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Amazon’s Alexa has learned a new skill: the ability to follow you.
The new Echo Show 10, which costs $249.99 and launches on February 25, is Amazon’s first smart home display to include a motor in its base. This, along with the device’s computer vision and audio localization technologies, allows the screen to follow you as you move about your home.
Alexa is perfectly capable of serving as a helpful virtual assistant while stationary, so why would anyone want her to move?
Well, there are a few reasons, according to Amazon. The Echo Show 10‘s screen can now turn to face you while watching TV or viewing recipes, which can be helpful in the kitchen. The device can also keep your face perfectly in frame during video calls. And lastly, it allows you to pan the camera when using the Echo Show 10 as a security camera.
Having the screen follow you takes some getting used to. It can feel a bit jarring at first since it’s a major departure from the way we usually interact with screens and electronic devices. We’re used to holding and manipulating our screens on our own accord, rather than having them adjust to us.
I’ve been using the new Echo Show 10 over the past few days, and I’ve found it to be most useful as a kitchen companion. But the technology isn’t perfect, considering there were a few times during the course of my testing where the Echo Show 10’s screen remained fixed in the wrong direction. Overall, the Echo Show 10 illustrates how this type of technology can be useful, but only when it works correctly 100% of the time. Otherwise, it ends up being more frustrating than helpful.
But what’s perhaps even more interesting is what a device like this says about Amazon’s ambitions in the home. Amazon is rumored to be working on its own Alexa-powered robot that would be able to move about the home when responding to voice commands, according to reports from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and Business Insider’s Eugene Kim.
Understanding how customers embrace a device that can at least swivel its screen to face the user could be an important building block toward a more complicated home companion.
Here’s a closer look at what it’s been like to use the new Echo Show 10.
The Echo Show 10‘s tablet-sized display pivots to face you under two circumstances: when you ask it to or say the “wake word,” and during an activity (i.e. a video call, watching Netflix, etc.). In other words, it won’t turn to follow you every time you walk past it when it’s not in use like some omnipresent home robot from a sci-fi novel.
That being said, seeing the Echo Show’s screen turn to follow me once Alexa was activated did feel a little “Black Mirror”-like at first, and definitely took some getting used to. Thankfully, the motor inside the device is silent, which helps diminish any potential creepy vibes you might get from using a gadget that automatically swivels to face you.
I have my Echo Show 10 situated in the kitchen so that I can watch TV while cooking, meal prepping, and washing dishes. During the setup process, you can set the Echo Show 10‘s range of motion so that the screen is visible from wherever you are in the room.
I set mine to pan all the way from the left to the right at about a 180-degree angle so that I can see the screen whether I am standing over the stove or the sink. A slider on the tablet’s screen lets you adjust the device’s rotation range during the setup process, and after quite a bit of fiddling and experimenting I was able to get it just right.
Overall, the Echo Show 10 is pretty good at following me as I move across the kitchen while cooking on a Sunday afternoon. Whether I am seasoning vegetables at the counter, cooking over the stove, or washing dishes, the screen remains in direct view. Being able to watch Netflix while I am waiting for water to boil or scrubbing the dishes certainly makes the monotony of kitchen chores significantly more bearable.
On a few occasions, though, the Echo Show 10 would follow me in one direction and stay fixed in that position once I moved instead of following me. But this wasn’t significant enough to prompt me to readjust the device’s range of motion.
The device also has some trouble following me when there are multiple people in the room. With two other people standing and talking nearby, I had to call Alexa about two times to get it to recognize my location and follow me appropriately.
The Echo Show 10 didn’t get distracted and generally remained situated in my direction even when my husband walked by. If he lingered in the kitchen, the screen would slightly turn so that it would face both of us, but it only significantly turned away from me once as he walked by. If you want the screen to stay in its current position, you can also turn motion off completely either by tapping a button on the Echo Show’s screen or asking Alexa.
These were all relatively minor inconveniences that didn’t really hinder the Echo Show’s usefulness. But the more noticeable hiccup was the irregularity of the routine I had set to go off whenever the Echo Show 10 detected a person.
You can program the Echo Show 10 to perform an action when it picks up that a person is nearby, which is known as an occupancy-triggered routine. That means you can make it so that the Echo Show 10 can read the news, play music, recite the weather, or perform another task if a person is detected near the Echo Show.
I set up a routine in which Alexa would read a piece of good news every time it detected a person nearby. But the routine was seemingly triggered at random moments. Sometimes I’d walk by and nothing would happen, and other times my husband would change his position on the couch without even getting up and the routine would go off.
Alexa also read the same news story every single time. By the end of the day, I had nearly memorized the feel-good story about a delivery driver from Austin who befriended her customers and their dog after getting stranded in their snowy driveway.
I also wish it was a bit easier and quicker to set the range of motion when moving the device to different locations. You can adjust the Echo’s range of motion and idle point — i.e. its resting position — anytime in the device’s settings menu.
But after briefly moving the device to my living room and then bringing it back to the kitchen, I had a hard time replicating the perfect range-of-motion I had set when initially setting up the device. Now my Echo Show 10 turns too far to the right to the point where it almost faces the wall, and not far enough to the left where the stove is located.
To me, watching TV in the kitchen is the most useful way to put the Echo Show 10’s swiveling tech to use. But Amazon is also pitching the Echo Show 10 as an ideal video calling device since it can keep you in frame during a conversation and has a 13-megapixel camera.
Currently, you can video chat through the Alexa app, Skype, or with other Echo Show owners, which might feel more limiting than laptop or tablet for some since it doesn’t support apps like Google Meet,
, or Zoom. Compatibility with Zoom is currently available on the Echo Show 8 and will be coming to the Echo Show 10, but it’s not supported just yet.
