Amazon Echo Show 5 full review
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If you thought Amazon's range of Echo devices wasn't big enough, well there's good news: there's now another smart display, the Echo Show 5.
It's named like Amazon's tablets, so the 5 refers to screen size - 5.5 inches - rather than being the fifth Echo Show to launch. So this makes it half the size of the 'big' Echo Show, and it's being sold alongside the Echo Spot which does - on the face of it - a similar job.
They're both ideal for a bedside table / nightstand, although Amazon is keen to point out that they are also great for desks, shelves or in the kitchen. But it's the Echo Show 5's traditional screen shape that makes it a bit more versatile than the circular-screened Spot.
Essentially it's a bit like putting your phone on a stand sideways and having the screen always on.
Price & availability
Surprisingly, the Spot costs £119.99 / $129.99, but the Show 5 is much cheaper at £79.99 / $89.99.
You can buy them, and every Echo model, from Amazon.
This makes the Show 5 cheaper than the 2nd-gen Amazon Echo, which is just a speaker without a display, and Google's 7in Nest Hub (formerly the Home Hub).
It's possible Amazon has priced it to compete with Lenovo's Smart Clock, because that costs exactly the same in the UK and $10 cheaper in the US.
Features & design
You could say the Show 5 is simply a mini Echo Show, and in some ways that's the best description. It comes in the same two colours - black and white - and also has rear-facing speakers.
Similarly, there's a camera and microphones so you can use it to video chat with other Echos fitted with displays using Amazon's Drop In function (where you don't need to wait for someone to accept the call).
It's also possible to use Skype for video or audio calls, and because microphones and cameras can be a privacy issue, Amazon has added a slider so you can physically hide the camera. This leaves the mics active, but if you press the mute button on top, that turns off both the mics and the camera, even if the camera cover is open.
The camera is a key difference between the Show 5 and the Lenovo Smart Clock and Google Nest Hub, which just have mics. So if you do want to be able to video call people, the Show 5 is a more tempting option.
If you're wondering why the Echo Show 5 is so much cheaper than the regular Echo Show, it's partly because of the smaller screen but also because it doesn't have the built-in Zigbee hub which allows certain smart home gadgets to connect to the internet without a separate hub. Since so many devices use Wi-Fi and don't require a hub - even Philips has removed the hub in the latest Hue bulbs - it isn't a noticeable loss.
You do get Bluetooth so you can stream music from your phone to the Show 5 and there's an ambient light sensor so screen brightness adjusts according to how bright the room is. There's even a 3.5mm output so you can hook up your own speakers, or even headphones if you prefer.
A new feature is Sunrise Effect which gradually brightens the screen starting 15 minutes before any alarms set between 4 and 9am. This restriction on times is odd: you can't adjust those to suit your schedule. Still, it's a nice feature for a smart alarm clock to have and you can whack the top of it to snooze the alarm like you can on the Lenovo Smart Clock.
There are lots of options for setting alarms, too. They can repeat on certain days, you can choose a variety of tones and you can make those gradually increase in volume so as not to shock you out of a deep sleep.
The software has been slightly updated so there's now a control panel when you swipe in from the right side. This is likely an effort to make it easier to control your smart home using the Echo Show, a real strength of Google's Nest Hub. (This update will come to other Echo Show models too.)
You can also customise the clock, a little like you can on the Echo Spot, and there are plenty of themes to choose between, or you can pick a favourite photo.
Thanks to the swipe-down top menu you can adjust most of the Echo Show 5's settings without needing to open the Alexa app, something that can't be said about the Google Nest Hub.
It also includes 'Discover Alexa' shortcuts to some features such as the shopping list, as well as suggestions of things to say such as Play Happy Music or What's on my calendar today. You can tap these instead of asking Alexa.
All of the usual Alexa capabilities are here, with extra features compared to a normal speaker-only Echo because of the screen. That means an on-screen forecast when you ask what the weather's going to be like, and images and written instructions for recipes.
Naturally, you can also watch videos - Alexa will happily play anything from Amazon Prime Video if you're a Prime member, as well as showing results from Vevo and Daily Motion when you ask for a music video or a video with a specific names. It won't bring up YouTube results, unfortunately, but you can watch YouTube via the built-in web browser. It's not ideal, but it's a reasonable workaround.
Don't forget, though, that the screen is smaller than many phone screens, so you're not going to watch a whole film or even an hour-long TV show on it. But it is good for music videos and film trailers and showing the video feed from compatible security cameras and baby monitors.
A couple of notable new skills which use the screen include Joe Wicks' The Bodycoach and TV guide. With the latter you can ask "Alexa, what's on TV tonight" and you'll see thumbnails and recommendations for shows on the main channels. You can tap icons for iPlayer, ITV Hub, Amazon Prime and Netflix to get more recommendations.
It's also worth highlighting one of Alexa's new capabilities: phone calls. Previously, you've been able to text and voice message other Echo users, and broadcast announcements to all your Echos but Alexa can now make actual phone calls via your mobile phone. It works best with Vodafone Red plans, but it will still work with other networks.
Entertainment & news
There are games, too, including Pointless, Deal or No Deal and Tenable. And there's plenty of other fun to be had. You can ask Alexa to take a photo: there are four-shot and photo booth modes. Photos are saved to the cloud and they'll appear as 'On this day' in subsequent years.
It's a shame there's no way to show photos from other sources, including Facebook and Google Photos.. you're living in Amazon's world when you buy an Echo Show. It could well be the reason to buy a Google Nest Hub if you back up your camera roll to Google Photos and want a smart display to work as a digital photo frame.
When the home screen is showing, the default is to scroll through interesting news stories, called Trending Topics, but you can customise this under Home Content to show upcoming tasks, sports scores, upcoming matches, reminders, photos from Amazon Photos and upcoming games.
Small size, big sound
Any Echo is likely to be used a lot for playing music. The speakers are smaller than in the big Echo Show but they still sound pretty good. A grille beneath the screen lets sound bounce off the surface so it sounds as though it's coming from the screen itself.
There isn't nearly as much bass as the large Echo Show, but music sounds almost as good as on the Echo 2. You can adjust it using the Equaliser to add a bit more bass, though. The bad news is that things can get a bit distorted if the track is busy and you turn it up to the max, but in a smaller room such as a bedroom, half volume is more than enough and sound quality is perfectly decent.
It's impressive that Alexa can still hear you and respond even when music or other sound is playing loudly.
Thanks to a recent change, you can now access music from Apple Music as well as Spotify and Amazon Music. Or, you can simply use the Show 5 as a Bluetooth speaker.
Whichever music service you set as the default in the Alexa app is the one Alexa will use to source tunes when you ask her to play something. It doesn't matter whether that's a specific track or album, or a generic request such as "Alexa, play happy music" or "Alexa, play 1980s music", it will still come from the service you've made the default.
If you're happy with the small screen, and you will be if you want to use it as a smart clock, then at this price the Show 5 is the best Echo Show yet. It doesn't sound as good as the 10-inch Echo Show, but that costs more than twice as much. Few people will miss that device's built-in hub, and Amazon has kept all the important stuff including Bluetooth, while beefing up privacy by adding a camera cover which should mitigate fears of bringing a camera into the bedroom.
Amazon Echo Show 5: Specs
- 5.5in, 960 x 480-pixel screen
- 1.65in speaker
- 148 x 86 x 73 mm
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- MediaTek MT 8163 processor
- One-year warranty
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