AMAZON HAS already shown that its flagship range of Echo devices, with Alexa voice control aboard, is no one trick pony.
In fact, since its launch in the UK back in 2016, we’ve seen it take on a range of forms, most recently the Amazon Echo Show, the first device with video as well as audio.
The next logical step is to shrink that video form factor down for the bedroom – enter the Echo Spot, an Alexa enabled video alarm clock.
Essentially, the Spot, like the Show is a combination of an Echo, and a Fire OS tablet, both of which become greater than the sum of their parts.
The smooth contours of the Amazon Echo Spot are quite pleasing to hold. It’s a little like having a disfigured baseball in the hand. The front screen is shiny, and the camera, which represents one of our primary worries is so subtle as to be unnoticeable. It doesn’t monopolise too much space on either the bedside or as we’ve done, the desk.
Ours is black, but a white version is available
Surprisingly, there’s a fair amount of touching needed to set up the Spot, however, the touchscreen is very responsive and typing on the on-screen keyboard is fairly straightforward.
Given this is is the last time you’ll probably do more than the occasional swipe on it, there’s a sense that it’s almost too good.
Once your details are in the system, the next stage is to go into the Alexa app either on the web or your phone. For some reason, we’re finding that Amazon is defaulting to all kinds of weird regions and even addresses long since deleted from the rest of Amazon, so it pays to go in and make sure everything is right before you start playing properly.
You can choose from a wide variety of clock faces, the analogue ones are nice, but the digital ones are a bit ‘meh’. You can also let it scroll through your notifications, including suggestions, diary entries, news, and who is online to chat to from your “Drop In” list.
Performance and Functionality
The first thing to say from the outset is that the speaker on the Spot is stunning. Compared to the Dot is like night and day. It’s certainly worthy of being your bedroom speaker, but if you’re more audiophile, there’s Bluetooth and Aux connections for an external.
The biggest niggle is actually with the touchscreen, but it’s just a case of getting used to. As with early Android Wear watches, the screen is literally trying to get a square peg into a round hole. As a result, the formatting of some menus leaves a bit to be desired – often the soft keys get lost and you have to scroll to them.
That said, spark up a news bulletin and the video quality is incredible, though it’s letterboxed so it’s a bit small. Also, we’d like it if you could reposition the video to watch it on its side, so you don’t have to lift your lazy head off the pillow.
Another nice use of the screen is checking your security cameras. We were able to check our Ring video doorbell without too much difficulty or arguing with Alexa. There’s a lot to be said for that on a Saturday morning when you want to know if the doorbell is the postman or someone selling something.
We’re less keen on the camera. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. But it takes a lot of trust to have an online device of any sort on your bedside table, and so we’d like to have the option to cover it up. Sure there’s always electrical tape, but a sleek cover sympathetic to the design would have been nice.
Alexa does what Alexa does, with the odd option for video. YouTube is missing for well-publicised reasons, but it’s a small detail given the ludicrous number of things that she can do. The microphone performance compared to earlier models is incredible, with the side-effect that she not only hears you but understands you more often.
The rest of it, you’ve pretty much heard before. Alexa is Alexa and she’s ruddy good at being Alexa, and the next logical steps are one for the bedroom, and one with a screen, so it’s win-win.
We’re not sure whether we’d ever want to make video calls in bed (OK, well we can think of one use for it obviously) and the fact that there’s no way of blocking the camera is somewhat irksome.
That said, we certainly wouldn’t imagine that a screened Echo would not have a camera. What we have found it incredibly useful for, however, is the office desk.
Because it doesn’t have the bulk of the Echo Show, it makes a superb desktop companion for video calls, news, and of course turning the lights on and off.
With plans for Alexa for Business well underway, we can see this little addition to the line-up finding a renaissance of use when Amazon runs out of people who aren’t comfortable with having a two-way alarm clock because it’s all a bit Orwellian.
A few niggles, in and of itself, it’s a superbly executed device. We’re just not sure that the public is quite ready, especially at this price. µ
Sound quality is superb, video is crisp, Alexa seems to be more responsive.
Who wants an exposed video camera by their bed? The UI is a bit screwy on a round screen.
There’s a hefty premium on this product, it’s only £80 less than the full sized Echo Show, but £80 more expensive that the screenless spot. That’s a lot of money for an alarm clock, especially one that feels like it’s watching you.
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