Amazon’s Echo Show 15, which went on sale in 2021 in the US but only arrived in Europe a few days ago, is a special product. It has little to do with the company’s previous smart speakers. Inside there is still Alexa, of course, and all the skills needed to interact with the voice assistant, with the added bonus of being able to be configured as a picture to hang or a digital frame for the living room (or wherever you want). It’s no coincidence that the package already includes a wall adaptor and wall plugs. Amazon’s choice is intelligent: once you have placed the support near the walls, you can orient the Show 15 both horizontally and vertically, to adapt it to the style of the house, should you want to try a different configuration. The icons and the portion of the screen dedicated to each one remain the same, but enjoying a nice Klimt vertically in the kitchen remains a very pleasant sensation.
Unlike all previous high-end Echo models, the Echo Show 15 doesn’t have a Zigbee smart home hub. That doesn’t mean it can’t control smart home devices, but you’ll need some other hub to act as a bridge unless all those devices connect directly to the Wi-Fi network or have their own Wi-Fi bridge. Many do, and so connect easily to the Google Home and Alexa apps, but that leaves others excluded, such as low-power, battery-powered devices like motion sensors, which communicate via Zigbee or Z-Wave.
Design: a piece of art
The Echo Show 15’s flat form factor doesn’t leave much room for speakers: there are 1.6-inch full-range drivers on the back of the left and right sides (top and bottom in portrait mode), so it’s not surprising that its audio performance is good, not great. Obviously, this is not an accessory for music, but a tout-court device with which you have to make compromises.
For example, it’s great for listening to the latest news and viewing web and even live video feeds. There’s even the Zoom app although you’re unlikely to find yourself using it for video meetings. There’s Prime Video, there are other apps for series and a browser, with which you can also access YouTube and the like. There’s also Spotify and other music platforms, to bring a powerful, assertive sound into the room. The size of the display allowed Amazon to add widgets to Alexa’s repertoire for the first time. The widgets make this Echo model a more useful family hub than any smart display I’ve ever seen, while adding to the aesthetic appeal. You can choose from a gallery of 20 widgets, including a new family calendar feature, to-do and shopping lists, a photo gallery, music and podcast explorations, movie suggestions and more.
These are displayed as panes on the display, and you can rearrange and reorder them as you see fit. Some widgets, including Program and Music, can be enlarged, or shrink to a standard size for more items at a glance. Alexa has long been able to recognise the voice of each registered user and customise the experience according to the user profile. Here, however, we have an additional advantage: Visual ID. Amazon records the face of the person in front of it, with information stored only on the device, to show what each person has set to see on each pass in front of the screen. In practice, the screen can change from person to person, with favourite widgets and special information. Amazon’s AZ2 Neural Edge processor allows the Echo Show 15 to process Amazon’s computer vision and voice recognition algorithms locally and in parallel.
Another great new feature is a Picture-in-Picture mode that streams a live camera feed in a smaller window on the display. If you are following a recipe or series on Prime Video, we can ask Alexa to show the cameras and a live feed, which will appear in a small window. You can expand this feed to full screen mode and vice versa and move the picture-in-picture view around the screen by tapping and dragging.
The only thing you can’t do is replace it with the area occupied by widgets. There’s always a focus on privacy: the Echo Show 15 has a typical built-in shutter to cover the camera lens, and there’s a button that mutes the far-field microphones and electronically turns off the webcam. By the way, the sensor is only 5 megapixels while on the Show 10 it’s 13 MP. Why this step backwards?
A device that makes sense
The Show 15 is not cheap, given its €250 price tag, but it is unique. Amazon’s largest touchscreen ever has allowed the user interface of Alexa to evolve and improve. Of course, it is still a big product, in terms of weight and size, and not everyone has the will or the way to dedicate part of their wall to something like this. Various companies, such as Sanus, sell desk stands, but these take up much more space than one might imagine, given the need for a solid base and an arm to hold the Show at an angle. Having overcome that, the Amazon Echo Show 15 is ideal for people who want a device that can be hung, with zero gap with the wall so that it looks like a painting, and that can do dozens of things, including being an intelligent picture frame that pulls in your own photos and hundreds of others from the web. Put some jazz in the background and you’ll create a pleasant atmosphere, even if you’re doing the dishes.
Widgets are a great addition and replace the post-it notes stuck to the fridge, with a touch of the future even for those who don’t make extreme use of technology. The Echo 15 offers features not found on any other Echo and come to think of it, on any other smart display. Unparalleled, at least to date.