Amazon's Motion-Tracking Smart Display Is Kinda Creepy, but Damn Is It Useful

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Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

Amazon’s new Echo Show 10 will track you as you move across its line of sight, which feels strange at first. That’s just one of the device’s many unique features, and its other abilities make it a handy sous-chef while you’re preparing meals. But its limited app support is a disappointing shortcoming of an otherwise good gadget.

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The Echo Show 10 is essentially a speaker system and 10.1-inch tablet rolled into one device. The most obvious application for this gadget is the kitchen, where it can be used for streaming TV, calling friends and family, searching for recipes online, getting a quick response from Amazon’s voice assistant when you need a measurement conversion, or skipping a song without having to stop what you’re doing. When I’m making dinner, I typically like to either put on a show in the background while I cook or listen to my local jazz radio station. This device can do both, and its ability to move with you is neat if you’re watching Netflix and shuffling around a bit. (That feature can also be disabled, but we’ll get into that in a bit.) But at $250, the Echo Show 10 does not come cheap, and it doesn’t have all the capabilities of a normal tablet, either.

The first thing that I noticed as I was setting up the Echo Show 10 in my kitchen was that its streaming options are fairly limited. For video entertainment, its supported apps are limited to Food Network Kitchen, Happy TV, Hulu, NBC, Netflix, Prime Video, Redbull TV, and Tubi. Chances are most people have at least one of these services. But I would have liked to have seen a broader selection of video apps on a device for which this is a primary use case. After all, I can do much of what the Echo show does on my MacBook Air or iPad Mini, although the speaker on the show makes it a much better hands-free solution. And besides, Siri is an awful kitchen assistant.

The Echo Show 10 doesn’t have the best speaker I’ve tested recently, but it’s pretty good. Casual streaming for shows like Our Planet or Schitt’s Creek on Netflix was fine, and stuff played from KMHD or my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify sounded great even if I wasn’t completely blown away by the sound. Particularly at top volumes, the Echo Show sounded a little shrill, but it does have decent bass for a speaker of its size, and it could get pretty dang loud before the audio started to sound distorted. Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer, iHeartRadio, Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify, Tidal, and TuneIn are all supported on the device, though I did have a bit of a time trying to figure out how to link my accounts.

That’s one thing I will say about the Echo Show 10 that I found annoying: It wasn’t always super intuitive to use. There are shortcuts for accessing video and music from the primary navigation menu, but when I was trying to use the device hands-free, I would ask Alexa things like, “Show me streaming apps,” or, “Show me music apps,” and the assistant wouldn’t know what I meant. Sometimes the assistant would ignore me, and other times it would ask if I wanted to search for results. (I didn’t.) The process for setting up these services on the Echo Show also varied. To connect music streaming apps, you must link your accounts through the Alexa app. To use services like Netflix, you must navigate to Video Home on the Echo Show and sign in that way. It’s not terribly complicated once you figure it out, but it did take me a minute.

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I used this feature a lot.
I used this feature a lot.
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

Speaking of features that took some getting used to, one of my favorite things about the Echo Show 10 was also one of its most unnerving. I loved the ability to move around my kitchen and have the screen rotate to face me no matter where I was situated—when I was streaming television. When I wasn’t, I found Alexa’s watchful eye a little too creepy to be left on all the time. Clearly failing to think this one through, I opted to set up the Echo Show 10 on a countertop space that faces the bathroom in my apartment. Watching the device watching me every time I walked into this part of my home felt very strange, and I ultimately opted to close the device’s camera shutter and mute the assistant when I wasn’t actively using it.

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As for how this motion-tracking feature works, I found that it was great sometimes and not so great at other times. Some evenings when I was standing directly in front of the device with the camera shutter open, it would tilt slightly left, making touch navigation a little uncomfortable (I’m right-handed). But other times I found that its motion capabilities were fantastic. The minor annoyance of having this particular feature occasionally falter was not a huge deal for me, but the device is also fairly expensive. It would have been nice to see better precision on a gadget for which motion tracking is the entire point.

And as far as what Amazon does with this video, the company told me that any “data points required for [computer vision] to power motion are deleted shortly after your Alexa interaction ends or you leave the field of view,” and all this data is processed “securely” on the device itself.

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The thing you’re getting with the Echo Show 10 over other devices in Amazon’s Show lineup is the 10.1-inch display. The swivel design is also new and I assume behind the steep price tag compared to Echo Show 8, which was once priced at $130 but can be had for $75 at the time of this writing. I can’t speak to the Echo Show 8's audio performance, but I would think that it’s better on the Echo Show 10 speaker with it being both the company’s flagship and significantly more expensive.

Netflix arrived on Echo Show devices in December, and without it, I think Amazon would have had a difficult time justifying the device’s cost. While Skype is supported on Alexa devices, the Echo Show 10 is still missing the Zoom app. Though a spokesperson for Amazon said Zoom is “coming soon” to the Echo Show 10, it is currently already available on the Echo Show 8. Otherwise, anyone you call will need to have either the Alexa app or an Echo Show device.

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For the gripes I have about the device—which are primarily an issue for me given its price—the Echo Show 10 was actually quite enjoyable to use while cooking. But I would like to see the Echo Show vastly expand its app offerings in order to better compete with tablets and smartphones, even if they lack the speaker that helps make a solid case for the Echo Show 10. If a move-with-you virtual assistant that can answer your questions, show you recipes, and offer limited streaming options is worth $250 to you, I do not think you’d be disappointed with this device. But I myself will probably hold off on buying one until it can compete more directly with other gadgets already in my home.

README

  • Echo Show 10 is essentially a smart speaker system and 10.1-inch tablet rolled into one device, with some limitations.
  • It does support a handful of streaming apps, including Netflix and Hulu, but more options would be appreciated.
  • The Echo Show 10 has the ability to swivel around to face you no matter where you are in a room.
  • Its camera feature can be disabled, as can Alexa’s passive listening.
  • It can talk to your other smart home devices, so it can be used to do things like turn off your lights or lock your front door.
  • You can browse the internet with either Silk or Firefox.
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DISCUSSION

By
mrbofus

“When I’m making dinner, I typically like to either put on a show in the background while I cook or listen to my local jazz radio station. This device can do both”

It will play both a show and the local jazz station simultaneously? Wouldn’t one audio source override the other?  Or did you mean this device can do either?