MEGATech Reviews: Amazon Echo Spot (Canada)
If you've ever wanted a smart speaker that also happened to have a screen and a camera, I guess this is it. But it could be better.
Pros
  • Very cute, modern design
  • New Alexa video skills
  • Rotating home cards
Cons
  • Too expensive
  • Video on round display is weird
  • Camera quality is terrible
7Overall Score

Have you ever looked at your Echo, perhaps the newer 2nd-generation Amazon Echo, and wished it was less cylindrical and more spherical in shape? Perhaps more importantly, have you ever wished that it had a display too? That's the cute little promise of the Echo Spot, which is now available in Canada too.

An Echo with a Round Screen

As you might recall, Amazon announced the new Echo Spot late last year. Following expanded distribution to European markets in January, they finally decided to offer the little round number to us Canadians last month. So, here it is.

The Amazon Echo Spot is shaped like a sphere, except one side has been sliced off to provide a flat surface for the round display and the front-facing camera. It operates in fundamentally the same manner as every other Echo before it, giving you easy access to Alexa via its far-field microphones, but you gain another level of functionality by way of that video screen.

You can tell that the Amazon Echo Spot is very much designed to be a fancy, smart alarm clock. The round face and the default home screen is that of a clock, after all. By default, you can get it to cycle through a series of Home Cards. These include the clock (which is available in a number of analog and digital clock faces), as well as messaging, weather, notifications, reminders, upcoming events, trending topics, and drop in.

Physical controls are minimal, mirroring what you'd find on other Amazon devices. There are the two volume buttons, as well as a mute button that temporarily disables both the microphone and the camera (more on that in a moment).

And It's a Touchscreen Too

You don't need too much in terms of physical controls when you've got voice commands and a touchscreen. The gestures you can use to interact with the touchscreen are intuitive enough if you've used any touchscreen device in the past several years.

Pull down from the top and you get quick access to the home screen, night mode, settings, and screen brightness. From many of the screens within the menus, you can swipe in from the left side to go back. This all feels very natural. However, getting used to the small, round display can be a little strange.

Take this on-screen keyboard for example. It felt a little awkward and too imprecise to type in my Wi-Fi password this way during the initial setup. I feel like it may have been easier if I could do the setup through a connected smartphone instead, like how I do with every other Echo. And while most of the on-screen interface has been optimized for the round display, not everything has and it's really jarring when you see items that are cropped out.

I found having the display to add a great deal of value and utility to my Daily Briefing. I have the "word of the day" skill enabled for that and it's way easier actually seeing how the word is spelled. The news briefings from places like Reuters are also video enabled. However, since those videos are 16:9, they get the black bars.

You can tap in to play the videos full screen, but then you necessarily cut out significant portions of the video as a result. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Either way, the video experience is weird, because very little content is actually optimized for a round display. I'm also not of the mind that I'd want to have an always-on display like that. Perhaps if there was a way to "sleep" the screen altogether after a period of inactivity.

But That Camera Though

The other major feature that you'll find on the Echo Spot that isn't on the regular Echo (but is on the Echo Show and Echo Look, neither of which are available in Canada yet) is the built in camera. You can use this in tandem with the "drop in" function with Alexa to engage in video calls with other Amazon users who have an Echo Spot.

You can also use it in a "photo booth" kind of manner to snap selfie... but I wouldn't recommend it. See that picture of my ugly mug above? That was taken with the Amazon Echo Spot under my regular "home office" kind of lighting setup. This looks like it's out of some old webcam and it's forced into this circular shape. So, the camera is there, but it's not terribly useful. There may be some other Alexa skills that utilize the camera too or there may be more in development.

MEGATechie Amazon Echo Spot-acular or MEGATechie Spot Extraneous?

In principle, I think the Echo Spot can be a very intriguing product. If we were to cast aside any concerns of privacy (do you really want an always-on camera and microphone in your bedroom?), I can see how it'd be great as an alarm clock, perfect for rattling off that Daily Briefing as you go through your morning routine. It could be great in the kitchen too, for following recipes or listening to podcasts while preparing dinner. The screen can indeed be useful.

But you see, the Amazon Echo Spot lists with an MSRP of $129.99 US through the American Amazon site and for $169.99 Canadian on Amazon.ca. Personally, I think I'd be more inclined to get an Echo Dot and a Fire HD tablet for about the same amount of money. But maybe that's just me.


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