Echo Show 8’s Camera Is So Good I Forgot How Unsettling Sidewalk Is


The second-gen Amazon Echo Show 8 is more of a video-chatting device with a smart display built in.

The second-gen Amazon Echo Show 8 is more of a video-chatting device with a smart display built in.
Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

Everyones relationship with their parents is complicated. But since I had a kid, I decided I liked the idea of my daughter having an open line to call her grandparents, even if I didnt necessarily want one for myself. Granted, my daughter is only 16 months, but she knows theres someone in the box talking to her. And with more camera-enabled smart displays aimed at kids these days, it seems like an inevitable use case once she starts talking.

Amazons latest smart speaker, the second-generation Echo Show 8, is one such smart display aimed at getting folks to chat more often. Its a $130 device with all the extensive functionality of Alexa, plus a kids mode if you dont opt for the smaller $85 Echo Show 5 for Kids. However, the most exciting feature is the cameras ability to follow you within the camera frame. It also doubles as a security camera for inside your home, in case you want to drop in and check on things, making its price point seem like a deal.

I tested the Amazon Echo Show 8 for a few days, as did my mom, who used a review unit so we could try the video-calling feature. Ill admit that my heart melted when I saw my daughter smile as she realized she was talking to her Grammy. These are precisely the sort of sentimental interactions that suck you into the fantasy of the smart home, where everyone gets along and video chats all the time. And it was almost enough to make me forget about the fact that the Echo Show 8 enables connectivity with Amazons controversial IoT service, Sidewalk.

Soft and Stylish Smart Display

Amazon adopted a curved, bulbous design for the second-gen Echo Show 8. Its cute and modern, and though it mirrors a bit of the soft approach of Googles Nest displays, its much less angular. However, I wish both companies would steer away from fabric trim, which the Echo Show 8 has across the entire backside. Theyre hard to clean and nearly impossible to swap out if they sop up any liquid.

At 5.4 inches across and about four inches deep, the Echo Show 8 takes up a bit of shelf space to accommodate its dual 5-watt stereo speakers. Theres an octa-core processor fueling everything inside, which is immediately apparent as youre touching and panning around the screen. The Echo Shows 8-inch HD display is bright and vibrant enough that when I uploaded my edited photos to display as wallpaper, I could immediately tell they needed another run through Adobe Lightroom.

On the top of the device, theres an easy-access hardware shutter for the camera, volume up and down buttons, and a button for muting the microphone. The power adapter plugs into the back, though the power brick is a little chunky, something to consider if youre like me and live with crowded power strips. Theres also a microUSB port on the back to facilitate a wired internet connection.

I like the general look of the Echo Show 8. Amazon sent me the glacier white unit for review, which is delightful in person and matches with the general kawaii femme aesthetic I have going on in my office. Theres a darker charcoal variant available, too. You can purchase an optional adjustable stand for an extra $15.

Sidewalk Guilts You Into Helping Your Neighbors

Setting up the Amazon Echo Show 8 is relatively standard across the board. You can set up the device with the help of the Alexa app on your smartphone or type in your login credentials right on the screen.

After you link your account, youll bump up against a disclaimer for Amazon Sidewalk. Amazon describes it as a shared network that helps devices work better. You can choose whether to enable or disable the technologyweve already laid out why you might not want to, including the simple fact that the company has a dubious track record regarding privacy. If you do, Amazon says it will use the technology to extend the coverage for things like Ring smart lights and pet and object trackers. It also discloses that Sidewalk uses a small portion of your internet bandwidth to provide these services to you and your neighbors.

I was then met with another screen prompt to Help find things with Sidewalk. By agreeing to enable it, Amazon wrote, Im helping my neighbors find pets and important items connected to Sidewalk. I want to be a team player; I live in the suburbs, and thats how you form alliances out here. So I opted into Amazon Sidewalk, lest I keep my neighbor, who may or may not be using a compatible tracker, from finding her beloved kitty. But the privacy trade-offs may not be worth it for you.

A Boomy Box

Enjoy the new Sailor Moon Eternal on the 8-inch Echo Show 8, though it might look cramped with subtitles.

Enjoy the new Sailor Moon Eternal on the 8-inch Echo Show 8, though it might look cramped with subtitles.
Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

As a speaker, the Echo Show 8 is quite boomy, and it packs a wallop of sound when youre playing a bass-heavy genre like hip-hop. Once you set it to play music at too high a volume, the unit gets a little shaky, especially if its on a light surface. I tend to play music almost at ambient volumes while Im working, however, and found that I could hear the sultry tones of my chill hop even at the lowest setting. I also like that you can pair an additional Echo device as a subwoofer.

