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A Near-Perfect Companion

Nidhi Singal     September 3, 2019

Smart speakers with built-in voice assistants could be a great way to fetch information and control compatible household appliances. Add to that a neat rectangular screen and affordable pricing, and you get Echo Show 5, a near-perfect household companion. The 5.5-inch display (with 960x480 resolution) propped at a slight angle, has the right form factor to be placed on a nightstand, television unit, study desk or a kitchen counter without being obtrusive. The mute mic button and the camera shutter take care of privacy issues while the display adjusts the brightness automatically. The two microphones on this entry-level device can pick up your voice from another room.

Setting it up is easy; all you need is Amazon account login data and wireless connectivity. Swiping down from the top reveals the brightness control toggle along with settings and 'do not disturb'. Swiping towards the left from the right edge opens the dashboard, giving access to communications, smart home controls, music, video, routines and alarms. Plus, you get access to information - time, weather report, latest news, WikiHow and more. It updated my Amazon order and I was able to add items to my Amazon shopping cart by commanding the smart display. Hands-free video calling is supported between Alexa-powered devices.

Another ideal usage scenario that I tested was waking up with a morning alarm, and the Echo Show did it right by switching on compatible lights and briefing me about the day's schedule. I could toggle between routines from the smart display but had to use the Alexa app to set up this activity.

Alexa on Echo Show 5 responds to voice commands for controlling compatible devices. Otherwise, you may go to the Smart Home icon on the interactive dashboard (it displays all paired devices) and manage them without speaking. However, this one does not come with Zigbee support (available in Echo Spot and Echo Show 10.1 inch) and you need to buy the hub separately for Zigbee-compatible devices. (For the uninitiated, Zigbee is a two-way communication system used to control smart appliances).

This version of the Echo Show also displayed lyrics of some of the English tracks it played from my Amazon Music library, which was a nice experience. But for Bollywood songs and other tracks, it simply displayed the album cover along with artiste details. The biggest downside, however, is non-availability of the Google ecosystem. Although Google and Amazon seem to be sorting out their differences with the YouTube app landing on the Fire TV Stick, it is still not available here and Netflix is absent as well. To stream YouTube content, I had to choose either Firefox or Silk browser, but they did not support voice search. Nevertheless, it was able to fetch videos and movies from Prime Videos and a few other compatible apps within a few seconds.


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