The Echo Show 5 is the latest in a long and fast-moving line of Amazon products intended to get us all invested in its virtual assistant, Alexa. This voice-activated software will listen to your commands and (most of the time) come up with appropriate responses to get the job done.
That job might be reading the weather forecast, or telling you who won the 1962 World Cup; turning the lights off and the heating down in the front room; finding a recipe and reading out step-by-step instructions; playing music from your personal playlists on Spotify or Amazon Music and, of course, much more.
The technology has been around for a few years now, and the abilities of the magical little assistant inside your wireless pieces of kit are getting more impressive by the month. Likewise, Alexa is more likely to understand precisely what it is that you are asking of her.
Where much of the Alexa-enabled kit out there is audio based, concentrated on the Bluetooth speaker market in particular, the Echo Show 5 embraces both sound and video in its abilities to communicate. So, as well as playing music or reading out information, you can access video content on the 5.5in LCD touchscreen.
That may be a movie on Amazon Prime Video, say, the latest BBC News bulletin, or even a HIIT workout from south-west London’s finest, Joe Wicks. There’s also an HD camera, allowing the user to make Skype calls, for example, or view images from cameras in other rooms in the house and elsewhere.
The Echo Show 5 is a little bigger than an iPhone on its side, mounted on a wedge. That triangular prism houses all the electronics and allows the screen to be tilted towards the user for easy viewing. It’s nicely put together, with a textured cloth finish at the rear and a rubberised base.
There are just a few buttons along the top of the unit – one each for volume up and down, and one for turning the microphones and camera on and off. There is also a reassuringly analogue slider that blocks or frees the camera shutter – allowing the user to know for sure that there is no possibility of being snooped on unexpectedly.
At the back of the unit, at the pointy end of the wedge, is the power port, a micro USB input and a 3.5mm audio output, which allows you to connect the Echo Show 5 to a more powerful speaker.
On occasion, you might want to do that. The Echo Show 5 is a diminutive device, and as such cannot possibly offer the scale of sound that some specialist wireless speakers can.
But then it offers so much more ability and functionality than a run-of-the-mill Bluetooth speaker. For what it is, we find the sound perfectly acceptable. It runs fairly warm, sonically, which helps voices on radio and the like, and makes for a comfortable listening experience.
Amazon Echo Show 5 tech specs
Connections Wi-fi, USB, 3.5mm line-in
Camera 1MP (720p HD video)
Dimensions (hwd) 8.6 x 14.8 x 7.3cm
We say the words “Alexa, play Bruce Springsteen’s newest album” and Alexa obligingly announces that the Boss’s latest is called Western Stars and it is playing on Amazon Music within a couple of seconds. The song’s lyrics are displayed on the screen line by line, which is a nice touch.
Springsteen’s voice is rendered faithfully, with just an occasional sibilant buzz from the Show 5. This unit doesn’t like being pushed too hard as far as volume goes, but if you keep things at middling levels it does just fine. As background music to be woken up to, or for listening in the kitchen while cooking, it is a perfectly serviceable sound.
The voice control is undeniably convenient. If you’re using the Echo Show 5 in the kitchen, say, it’s useful to be able to say “Alexa, turn the volume up” without having to touch the unit with greasy or floury hands.
The 5.5in screen brings a similar verdict to the sound. The picture isn’t spectacular, but it’s acceptable. You wouldn’t want to watch a full-length movie on the Show 5, but for video clips, chatting to friends and family over Skype, or viewing the baby in its room or the visitor at the front door, it does a good job.
The Echo Show 5 isn’t pretending to be something it’s not, and if sound is your priority there are plenty of other wireless speakers out there that will do a better job in purely sonic terms.
But this is an £80 box of tricks that does so much more than that. It opens up the world of the digital assistant to a whole new audience for both audio and video; and if that’s what you’re after, this is about as good as you’ll get – especially for this sort of money.