Regardless, if the person you’re calling has the Alexa app or an Echo Show device, video chatting with the Echo Show 10 is pretty comfortable and useful. I used it for a half-hour call with my sister, whom I’ve been calling on FaceTime nearly every day during the pandemic, and it was nice to be able to sit back on the couch without having to worry about staying in frame. If I happened to shift left or right, the screen would move with me.
You can also call up to seven people on a group call on the Echo Show 10. But again, this doesn’t work with Zoom yet.
Display and sound quality
The Echo Show 10 comes with a 10.1-inch 1,280 x 800 resolution display that’s crisp and bright enough for comfortably watching TV or viewing recipes. Now that the Echo Show is capable of supporting Netflix in addition to Hulu and Amazon Prime, it’s even more useful as an entertainment device.
The new Echo Show has 3-inch woofer and two 1-inch tweeters, resulting in sound quality that’s similar to the standard Echo but slightly better. When comparing it to the fourth-generation Echo, which also has a 3-inch woofer but smaller 0.8-inch tweeters, the Echo Show sounds slightly deeper and more full.
Overall, it’s a solid speaker for casually listening to music and watching TV around the house, but it’s no replacement for a dedicated home entertainment speaker.
Like Amazon’s latest version of the standard Echo, the new Echo Show 10 comes with improved smart home functionality. There’s a built-in Zigbee hub for connecting the Echo Show 10 to other smart devices so that you can control them with your voice, just like the fourth-generation Echo.
That means you don’t need any external hubs or bridges for connected home products that run on the Zigbee protocol, which include Philips Hue light bulbs, Schlage deadbolts, and Ecobee thermostats among other products. That could be a useful perk for those interested in outfitting their home with connected devices. And of course, you can view a feed of your Ring video doorbell’s camera on the Echo Show 10 as well.
Additionally, you can also use the new Echo Show as an indoor home security camera so that you can keep an eye on whichever room it’s located in when you’re not present.
This feature isn’t turned on by default and must be enabled either during the setup process or afterwards in the Settings menu on the Echo Show. Once it’s set up, all you have to do is open the Alexa app, tap “Devices,” and tap the “Camera” category. From there, you should see your Echo Show 10 listed as an option. Just tap it, and you’ll have access to the Echo Show’s camera through the Alexa app on your smartphone. You can pan the camera from left to right using your phone’s touch screen.
Getting your Echo Show to work as a home security camera is simple, but it is a little laggy when panning from left to right. And since you can’t move the camera up or down remotely through your phone, it’s difficult to get a good view of my living room via the Alexa app. Sadly, I don’t think the Echo Show will be able to help me catch my cat jumping up onto the kitchen island when he shouldn’t be.
The idea of having an electronic device follow you in your home can be a bit unsettling, and thankfully the Echo Show 10 offers a few ways to cut off Alexa’s ability to follow or listen to you.
You can simply say, “Alexa, turn off motion,” to shut down the device’s motion controls, and customize under what conditions the Echo Show 10 should detect motion. Options include leaving motion on during all activities, during some activities, only when you explicitly ask, or turning it off entirely.
All of the processing that occurs when the Echo Show 10 detects your motion also happens on the device itself, and none of the information is sent to the cloud. The technology works by extracting features from the images it sees, such as shape, size, and colors, to detect if a person is nearby. There’s no facial recognition, or any other way for the Echo Show 10 to identify people through its camera.
The Echo Show 10 also has the same safety features available on other Alexa devices, such as the ability to review privacy settings and delete voice recordings by asking Alexa. There are also buttons for turning off the microphone and camera and a shutter for covering the camera located on the device.
Still, it’s worth remembering that Amazon uses your voice recordings to improve Alexa by default unless you tell it not to, and it also associates requests with your Amazon account to improve results.
Apple and Google are a bit tighter with their policies around how they store and use customer data. Apple, for example, requires users to opt in to have their voice recordings reviewed by Apple employees for improving its Siri virtual assistant. Siri requests are tied to a random identifier associated with your device, not your Apple ID or email address. Google says users must choose to have their audio recordings saved to their Google account.
The Echo Show 10‘s ability to follow you may be worth it for those who spend a lot of time in the kitchen and want a screen they can see from almost any angle in the room. But most people will probably be better off saving some money and opting for the smaller and more affordable $130 Echo Show 8, which is more than $100 cheaper and still offers a screen that’s big enough for watching shows and making video calls.
The $130 Echo Show 8 has a slightly smaller screen, but offers a lot of the features that make Amazon’s smart screens useful, such as support for services like Netflix and Hulu, the ability to make video calls, and compatibility with smart home devices. Since it doesn’t swivel like the Echo Show 10, the process of moving it to different locations around the home is easier and more convenient.
Google’s $230 Nest Hub Max is also a slightly less expensive and worthwhile alternative. Although the display doesn’t physically move like the new Echo Show’s screen, the camera on the device itself does pan and zoom to keep you in view during video calls. The Nest Hub Max is also capable of recognizing your face so that it can personalize answers and content to specific people. Like the Echo Show 10, this processing also happens locally on the device.
Amazon’s new Echo Show 10 proves there is value in having a device that can move with you, making the screen visible no matter where you are in the room. But the tech doesn’t always work the way it should, and the convenience it brings when it works properly may not justify the higher price for most people.
Pros: Makes it easy to see content wherever you are in the room, solid audio quality, high resolution camera for video calls, built-in smart home hub
Cons: No Zoom support yet, adjusting the range of motion after moving the device to different location can be annoying, doesn’t always face the right direction, routine triggering based on motion can feel random