Amazon’s recently redesigned Echo Show 8 offers a form factor with a lot of potential. The relatively small smart speaker/display combo is about the size and shape of a small Kindle Fire in a stand and offers an extremely high-resolution camera, as well as stereo speakers, an eight-core CPU, a microphone array for better speech recognition and processing, and a relatively heavy, flat base that positions the screen well for desk or chest height viewing.
We were lucky enough to get two of the new devices for hands-on testing before launch and have had them for about a week.
Overview and operation
Amazon Echo Show 8 (2021)
Most of your interaction with the Echo Show 8 will be through the 8-inch touchscreen or the built-in microphone array. The microphone array is excellent, easily outperforming the Echo and Google Home smart speakers (Dot, Mini, and full-size) I’ve tested in the past. Even when my kids rickroll me on the highest volume on the device, a no more than moderately loud “Alexa, stop playing that crap” manages to get her attention – and make her stop playing that crap – 10 out of 10 times.
The touchscreen itself is responsive, but it falls short of normal tablet standards – while the screen measures a solid 8in, the 1280 x 800 resolution pales in comparison to the 2560 x 1600 offered by my Huawei MediaPad M5 or the 2360 x 1640 from an iPad Air. Fortunately, the lower resolution means no visible “fraying” – Amazon seems to do a great job of protecting the screen from aliasing – but it sharply limits screen real estate in the Silk browser.
Even worse, we don’t like the on-screen keyboard: it takes up the entire screen rather than being a half-screen overlay. Then it wastes all that stolen real estate with an Echo logo, which splits the keyboard into two widely separated halves. The huge Echo logo is sometimes – but only sometimes – an equally massive microphone button, which, if you toggle it, lets you control the keyboard with your voice, rather than tapping it.
Buttons and ports
In addition to touchscreen and microphone inputs, the Echo Show 8 offers hardware volume controls on the top edge of the device, flanked by a microphone mute button on the left and a camera toggle on the right. The camera switch slides from side to side, moving a physical obstacle over the front-facing camera lens, providing a satisfying click when fully closed.
The mute button is unfortunately digital only, but the setting survives a reboot. If you mute your show’s microphone and then lose power, the show will still be muted when you regain power.
On the back of the Echo Show 8 are a power jack and a micro USB port. The power connection is, somewhat disappointingly, a DC barrel, so try not to lose the wall wart that came with the Echo. We initially thought the micro-USB port would allow us to power the Echo Show 8 from the nearby USB hub that we use to charge phones and tablets, but alas, no.
After some research, we discovered that Amazon does not support the use of this micro-USB port for end users, but that it can support some micro USB to Ethernet adapters for use with wired networks. One Echo Show 8 (first generation) user reported that this particular Ethernet adapter worked perfectly; we think the same adapter should work just as well in the new version of the Echo Show 8.
Echo Show 8 as a clock radio/music machine next to the bed
A week of hands-on testing sounds like a lot of time, but it’s not nearly enough time to go through every use case for the device. Like any Alexa-powered device, the Echo Show 8 can function as a smart home hub, in addition to more obvious uses as a tablet, smart speaker, or video conferencing gadget. Your humble author has a decidedly dumb (and trustworthy) home, so we haven’t tested the automation features yet.
When Amazon first announced the new Echo Show lineup, I personally got pretty excited about the 8 – unlike the smaller Echo Show 5, it has stereo speakers. I like to go to sleep at night with music and while I just use my Android tablet as a standalone media player to work, it made me desperately miss my 1991 Panasonic boombox – which has far better sound quality than any smart speaker I’ve found, let alone a phone or tablet. Sadly, the old reliable has only been relegated to the living room for actual FM radio use, as it lacks Bluetooth capabilities as well as a line-in port. (It had a CD player, so why would Panasonic give it a line-in? Manufacturers in the 1990s clearly believed that the compact disc was the last medium music would ever be stored or delivered on.)
A couple of weeks for After the announcement, I noticed that the Google Nest Audio smart speakers could be paired in stereo pairs – and I’d bought a few, put them on the nightstand behind my head, and paired. They sound good – probably not as good as the Panasonic, but anyway close to. Unfortunately, the process of getting audio from my tablet or phone to the paired Nest Audio speakers is, in the words of our own Ron Amadeo, “pretty janky”. Simply linking my tablet to the Nest Audios via Bluetooth didn’t work; instead, I had to use the Google Home app to “cast” to them, just like you would cast video to a smart television. Does it work? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Does it occasionally crash in the middle of the night with a loud blu-donk sound effect? Also, unfortunately, yes.