Smart displays are flooding the market, with devices from Google, Lenovo and JBL to choose from. But if you’d rather have Alexa at your beck and call – or at the tip of your finger – you’ve got to choose from one of Amazon’s Echo Show range, which is now three-strong thanks to the new Echo Show 8.
Screen size: 8 inches
Resolution: 1280 x 800 px
Camera: 1MP, front-facing
Sound: 2 x 2-inch 10W speakers
Dimensions: 200 x 136 x 99 mm
This 8-inch smart display follows the 10-inch Echo Show and the much smaller 5.5-inch Echo Show 5, but being the middle child hasn’t hurt its prospects at all. The Echo Show 8 is the perfect size for pretty much any space and brings a mix of features from both its siblings. It can do everything the other Echo Shows can do, displayed on a screen it’s inherited from its bigger brother, while also offering the smaller Echo Show 5’s privacy features.
Amazon obviously sees a lot of potential in its smart displays and, with the Echo Show 8, we see it too. You can shop online without raising a finger, use it to watch videos or listen to music, make calls, plenty more besides, all without it taking up too much space on your bedside table or kitchen counter. And perhaps the Echo Show’s most redeeming feature is that it doesn’t need an app to set up. It’s easy, it’s convenient and almost perfect.
[Update: Amazon has revealed that it's holding a hardware launch event this coming Thursday, September 24, which means we could be in for some upgraded Echo speakers, updates to Alexa, Prime Video, and Amazon Music, and new Echo devices.
It doesn't look as though the event will be live streamed to the general public, but it's scheduled to start at 10am PT / 1pm ET / 6pm BST (that's 3am, September 25 if you're in Australia) – and we’ll be here to cover all the announcements from Amazon HQ.
There haven’t been any material leaks so far, but the invite sent to media mentions "Devices and Services", so it looks as though we might hear some Alexa news as well as being treated to some new gadgets.]
What about Amazon Prime Day 2020?
Amazon Prime Day is coming up soon, and though the official date is yet to be announced, it's expected to fall in mid-October. The massive sales event will be a great place to find discounts on Amazon Echo speakers, as well as lots of other tech – so if you're thinking of buying an Echo, you should wait until then. Not ready to commit? Black Friday 2020 follows soon after on November 27, giving you another chance to save big on your next tech purchase.
Price and availability
The Echo Show 8 was announced in September 2019 and began shipping to customers in major markets in November 2019. However, it began shipping to Australia only in February 2020.
The smart display can be bought directly from Amazon or from major retailers for $129 / £119 / AU$229, although it is possible to get it for cheaper as Amazon often offers discounts on its entire Echo range.
If you’ve seen or used the second-generation Echo Show or Echo Show 5, then the new 8-inch sibling will be familiar to you. It looks exactly like the Echo Show 5, camera and camera shutter included, just with an 8-inch display as opposed to a smaller 5-5-inch screen.
The Echo Show 8 brings over the same screen resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels from the 10-inch device. The same number of pixels on a smaller screen means you’re getting sharper, crisper image quality with the Echo Show 8 and a lot more detail.
The angled display, like with the other Echo Shows, is held in place by a fabric-wrapped base that makes it resemble a speaker from the rear. Round the back is also the smart display’s power port and, like its siblings, you’ll need to keep it plugged in at all times. Also on the rear is a microUSB port and a 3.5mm headphone jack in case you’d like to keep your listening pleasures private or blast it through a connected Hi-Fi system. The inclusion of the microUSB port, though, is a mystery to us. It’s available on the other Echo Shows as well, but there is no consumer value that we could find.
Coming round to the front, there’s a 1MP camera it inherits from its smaller sibling, along with the physical shutter that you can slide shut if you’re privacy-conscious. In fact, if you aren’t too keen on having Alexa eavesdrop on anything you say, you can keep voice activation switched off by pressing the leftmost button on the top of the device. The other two buttons beside it, as the icons indicate, are for adjusting volume.
Screen and touch functionality
As before, there’s no physical home button on the Echo Show 8. Everything you need is available on screen which, we have to say, is very responsive. The 8-inch display is sharp as a tack, no matter the viewing angle.
The screen features adaptive brightness, meaning it automatically adjusts to ambient light, although you can adjust brightness to your liking by simply sliding downwards from the top of the screen to reveal the slider. Reflections can be a minor annoyance depending on the lighting conditions indoors but never so much that watching something on that 8-inch screen becomes a big issue.
Alongside the brightness slider is the option to change the device’s settings. From there you can change the wallpaper, decide what appears on the home screen, set up Do Not Disturb and more.
