Amazon Echo Show 15 review: bigger Alexa is good, but not yet better | Amazon

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The Echo Show 15 is Amazon’s biggest Alexa smart display and is designed to be a command centre or digital noticeboard for all the family.

It is considerable larger than the rest of Amazon’s Echo Show devices, which were recently given a motorised screen and small desk-ready displays. The Echo Show 15 – which costs £239.99 ($249.99/A$399) – dwarfs them, with its huge 15.6in screen looking more like a picture frame than a piece of technology.

That illusion is furthered by its wall-mountable form – it is designed to be hung in a central place like the digital equivalent of the pinboards common to kitchens of homes of the 1980s, and can be mounted in landscape or portrait orientation.

The back of the Echo Show 15.The back of the Echo Show 15 has screws for the included wall mounting plate or stand (as shown), with a cable tidying compartment to keep things neat. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

It can be bought with a stand for £30 more if you would rather not screw 2.2kg of technology into your wall.

The 1080p touchscreen is bright and crisp when viewed at arm’s reach. Its two 1.6in speakers are loud and clear for Alexa’s voice or watching video but only average for music lacking in bass, sounding closer to the budget Echo Dot than the beefier Echo Show 10.

It has buttons on the top for volume, muting the microphones and camera, plus a physical privacy shutter for the camera.

A screen showing a selection of widgets available for the Echo Show 15.The selection of widgets is a good start and they are easy to use and place but it would be good to see more varied options. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

For the most part it works just like Amazon’s other Alexa smart displays. It answers questions, sets timers, controls smart home devices and shows feeds from Ring doorbells or other compatible cameras. It can also display your photos from Amazon Photos or Facebook, either alongside other content or on their own like a huge digital photo frame, which looks great.

Unlike its siblings, the Show 15 can display more than one thing at once, supporting multiple widgets on its home screen alongside the usual time, information and photo display. Widgets can include a yellow sticky note for leaving messages, shared to-do lists, calendars, the weather, Amazon Music controls, recipe ideas and smart home controls.

The concept is great but the widgets are a little sluggish in use and lack variety in their size, shape and placement. There needs to be more of them, and I’d like a larger smart home control widget and to be able to put the largest calendar widget at the bottom of the screen, not in the middle. It is a good start but they have some way to go to be a killer feature.

Video feeds from security cameras can stream in a floating picture-in-picture window so that you can see who is at the door while doing something else, such as following a recipe, which is handy.

Kitchen TV

The BBC iPlayer website in the Silk browser on the Echo Show 15.TV and movies are awkward in portrait orientation but fill the screen if you have it in landscape, here showing the BBC iPlayer site in Silk. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The big screen lends itself to being a kitchen TV but only Amazon Prime Video and Netflix have native apps that you can access via voice, such as asking for the latest Bond movie. For everything else you have to use the built-in Silk browser to view them like you would on a laptop. It is a clunky affair but YouTube, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and All4 work well enough with voice control of play and pause once you have the right video loaded. Some, such as BT Sport, don’t respond to voice controls, while Disney+ will not work in the browser at all.

You can play music from Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer or Spotify as well as BBC Sounds and various other radio stations through TuneIn. The Show 15 can also be used as a Bluetooth speaker from your phone or tablet or connected to a third-party speaker.

Video calls and face recognition

A screen on the Echo Show 15 showing settings for voice and visual ID.The Echo Show 15 can recognise you via face or voice to show you personal content such as a private calendar. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The 5-megapixel camera can recognise the face of the person standing in front of it using Amazon’s new “Visual ID”, which then shows personalised content such as a specific calendar, music account and so on without you having to directly interact with the display or Alexa. It works well, greeting you with the name and a little picture of the person it has recognised, so you can see whose account the information is coming from.

The camera can be used for video calls to other Echo Show devices, contacts with the Alexa app or through Skype. It works well enough but can be a bit sluggish to start a call and you can’t currently use Zoom or any other service in the UK yet. You can use it like a security camera, too, viewing its live feed through the Alexa app on your phone.

Sustainability

The camera privacy shutter, mute and volume buttons shown on the top of the Echo Show 15.A physical privacy shutter for the camera, mute and volume buttons line the top of the device. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Echo Show 15 is generally repairable and will receive security updates for at least four years after the device is discontinued. It contains 99% recycled aluminium plus at least 35% recycled plastic. Amazon has also pledged to offset the electricity used by Echo devices with renewable energy. The company offers trade-in and recycling schemes.

Price

The Amazon Echo Show 15 costs £239.99 ($249.99/A$399) or £269.98 ($279.98/A$448.95) with a stand. The stand can be bought separately for £29.99.

For comparison, the Echo Show 5 costs £44.99, the Echo Show 8 costs £119.99 and Echo Show 10 costs £239.99, while Google’s Nest Hub Max costs £219 and the Nest Hub costs £89.99.

Verdict

The Echo Show 15 is a good smart display with a lot of potential to be a really great one.

There is nothing else quite like it on the market, with that big 15.6in screen, picture-frame surround and wall-mounting or stand options. But Amazon has yet to really take advantage of its size, with only a few limited widget and multitasking options. It feels as if it could do so much more as the central digital hub of a home.

Alexa responds quickly and does everything it can on Amazon’s smaller displays. The face recognition works well as a way of showing you personalised content without having to directly interact with it.

If you want a really big Alexa smart display for the kitchen, the Echo Show 15 is it, priced the same as Amazon’s smaller 10in motorised version. But it isn’t quite the revolution it promises just yet.

Pros: Alexa, huge screen, widgets, wall or stand options, face and voice recognition, video calls, Prime Video or Netflix apps, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and All4 through browser, contains recycled materials.

Cons: expensive, speakers not as good as standard Echo, limited widget options, no Zoom in the UK yet, native video and music services are limited to a handful of big ones, browser access to video sites is clunky.

The Echo Show 15 in portrait orientation on a kitchen work surface.The widgets and rotating photo display fit on the screen better in portrait orientation, but the device looks odd being so tall on a kitchen work surface. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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