Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen) review: Alexa's got her eye on you

The rotating screen on Amazon’s latest smart display is the big attraction, but there’s plenty more to like about this excellent smart home hub.

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At a Glance
  • Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen)

The third-generation Amazon Echo Show 10 isn’t just Amazon’s best smart display, it’s the most innovative, the most sophisticated, and the best-sounding smart home hub ever. The brushless motor that almost silently spins its 10.1-inch HD display around a 350-degree arc is the feature that will grab your attention when you take it out of the box, but you’ll quickly discover many more things to get jazzed over when you set about exploiting its capabilities to the fullest.

Updated April 6, 2021 to add an unboxing and setup video (see above).

Using feedback from its onboard 13-megapixel camera as well as from its far-field microphones, the Echo Show 10 rotates its display around its base so that it’s always facing you. This is a fantastic feature whether you’re following a recipe, engaging in a video call, or watching a movie on Netflix. And Amazon gives you full control over how motion occurs: You can disable it entirely, enable it only for some activities—such as when making video calls, watching a video, or following a recipe—or you can activate/deactivate it on demand by saying things like “Alexa, follow me,” “Alexa, turn right,” or “Alexa, turn off motion.”

amazon echo show rotation adjustment Michael Brown / IDG

If you place the Echo Show next to a wall or in a corner, you can adjust how far it will rotate so that it doesn’t bump into anything as it spins.

The display apparently has a clutch or a similar mechanism that automatically disengages the motor while at rest, allowing you to manually turn the display left or right even if motion is enabled. Unlike previous iterations of the Echo Show, you can also tilt its display up or down to get the best viewing angle (this feature is not motorized).

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best smart speakers and displays, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.

Display quality is much improved on this model compared to the first- and second-generation Echo Show. It’s not only brighter, but Amazon has added the ability for the display to adjust its brightness and color to adapt to the ambient lighting in the room. Those are features Google has already made available in its competing Nest Hub Max.

amazon echo show 10 profile 2 Michael Brown / IDG

The Amazon Echo Show 10 is available in charcoal or glacial white, but its cord and power adapter will be glacial white regardless of which color your choose..

I set up the Echo Show on my kitchen island and found that its tracking feature worked well and smoothly as it followed me moving around the room—provided there’s adequate ambient light. If the room is too dark, the Echo will display a message that reads “Motion is unavailable because lighting is low.” And while it can spin 175 degrees in each direction, it will reverse and rapidly swing the other way when it reaches the end of either range. This induced mild vertigo for the people on the other end of my video calls, but I don’t imagine there will be many times when you’ll go to the extreme of walking in circles around the display like I did.

Most of the time, you’ll be moving from side to side, and the Echo Show tracked those movements relatively well—unless there was someone else in the room moving in a different direction. It could then become confused over who it was supposed to track. Having one person speak to the display helps with this, since it uses both computer vision and sound to triangulate your location.

camera shutter closed Michael Brown / IDG

If you’re camera shy or don’t want the Echo Show 10 to track you as you move about the room, you can slide this physical shutter over its camera lens.

While this review’s headline is accurate, you needn’t be too concerned about the privacy implications of the Echo Show 10’s ability to track your movements. There’s a MediaTek 8183 chip on board, but all the processing needed to accomplish the rotation trick is performed locally, on the device itself, using Amazon’s new AZ1 Neural Edge processor. No images or videos are uploaded to the cloud for this purpose. But if you still find that tracking feature disconcerting, you can slide a mechanical shutter over the camera’s lens. There’s also a button for disabling its onboard microphones.

Home security

In addition to streaming video from compatible third-party home security cameras, including those in the Amazon-owned Ring family, you can stream a live view from other Echo Shows in your home or those belonging to your contacts using Amazon’s Drop In feature (providing the appropriate permissions have been granted by the other parties). Enable Alexa Guard and the Echo Show will listen for the sound of smoke and carbon-dioxide detector alarms when you say “Alexa, I’m leaving.” If it detects those sounds, or the sound of breaking glass, Alexa will send an alert to your smartphone. Saying “Alexa, I’m home” when you return toggles Guard mode off.

amazon echo home monitor Michael Brown / DIG

A home-monitoring feature lets you and other authorized users use the Echo Show 10’s rotating camera to see what’s happening inside your home.

Sign up for Alexa Guard Plus ($4.99 per month or $49 per year), and the speaker will also listen for the sound of footsteps or doors closing while Guard mode is active, indicating that someone could be in your home when it’s supposed to be vacant. Amazon says the Echo Show 10’s motorized display will soon deliver even more home security benefits to Alexa Guard Plus subscribers: While you’re away, the display’s built-in camera will automatically pan the room and send you an alert if a person is detected in its field of view. Tapping the alert will activate Drop In mode, so you can get a live view from the camera to see what’s going on. Dragging your finger over the live view will trigger the new Echo Show 10 to pan its camera to give you a view of the entire room.

While you can create Alexa Routines that will trigger all sorts of automations based on the geolocation of your smartphone, you can’t turn on Alexa Guard this way. I suspect it’s because there’s currently no way for Alexa to determine if you’re the only one who’s leaving and that anyone else might still be home That would trigger an annoying false alarm, among other things.

The one downside to the motorized display is that you need to maintain a five-inch perimeter all the way around the Echo Show 10; otherwise, that the spinning display could knock something over. But if you do decide to place the display against a wall or in a corner, a device-mapping process during setup lets you restrict its range of motion (you can run through this anytime you move the display to a new location).