Swipe left to right and you’ll pull up a menu that offers easy access to a number of functions like listening to music, watching videos, setting up routines and making calls or announcements. Everything the Echo Show is capable of is available at your fingertips.
However, it’s abundantly clear that the smart display was built to showcase Alexa’s skills in response to voice commands. Unless you’re watching a video on one of the packaged services (like Prime Video or Sky News), there’s a high probability that you’ll see a suggestion of what Alexa can do for you, even if it’s a skill you’re aware of or have tried several times already. There are options in the settings to disable some of this but there’s no way to completely get away from it – so much so that it does get a tad annoying.
Unlike the Google Nest Hub Max, which has full-screen clock faces that can convert the smart display into a tabletop timepiece, there is no option to display the time in full-screen mode. That said, it’s not really a deal breaker unless you regularly need to check the time from across the room.
Video and sound
As mentioned before, the Echo Show 8 only has a 1MP front-facing camera as opposed to the 5MP on the 10-inch Echo Show. On paper, the latter should offer better video quality than the former but, in use, the 1MP camera performs better. While it struggles with backlit subjects, the feed looks a lot more natural than on the second-gen Echo Show.
For a device with a footprint of just 200 x 135 x 99mm (7.9 x 5.4 x 3.9 inches), it packs a pair of two-inch speakers with passive bass. That’s just a smidge smaller than the two 2.2-inch speakers in the 10-inch Echo Show, and yet the Echo Show 8 can get loud. It’s not as punchy as the bigger brother as there’s Dolby-enhanced sound in that one, but the 8-inch device can hold its own if you like booming bass. If you don’t, you can always tweak it to your liking via the equalizer in the settings pane. The sound is room-filling and even does well within a large open-plan space (walls can reverberate sound, making it seem louder than it actually is).
While you can stream directly from Amazon’s own streaming services, you can link your Spotify or Apple Music account instead if you prefer. The Echo Show 8 is also Bluetooth-enabled, so you can pair it with your phone or tablet and play tunes you’ve got saved in a library on your handheld device.
Video streaming is also available, with Prime Video taking center stage and only a tap or voice command away, at least in theory. However, that was the one service we couldn’t access, even after resetting the device. While we were able to ask Alexa to play trailers or news clips, the voice assistant kept saying “Sorry, there was a problem” every time we tried to access Amazon’s own video streaming service. Trying to use the Alexa app to set it up was also futile, although the Echo Show 8 was paired with our handset and appeared online on the app. Since everything else worked perfectly well, we’re guessing this is just an isolated incident and not a problem with Amazon’s device or service.
The Echo Show is also, of course, capable of controlling some of your connected smart home devices. Alexa has a different set of skills in different regions – while it can do a lot more in the US and the UK, skills in Australia are very limited. While it’s very easy to set up a connection with Philips Hue lights, we couldn’t find a way to connect our Nanoleaf Canvas setup in Australia. There’s also no Zigbee support (which you’ll find on the larger Echo Show) but that shouldn’t be a deal breaker for most people as there’s still plenty of smart devices that can be controlled via the Echo Show 8.
As before, there’s still no YouTube app here. However, Amazon’s Silk browser is available for all your YouTube or online shopping needs. Speaking of which, you can’t yet shop on Amazon via voice commands in Australia (like you can in some other markets), so if you happen to be living Down Under, then the on-board browser is the way to go.
As we mentioned before, you don’t need the Alexa app to either setup or use the Echo Show 8, although it does come in handy if you’d like to link other services which you can then access on the smart display. For example, iOS and Mac users can link their Apple Music account in the Alexa app, and then access it via a voice command or tap on the Echo Show.
If you happen to use Amazon Photos to store your images, your Echo Show can double up as a digital photo frame, although the Google Nest Hub Max is a better device for this purpose thanks to its ability to tweak color automatically.
It’s fair to say that the Echo Show 8 brings nothing new to the table, but considering that it’s significantly cheaper than the 10-inch Echo Show (2nd gen) and has a better set of features than the Echo Show 5, it definitely hits the sweet spot when it comes to value for money.
The 8-inch sibling has the best screen experience amongst the current crop of Echo Show devices and big sound to accompany the sharp display. In fact, it sounds better than the Google Nest Hub Max, although the latter does do a better job of displaying your photos.
The Echo Show 8 is also remarkably easy to set up, and only needs the Alexa app if you need to connect smart home devices the smart display isn’t able to identify, or to link non-Amazon streaming services. And even though we ran into trouble with watching videos on Prime Video, we still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Echo Show 8 over either of its siblings, particularly when it’s usually possible to get the device at a discounted price on Amazon and, often, bundled with Hue bulbs, Ring Doorbells or even a smart plug.