For a kids room or even a small office where you like to have something on in the background, the Echo Show 8 is enough to keep you honed in on action-packed narratives, like the revival of Sailor Moon Eternal, streaming on Netflix. It looked and sounded great on the Echo Shows 8-inch display, though youll probably end up watching the English dub since subtitles look crammed in there on the smaller screen.

It took me a while to figure out how to cast Digitally Imported to the Echo Show 8 since its not natively supported.

It took me a while to figure out how to cast Digitally Imported to the Echo Show 8 since its not natively supported.
Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

My biggest grievance with the Amazon Echo Show 8 is the disparity in content offerings compared to Googles devices. Granted, the whole point of this rat race is that Google and Amazon are competing ecosystems, but its even more apparent when youre approaching them side-by-side. I found myself shut out of things to watch since Im deeply committed to a locked-in over-the-air cable service like YouTube TV. Its hard to figure out how to stream other popular services, too, like Pluto TV and Discovery+, or even my newest obsession, Paramount+, which are all not currently offered on Echo Show devices. Its the same situation for music and podcasts, though at least you can search for a skill if you use an app like Pocketcasts to sync your playtime in the cloud.

I much prefer Googles open-to-all casting ability, which you can tell is available when you see the little Chromecast icon pop up on a video. It doesnt require any Skill searching, and video is available regardless of platform.

Alexa, Call Grammy

Grammy and the kiddo playing peek-a-boo through the Echo Show 8.

Grammy and the kiddo playing peek-a-boo through the Echo Show 8.
Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

The Echo Show 8’s unique feature is its auto-framing abilities during video calls. Its on by default, though you can disable it as you need. I tested it with my mom, and only with the default Alexa calling feature. The Echo Show 8 works with Skype and Zoom for video-calling, too. Reactions and AR effects were initially announced for the Echo Show 8, but those arent yet available.

My toddler doesnt communicate the way you and I do, which is why the idea of a panning camera was so enticing. She wiggles and squirms her way around a conversation, and at this age, she responds best to play. My mom started to play peek-a-boo with her over video by running out of the frame and back in. The camera didnt pan far enough to either the left or right side to give her away. It did follow her within the frame so that the focus was always on her body. Its a subtle effect, either way, helped in part by the cameras 110-degree wide-angle field of view. I noticed a bit of jittering on both our ends during our half-hour call, especially when my mom or my daughters head was the main focus of the shot. Im waiting to hear back from Amazon and why that might be regarding this specific tracking technology.

Use the Echo Show 8 to peek inside your bedroom when youre not there.

Use the Echo Show 8 to peek inside your bedroom when youre not there.
Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

The camera on the Echo Show 8 also functions as a security camera for peaking inside your home when youre not there. It takes about four taps in the Alexa app before you can get to the feed. By default, the Echo Show will display a notification as youre dropping so that no one at home can accuse you of spying. Unlike a standalone security camera, you cant integrate with other services. But its nice to have, and it loads a bit faster than other traditional security cameras.

Still the Best for the Smart Home

I only had the Amazon Echo Show 8 for a short period before penning this review, but it was enough to understand why folks prefer Alexa for the smart home over the Google Assistant. Even though the Alexa app is overwhelming to look at, skills and routines are easy to access. Whats more is that you can set it all up from the device itself, which you cant do on a Google Nest smart speaker. Alexa will also actively surface new gadgets as you add them to the network, as I discovered while re-linking smart bulbs as part of my usual maintenance.

The key to interaction with Alexa is through the skills you enable, making it frustrating to use if youre not trained in the voice assistant functions. With the Google Assistant, I understand that I have to program it on my smartphone before uttering a complex command. With a device like the Echo Show, the goal is to program the assistant as you go along. Its a boon for folks who want low-maintenance interaction with a digital entity, but it can be more trouble than its worth if youre married to using specific third-party services.

The Echo Show 8 might not become your news beacon, but its 13-MP camera makes it a compelling video-calling device.

The Echo Show 8 might not become your news beacon, but its 13-MP camera makes it a compelling video-calling device.
Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

If youve been paying attention to the headlines, you already know the myriad of concerns there are about using an Amazon product. Then again, if surveillance is genuinely a concern, you probably wouldnt be in the market for a device with an accessible camera and open microphone.

If youre already living with the first-generation Echo Show 8 smart display, you dont need to upgrade unless youre keen on the new camera features. The video-panning features are minor enough theyre not immediately noticeable. However, upgrading from 1 megapixel in the original Echo Show 8 to 13 megapixels in this model makes a big differencethe higher resolution video makes for much clearer video calls. Since we never got into using Google Duo, much to my chagrin, itll be interesting to see if Grammy takes advantage of her new direct line to the kid. And at the very least, the Echo Show 8 is a solid way to squeeze in a quick game of peek-a-boo.



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