November 27, 2020
Amazon Echo Show 8 review: The best Alexa smart display, period

Amazon Echo Show 8 review: The best Alexa smart display, period


It’s 2020 and the Echo Show 8 is a year old. But Amazon’s fourth Alexa-enabled smart display still stands apart from the competition as one of the best smart devices around. Squeezed between its high-end 10-inch and budget 5-inch siblings, the Show 8 offers the right mix of features and design perks to justify its middle-child existence — and it’s the best direct competitor to Google’s Nest Hub. Even a year out from its release, the Echo Show 8 still deserves its Editors’ Choice Award.

Like

  • The Echo Show 8 has solid sound quality and a good screen resolution.
  • The $130 price tag makes the Show 8 one of the best midrange smart displays on the market.
  • The physical camera shutter is a small, smart addition to soothe privacy concerns.

Don’t Like

  • The interface isn’t as smooth or easy to use as the one on Google’s Nest Hubs.
  • You can’t call up YouTube videos by voice.

If you’re thinking of buying a smart display for your countertop, the Show 8 might just be the best product for the price. Its full $130 price tag is a solid deal, but the frequent discounts (the current US price is only $65; in the UK its £120 price is currently discounted to £90) make it even more attractive. 

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Fitting in with the crowd

Last year, Amazon filled out its smart speaker and display product lines with nearly a half-dozen new devices, including the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot with Clock, Echo Studio, Echo Show 5 and Show 8. There is a clear pattern: Each product line has a papa bear, mama bear and baby bear option. Amazon is hoping one of these devices will be just right for you. In 2020, that pattern has remained largely intact, though the Echo and Dot both received sphere-shaped redesigns — and a redux for the 10-inch Echo Show is on the horizon.

Echo’s line of smart displays doesn’t just add dumb screens to smart speakers. These devices equip the voice assistant Alexa with video chatting and streaming, they work with Ring doorbells and Wyze Cams to let you see what’s happening at your front door, they can provide cooking assistance in the kitchen (read more about Amazon’s partnership with Food Network to bring lessons from professional chefs to your kitchen) and they even offer touch controls for the smart home. For $130 (£120) or less, the Echo Show 8 really does pack in a lot of useful smarts.

Third thought, best thought

Critics might argue that the Echo Show 8 doesn’t bring any new features to the countertop. That’s true, but as with Amazon’s best recent products, the Show 8 is less about grand innovation than smart iteration.

The Show 8 brings more heft than the Show 5 (which is cheaper by $40): a screen that’s bigger than a propped-up phone, fairly sharp 1,280×800-pixel resolution and a pair of solid 2-inch speakers. What’s more, the Show 8 steals the Show 5’s best ideas, like the physical camera shutter and sunrise alarms (although for some reason, Amazon didn’t include the 5’s tap-to-snooze feature).

I particularly like the shutter. The second-gen Echo Show ($150 at Amazon) doesn’t have any design feature to disconnect the camera. While Google opted for a kill switch for the camera and microphone on the Nest Hub Max ($229 at Sam’s Club), Amazon has included a physical shutter on its last two displays. From a privacy standpoint, I’m a fan of Amazon not just saying, “Trust me, it’s fine.” I can look at the Show 8, see that the shutter is closed and be 100% certain that I’m not being watched.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Another smart touch is that the screen, while sporting the same resolution as the 10-inch Show from 2018, uses a new feature to improve the image quality over that larger display. While images won’t appear any sharper (other than by merit of the pixel count on the smaller display), progressive scanning means fewer visual artifacts will appear on the screen. It’s an addition few casual users will notice day to day, but it’s a useful quality-of-life upgrade that you’ll feel over time.

Talking to myself

While the Show 8 is a clear upgrade from its predecessors, it seems to fall short in one big area: The camera is only 1 megapixel, as opposed to the 5-megapixel camera on the second-gen Show. Lower-megapixel cameras generally produce blurry results, and honestly, I was taken aback when I heard that spec.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

But when I video-hatted with myself using the second-gen Show and the Show 8, the feed from the 5-megapixel camera actually looked more pixelated than the one captured by the lower-quality cam. Whatever the reason, the lower-quality camera, in this case, produced consistently higher-quality results for me.

The bottom line is this: The extra $100 for the Echo Show isn’t necessarily going to translate to higher video-chat image quality, so that 1-megapixel camera shouldn’t dissuade you from opting for the cheaper Show 8 instead.

Keeping an ear to the counter

When it comes to sound quality on the Echo Show 8, you might be pleasantly surprised. The two 2-inch speakers are a little smaller than the 2.2-inch speakers in the 10-inch Show, and you can hear the slight difference in sound quality, especially at higher volumes. When you push it, the Show 8 starts sounding a little buzzy, and it doesn’t have the range and distinction of the Echo stand-alone speaker or the 10-inch Echo Show’s.

But the Echo Show 8’s sound quality is much better than that of the more diminutive Show 5, which has only a single 1.7-inch speaker. In fact, set side by side with the latest Amazon Echo smart speaker, the Show 8 produces somewhat similar results — as long as you keep the volume in the middle of its range.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Alexa and the screen

Despite not having the Zigbee receiver from the second-gen Show or the tap-to-snooze feature of the Show 5, the Show 8 might be the best Alexa-enabled smart display. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best display altogether. While I like the combination of clever features — and, as importantly, the price tag attached to them — Google’s smart displays do boast a better user experience.

It’s tough to compare the Show 8 directly with the Nest Hub — Google’s $90 7-inch display — because that doesn’t even have a camera. And the Nest Hub Max, which does include a high-quality camera, costs $230. But one thing both Nest Hubs share is a smoother interface than the Echo Show 8’s. The screen is more responsive, the camera can follow your face if you walk around while video chatting and you can access videos on YouTube with a simple voice command.

Amazon’s operating system is improving, but compared with Google’s, it still lags — a jarring experience if you’re accustomed to the responsiveness of modern smartphones and tablets.

In addition, with another Echo Show on the way — this time a 10-inch display that will physically turn to follow you around the room — some users may want to hold off on getting the Show 8. But the Show 10 will likely clock in at a whole different price level, so if you’re looking for more budget-friendly displays, you can’t go wrong with the Show 8. If you are looking for a more premium machine, you may want to wait for the Show 10.

These minor qualifiers aside, I’m happy to recommend the Show 8. For $130 (or as little as $65), it’s the smartest Amazon display for the price. It combines the best of the rest and has a cam and better sound quality than the Nest Hub.



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