa” and the other “Echo” has the wake word… they now both pause to listen for both words, with the one set to respond to the other word eventually timing out.

Wishlist items

While these are not possible today, and would be larger software updated, I’d like to see the device become more useful as an assistant.

  • It is frustrating that it won’t work as a bluetooth speakerphone, just speaker. With Work From Home being more prevalant these days, it would add significant value to the device. In speakphone mode I would happily forego voice commands until the call disconnects, and as there is a screen mute buttons etc could appear so I still have control. It would even help avoid bluetooth connectivity issues if it could use that otherwise underutilized micro-USB connection…
  • I would like to be able to add buttons on the homescreen for quick actions (eg toggle a light or fan on/off, or a slider to adjust a lamps colour or brightness, or to activate a Ring camera)
  • Support for additional informational tiles (eg time in other timezones, stock tickers, remote data sources such as temperature monitors or server status for developers) that I can position on the display would also extend the value of the device.
  • A harder feature to enable, would be to use the camera as a ‘remote’ webcam for my computer (connecting to a virtual driver over wifi similar to how the Elgato EpocCam works, or again taking advantage of the USB connector)

It’s not all bad though

  • Sound quality is good, and bluetooth connection to use as speaker works better than our existing Dots
  • Build quality is solid, the screen is very clear and the unit feels robust. It is disappointing that the adjustable stand is almost a third of the price of the unit just for a bit of plastic.
  • Weather forecasts are presented well, both the temperature display on the clock and the muti-day forecast have a pleasing look
  • Despite the issues with connectivity, having access to the Ring camera with a dedicated screen rather than havng to reach for the phone is a good use case.

All-in-all, the Echo Show 5, like the Echo Auto, is a device which shows promise. Unlike the Echo Auto which is limited by the need to rely on the phone and 3rd party apps for a lot of it’s functionality, I find it hard to understand why there are so many rough edges on the software experience, especially given that the platform is based on FireOS which Amazon have been refining for many years with their tablets.

I hope that the software will continue to improve and live up to it’s promise, but so far it has failed to live up to expectations