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Amazon Echo Spot review: cute smart speaker with a screen

Amazon Echo Spot review - bed clock
The alarm clock you can talk to … the Amazon Echo Spot. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Amazon’s new Echo Spot is one of the most novel takes on a smart speaker yet, and while it is certainly more than just a smart clock, that’s what it’s best at – an attractive voice-assisted smart desk or bedside-table accessory.

What is it?

Amazon Echo Spot review
The Amazon Echo Spot is a smaller, circular version of the Echo Show. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The Echo Spot is to the Echo Show what the Echo Dot is to the original Amazon Echo. That is to say, it can do everything the Echo Show can just in a smaller, cheaper ball-shaped device with a circular screen. That includes playing music, answering questions and showing the weather, video from cameras and the like.

The Echo Spot is the first of Amazon’s small army of voice-assistant speakers that can really be considered cute-looking. The 91mm-tall little black or white ball looks incredibly modern with just three buttons on the top and a crisp-looking 2.5in circular screen on the front.

There’s a camera above the screen, a small speaker in the base and a power plug and 3.5mm audio socket in the back. It all looks very neat.

Setup

Amazon Echo Spot review
Plug the power cable in the back and follow the instructions on the touch screen to set up the Spot. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The Echo Spot runs through a short setup routine on its screen when you plug in the power cable for the first time. After you’ve typed out your wifi password and logged into your Amazon account – which is non-negotiable – you’re greeted with a short video that runs through the basic principles of communicating with the voice assistant Alexa and what the Spot can do.

Most settings are available directly on the screen through a swipe down from the top of the screen, with a few things such as skills and connections to smart home devices handled by the Alexa app on a smartphone or tablet.

What does it do?

Amazon Echo Spot review
Touch the screen for playback control of music, or simply shout at the Spot. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Like every other Echo device, the Spot listens out for your choice of wake word – the default is “Alexa” – and then starts streaming what you say to Amazon’s servers, coming back with answers, information or actions on your commands. It’s practically instant.

From Flash briefings, timers and answering questions to smart home control and music playback, the Echo Spot does everything the Echo Show can except for playing web videos, such as YouTube.

The Spot will also do video calling to other camera-enabled Echo devices or smartphones with the Alexa app (or audio calling to other Echo devices), which works well despite the small screen. On a desk you tend to get a bit of an up-the-nose shot, however.

The Spot defaults to a clock face, with your choice of digital or analogue options, most of which are attractive. As with the Show there are options to display photos from your image library, and a cycling collection of information cards such as diary dates, the weather and trending news.

There’s a night mode that dims the screen significantly, which is still easy to read from your bed but was dim enough that it didn’t wake me up. An optional do-not-disturb mode can also silence notifications and calls, allowing only timers and alarms

Sound

The Echo Spot sounds pretty good for a small speaker, and better than the Echo Dot. It’s more than loud enough to command from across the room and clearly hear the answers, and it’s perfectly fine for playing the odd spot of music, particularly as a bed-side speaker. But it isn’t a patch on £100 speakers or the audio-only Echo.

Observations

Amazon Echo Spot review
The Spot when muted. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
  • Hitting the mute button on the top puts a red ring around the screen as well as the button lighting up in red to clearly show it is no longer listening
  • You can disable the camera entirely in the options menu
  • You can use it as a Bluetooth speaker and also send audio from it to another Bluetooth speaker
  • There’s a small progress bar that circles the screen when playing audio or video
  • Video can be maximised to fill the circular screen, zoomed a little or displayed to fit the diameter of the screen
  • A blue ring around the screen indicates the direction the Spot thinks you’re talking from

Price

The Amazon Echo Spot costs £120 for one, in black or white, or two for £200.

For comparison, the Echo Show costs £200, the second-generation Amazon Echo costs £90, the Echo Plus costs £140 and the smaller Echo Dot costs £50. The Alexa-integrated Sonos One costs £199, the Google Home costs £129 and Home Mini costs £49.

Verdict

The Echo Spot is an attractive little addition to Amazon’s smart speaker range. It does everything you might want from a smart speaker, while adding a clock, at-a-glance information and an easy-to-use touchscreen interface for accessing additional features.

It sounds pretty good for a small smart speaker, but not when compared to a traditional wireless speaker costing £120, and not a patch on a traditional Echo. It does makes an excellent music control device, with album art, voice and touch screen control when plugged into a hifi though.

Most will use it on a desk or as a bedside clock. If you don’t want to have your phone next to you while you sleep, perhaps the Echo Spot is a good, less sleep-disturbing surrogate alarm clock.

Pros: attractive, clear screen, Alexa, can hear you well, Bluetooth, video calling, excellent smart home control, lots of clock faces to choose from

Cons: always-listening object in your house, no web video support, expensive compared to Echo

Amazon Echo Spot review
Weather, news and information cards display on the screen along with Alexa’s voice description when answering a question. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

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This article titled "Amazon Echo Spot review: cute smart speaker with a screen" was written by Samuel Gibbs, for theguardian.com on Monday 5 February 2018 09.00am

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