When Amazon unveiled the Echo Show last year, many people made fun of it for its bulky, awkward appearance. But it proved to be a pioneer in the smart display category, showing that adding a screen to a voice assistant was actually useful. So much so, that Google followed a few months later with its own line of Echo Show rivals, thanks to partners like Lenovo and JBL. Google's smart displays were better-looking and had a more intuitive interface, with desirable features like step-by-step recipes and YouTube integration.
mazon has established Alexa as one of the top-tier virtual assistants, and even if you don’t use most of Alexa’s features, you can still find it to be a very useful assistant for the few things you rely on it to do. The Echo Show is a similar proposition: you probably aren’t going to use all of its features, but you may find those few things that it does well that work in your life. For me, that’s managing a grocery list, controlling smart home gadgets, getting weather reports, and listening to music.
But I’d love to use the Echo Show for other things, like watching the latest season of Big Mouth on Netflix while I do the dishes. Or use as a digital photo frame for my Google Photos account. The Show supports Amazon’s Prime Photos, naturally, but none of my photos are stored there. It’d be great if I could just cast Doug DeMuro’s latest deep dive on an exotic car on YouTube from my phone to the Show, so I can have it on while preparing lunch.
Aside from perhaps Netflix, which Amazon potentially could add in the future, I probably won’t ever be able to use the Echo Show for all of the things I want to use it for, because at the end of the day, it’s mostly an access point for Alexa and not a full-fledged computer platform. Without deals with all of the video content providers, such as Netflix and HBO, and personal data storehouses, like Google and Apple, Alexa can feel a bit lonely. While I do not expect the Echo Show to do the exact same things as my phone — the thought of an email app and Twitter on the Show makes my eye twitch — I would like to be able to use the Show in conjunction with my phone, to either share information between them or remotely control either one.
There certainly are pros to Amazon’s isolated, simplistic approach – my colleague Dieter Bohn appreciated the Show’s simplicity compared to a tablet or PC when he reviewed the first model over a year ago. And the Show is not alone in its limitations: Google’s Smart Displays have similar gates around what services they support and what features they have (and they don’t support Netflix either). The advantage Google has, however, is it already is a giant storehouse of my personal data, which Amazon is not.
At the end of the day, if I’m going to commit to having an always-on, internet-connected screen sitting on my countertop all the time, I want it to do more than the Echo Show.