Incidentally, the Echo Show 10 is awkward to move, due to its weight—and uneven weight distribution—and its rotating base. Amazon also provides a paper template that you lay on your counter or tabletop that will indicate the area that should be kept clear if you are going to allow its display to rotate freely. You can also program the display’s idle position, the position it will return to when it stops tracking anyone.

echo show 10 on placement template Michael Brown / IDG

Amazon provides this paper template to show you the perimeter that must be free from obstacles for the Echo Show 10 to fully rotate.

Audio performance

Amazon has made steady progress improving the audio performance of its Echo smart speakers over the years, and while the Echo Show 10 doesn’t rise to the level of the display-less Echo Studio, the Sonos One, or the Google Home Max (a speaker we’ll miss forever), it does sound very, very good for the price. It’s outfitted with a pair of 1-inch front-firing tweeters and a substantial 3-inch woofer that pumps bass out the top of its squat, cylindrical enclosure. I didn’t get a good sense of stereo separation, but the speaker doesn’t sound appreciably different even when you’re sitting opposite its tweeters (an unlikely scenario if tracking is enabled).

Amazon hasn’t released much in the way of specs for the Echo Show 10’s audio subsystem, but I can tell you its speakers can get quite loud. And if you crave even more low-end performance, you can pair the speaker with Amazon’s very affordable and wireless Echo Sub, a feature that no other smart speaker brand except Sonos can match. Unlike most other Echo speakers, this one doesn’t include a 3.5mm aux output, which doesn’t surprise me—a cord would easily get tangled around its base.

amazon echo show 10 3rd gen exposed Amazon

The Amazon Echo 10 (3rd Gen) is equipped with two front-firing tweeters and an up-firing woofer.

You can stream music to the Echo Show 10 via Bluetooth, but you’ll get a much better experience using Wi-Fi (there’s a Wi-Fi 6 adapter on board). I started my listening tests streaming tracks from the Tidal app on my iPhone 12 using Bluetooth, but couldn’t stand that for long—there’s no support for a higher-resolution Bluetooth codec such as aptX or aptX HD—so I quickly switched to Wi-Fi. You can stream music from Amazon Music, Amazon Music HD, Apple Music, Deezer, Pandora, Spotify, the aforementioned Tidal, and several other services in addition to the music stored on your own network (this story will show you how to do that).

Smart home features

Like most of Amazon’s more recent smart speakers, the third-gen Echo Show 10 has a built-in Zigbee smart home hub. That’s great if your smart home revolves around the Zigbee wireless mesh protocol, but we’ll keep repeating our wish that Amazon would also show Z-Wave some love, the way most other smart home hub manufacturers do.

The Echo Show 10 can also function as a bridge on Amazon’s upcoming Sidewalk neighborhood network, an initiative that promises to extend the range of smart home devices such as motion sensors, pet trackers, and similar products. Sidewalk will enable compatible devices to reach the internet even if they’re outside of Wi-Fi range. This trick is accomplished by siphoning a tiny bit of each participating home’s broadband bandwidth—no more than 80Kbps and maxing out at 500MB per month—via Sidewalk bridges such as the Echo Show 10. You’re given the opporunity to opt out of Sidewalk during set up, but you’ll need to take steps to opt out of Sidewalk on Alexa devices that are already set up.

While the company has also expressed support for the Thread smart home protocol—joining Apple, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance as part of Project Connected Home over Internet Protocol (CHIP) standards body—the Echo Show 10 can’t act as a Thread border router like Apple’s HomePod mini can. Thread could become a big deal or it might never get off the ground, but the same could be said of Sidewalk. I’d prefer to have both technologies at my disposal, even if I end up never using either of them.

amazon sidewalk Michael Brown / IDG

Amazon’s upcoming Sidewalk long-range networking feature will help your—and your neighbors’—Ring and other compatible smart-home devices achieve better range by siphoning a bit of each participant’s broadband bandwidth.

All that said, speaking to Alexa is the easiest way to control all your smart home devices, since every important manufacturer renders their products compatible with it. My own home started life 13 years ago with a Vivint smart home hub at its center and with about 50 Z-Wave devices for lighting controls.

Over the years, I’ve added Ring doorbells, lighting, and security cameras; Philips Hue Zigbee smart bulbs and outdoor luminaires; Wi-Fi-based smart switches and ceiling fan controllers from Leviton and Lutron; numerous Sonos speakers, indoors and out; and even smart window shades that use three different communications protocols. I use Alexa to control all those products, even though they’re ostensibly not interoperable.

Bottom line

The third-generation Echo Show 10 earns every cent of its $20 premium over the still-available second-generation model. That said, I suspect it will be harder to pull the trigger on replacing an existing second-gen model just to get that motorized display.

If, for example, your primary use for the older Echo Show is video calling, reading recipes while you cook, and watching videos when you’re not stationary, an upgrade makes sense. But if you typically rely on the Echo Show just for music listening and smart home control you should probably stand pat.

As with previous Echo products, the Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen) by itself won’t satisfy a hardcore smart home enthusiast, nor will it quench an audiophile’s thirst for high-quality music reproduction or a cineaste’s love for movies on the big screen. But it’s a fantastic and affordable companion to higher-end devices in all three categories.

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At a Glance
  • Amazon once again raises the bar for what a smart home device can do.

    Pros

    • Display can automatically rotate so it's always facing you
    • Significant improvements in display brightness and image quality
    • Strong home security features, including Alexa Guard and the subscription-based Alexa Guard Plus
    • Very good audio performance

    Cons

    • You might find the tracking feature to be creepy (it can be disabled)
    • Wi-Fi and Zigbee radios onboard, but there’s no Z-Wave or Thread support
    • Needs at least 5 inches of clearance all the way around if it’s to fully rotate
 
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