Amazon Echo Show 5 review: Small and solid wins the race
Smart and affordable is a winning formula.
By Michael Simon
TechHiveJul 24, 2019 3:00 am PDT
Image: Michael Simon/IDG
At a Glance
Good looks and a small size make it extremely versatile
Excellent information density for a small display
Good sound and music playback options
Camera toggle adds a sense of privacy
No native YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix
Plug can be unsightly
Whether you’re using it as an alarm clock, a video player, or a smart home hub, the Echo Show 5 is a fantastic addition to the Alexa family.
If Amazon let me design my dream smart speaker, it wouldn’t be all that different from the Echo Show 5. It’s small enough to fit on my desk, but its screen is large enough to see from across the room. It has a physical switch to cover the camera lens for privacy. And it’s just as useful as a “dumb” device as it is a smart one.
The Echo Show 5 strikes a perfect balance between seen and unseen. If the original conceit of the Echo speaker was that it would blend into your home and only make itself known when called upon, the Echo Show flipped that notion with a giant body and a 7-inch display that made it more of a centerpiece than an accessory. You’ll want to display the Show 5 somewhere visible, too; but it won’t overtake the room it’s in. If anything, it will complement it, like a vase or a piece of art.
That said, there are two main rooms that are natural fits for the Echo Show 5: a bedroom or a home office. At 5.8 x 3.4 inches, it’s definitely larger than the 4.5 x 2.9-inch Lenovo Smart Clock and the circular Echo Spot, but not in a clumsy way. My test unit has been on my desk since I got it, and it feels right at home without dominating my workspace or stealing my focus.
The Echo Show 5’s design follows the path forged by Amazon’s other smart displays, with a triangular, white-on-black base that props it at a slight angle. Its rectangular display is at once familiar and practical, tacitly admitting that the circular Echo Spot isn’t ideal. On that note, I assume the Echo Show 5 will show the Echo Spot the door, but the latter’s quirky and adorable form will always have a place in my home.
Hip to be rectangular
The Echo Show 5 improves on more than just the shape of the Echo Spot. While the Show 5 also has a down-firing speaker—which is something of a waste of its fabric-wrapped body—the 4W, 1.65-inch speaker sounds much fuller and bossier than the Echo Spot’s . You’re won’t buy either of these devices for audiophile-quality sound, but I came away impressed with the Echo Show 5. Throw in a 3.5mm analog audio output, Amazon Music lyrics, and native support for every major streaming service, and you have a damn near perfect smart speaker for music lovers.
But even if you don’t listen to playlists all day, the Echo Show 5 is still a great companion. On a nightstand, it’s just as good a bedside alarm clock as the Lenovo Smart Clock—including the ambient sunrise lighting feature that gradually brightens the screen, and the ability to tap the top of the frame to snooze an alarm—and on a kitchen counter, it’ll be a great recipe book and measurement converter. I wouldn’t be opposed to smaller bezels and rounded corners on the display, but as it stands, the Echo Show 5 is a remarkable evolution from the cylindrical original .
About the only criticism I can levy against the Echo Show 5’s design is an unfair one: you still you still need to plug in its power supply, so its placement is somewhat limited by outlet proximity and your tolerance for unsightly cords. But that’s hardly Amazon’s fault. As we saw with the ill-fated Echo Tap, battery tech hasn’t advanced past the point where an always-on device won’t need to be charged multiple times a day, and that would severely hinder the Show experience.
The Echo Show 5’s surname comes from its 5.5-inch 960×480 display, an admittedly low resolution for a 2019 screen. Its brightness, however, makes up for its lack of pixels, and that shortage won’t bother unless you get in real close. A quick swipe from the right brings up its rudimentary dashboard, which lets you easily make a call, watch a video, or turn on a light. But it really shines when it’s not in use. I love the rotating content displayed on the home screen for weather alerts, stock prices, trending topics, and sports scores.
It’s not the most powerful device in the world, so navigation and animations can get a little sluggish due to its aging MediaTek MT8163 processor, especially when using its touchscreen. But thanks to Alexa, you probably won’t be tapping much anyway. The Echo Show 5 is excellent at both hearing and deciphering speech, even at a whisper.
The Echo Show 5 has a camera for video calls, but Amazon has taken privacy cries to heart with the Echo Show. Not only can you mute the device with a button that turns off the camera and mutes its microphones via software, there’s also a physical toggle to cover the camera’s lens. All it takes is a simple slide of your finger on the plastic nub above the camera to block its view—plainly clear via a gray circle showing where the lens is—and it’s a fantastic feature. While Google opted to leave the camera off its recently renamed Google Nest Hub as a privacy measure, Echo Show 5 users will appreciate having it both ways.
A video player with an asterisk
The screen on the Echo Show 5 might be smaller than most high-end phones, but Amazon clearly sees it as a video player. With a 2:1 aspect ratio, it’s a bit wider than the 16:10 Echo Show and Google Nest Hub, so movies and videos won’t be zoomed or truncated. Your entire library, as well as the full Amazon Prime Video catalog, are all available to watch; though for now, channels like Hulu and Netflix don’t work. I assume they will be added in a future update—especially since the larger Show supports them—but for now, that’s the Echo Show 5’s biggest weak spot.
Another is YouTube. While it’s technically possible to watch YouTube videos on the Echo Show 5 using the Firefox or Silk browser, without an Alexa skill or official app, it’s a less-than-ideal solution. When you ask to play something on YouTube, you’ll be directed to a webpage, which you’ll then need to navigate by tapping and talking. Otherwise, if you ask to play something specific on YouTube, it’ll do its best to find it on Bing.
Not having access to Google Photos is a bummer, too. The Echo Show 5’s screen is tailor-made for photos, but everything is routed through Amazon Photos. For most people that will mean uploading pics to another service, which probably won’t be worth the trouble. The recent launch of the YouTube app on Fire TV devices gives us hope the two companies will come to a period of detente, but until that day arises, the Echo Show 5 is a just another victim of the Google-Amazon Cold War.
Should you buy an Amazon Echo Show 5?
At $90, the Amazon Echo Show 5 is one of the cheaper Echo devices in Amazon’s lineup, sliding in between the $50 Echo Dot and the $100 Echo. It’s a whopping $140 less than the full-sized Echo Show, and while it doesn’t include a built-in Zigbee smart home hub like the larger Echo Show (2nd Generation) and the Echo Plus, the Echo Show 5 is more versatile where it counts; namely, privacy and size.
It could be a better photo frame with the addition of Google Photos support, and a better video player with native YouTube and Netflix support, but those are quibbles. All said, the Echo Show 5 is a fantastic smart speaker, and the best top-to-bottom value in a smart display. I’ll never stop loving my Echo Spot, but everything needs to grow up some time.