After the Echo and Echo Dot speakers were launched in June, Amazon has just launched its Echo Spot. Its asset? A touch screen that reinforces the vocal part. But is it really useful? Here is our opinion after several days of getting started.
The Echo Spot is a smart speaker – or an intelligent alarm clock, as you wish – with a touch screen. This is more or less the only point that differentiates it from the competitors’ voice assistants. But this small 64 mm screen could make all the difference. This one is entirely tactile.
Available in black or white, Echo Spot is relatively compact: 104 x 97 x 11 mm and weighs 420 grams. These dimensions allow it to go anywhere in the house, as long as a power outlet is relatively close. To listen to the voice commands, four microphones are located on the top of the unit. Three physical buttons in the same place allow you to manage the volume and the activation/deactivation of the microphones and the camera. Because yes, there is a camera built into the device!
Sound level, the smart speaker is equipped with a 36 mm loudspeaker whose power is not revealed by Amazon. We can imagine that it does not exceed 5W. Finally, to join the Cloud and process orders, Echo Spot uses WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n. Bluetooth is also part of the game, as is a headset jack to connect more powerful speakers. A good initiative on the part of the American giant.
It’s undeniable, the Echo Spot is a beautiful device. From the moment the box is opened, it impresses with its design quality. It seems relatively robust despite the use of plastic for the hull. There is no cracking, no poorly assembled part. The physical buttons do not move in their locations. In short, it’s very well designed!
On the screen side, it is also a great success. Amazon does not specify the technology used, but it is probably IPS. The colours are bright and the viewing angles very wide. Add to that some nice animations, the whole thing is quite flattering. Nothing revolutionary, however, any mid-range smartphone offers the same services nowadays. However, touch controls are very useful for managing music or watching movies.
In the end, Echo Spot is a pretty device with a neat look. It goes everywhere in the house, from the office to the bedroom and the kitchen.
- Compatibility: Android 5.0+ and iOS 9.0+
- Test device: Xiaomi Mi 6 under Android 8.0
It’s time to get down to business. The Echo Dot can be configured in two ways: via the Amazon Alexa application on a smartphone or directly from the device’s touch screen. That’s the one I chose. The steps are very simple: choose the language, enter the WiFi network password and let the updates take place. After this last rather long step, the Echo Spot is operational in less than 10 minutes, waiting only for instructions.
The machine is very easy to handle. It seems to run under a modified version of Android, like the Kindle Fire tablets. All movements are based on slides or simple supports on the touchscreen. The parameters are accessible by dragging from top to bottom. We navigate the various menus with horizontal and vertical swipes. Nothing very difficult then. It must be said that most of the time, it is the voice that manages the functions.
The basic interface allows you to set the appearance of the clock, the information – such as weather, news – that scrolls on the screen and the wallpapers. A sleep mode can be set to prevent accidental activation at night. Note that from sunset onwards, the screen also goes into standby, simply displaying the time in dark red on a black background. The whole is therefore rather well thought out.
Just like on the Echo Dot, Alexa still has some progress to make. Basic commands like “Listen to the music” or “Set an alarm at 8am” work very well. More technical requests such as adding tasks to a to-do list also work very well here. But soon we reach the limits of the vocal assistant.
The calendar is not yet managed. It is therefore impossible to add or consult appointments. It is also impossible to watch movie trailers on the screen.
Alexa nevertheless benefits from the support of Skills to improve. Deezer, Philips Hue, Netatmo… Many brands offer their orders as Skills to add to the Echo Spot. The ecosystem is thus expanding day by day. Amazon is almost catching up with Google on its field.
Do you use a Kindle reading light? Do you have an Amazon Prime subscription? Or an Amazon Music Unlimited package? In this case, the Echo Spot will be a powerful ally in using these services maintained by the American giant. With a Prime account alone, you can listen to 2 million different tracks on the on-screen speaker. The cover of each musical piece is then displayed. Also with Prime, you can watch movies directly from Amazon Video. Not necessarily the best given the size of the device, but the option remains nice.
Amazon also takes advantage of Alexa’s capabilities to make it possible to read e-books. There are two options: read audio books from Audible or let the voice synthesis take over by reading the e-books in your Kindle library. Honestly, Audible is of a much better quality. However, it is very nice to have the opportunity to read the books purchased on a Kindle reader. Alexa’s robotic voice doesn’t do as well as a human, but the whole thing is quite unique in the world of smart speakers.
Isn’t that enough? Then know that it is possible to place orders on Amazon directly with voice. The presence of the touch screen greatly facilitates the task, which was very random on Echo Dot. It is not yet perfect, the speaker often has difficulty recognizing the name of the products. But the experience is worth a look, if only for the potential it represents. Or else, you can use your smartphone, a much simpler and faster solution!
Last point: videoconferencing. With the camera we can call contacts who will see us. Unfortunately, it only works with Alexa devices. You will therefore need to install the application on your family’s or friends’ smartphones. Unless you have more Echo Spot in the house. Employment therefore remains limited for the time being….
When it comes to smart speakers, sound is rarely among the best. The Echo Spot is no exception. If Alexa’s voice is well rendered with mediums well present, the almost total absence of basses and recessed trebles will not make this device a must for music lovers. The small 36 mm loudspeaker will still be sufficient for the use of the voice assistant.
But what about microphones? There are four on the top of the Echo Spot. Here too, they suffer from the same handicaps as their counterparts, namely difficulties in managing controls in noisy environments or when they are too far away. Placed in a room, Amazon’s screen speaker will be easier to handle than in a room with the TV on and the family talking!
Conclusion – An original smart speaker, but not essential
The Echo Spot is currently a unique model in the world of smart speakers. In fact, the device looks more like an alarm clock, with relatively similar functions. Add to that Alexa and you have a rather interesting hybrid formula. The all-purpose design allows Echo Spot to blend into any room in the house. Nevertheless, it is difficult to say whether to jump on it. The observation is the same as for other smart speakers on the market: many promises, but finally few convincing results at the moment. As soon as you leave the basic functions, Alexa is wading or simply does not have the appropriate capacities. Once again, I recommend that you wait a few months for his functions to improve. Or wait for a few promotions before you fall for the Echo Spot. In absolute terms, your usual smartphone will do more with a larger screen!