Amazon Echo Spot is the best looking smart speaker in the market right now.
The device has a display but it has Alexa at its heart.
It hits a sweet spot with its price and makes for a great table clock, too.
“For decades, technologists have teased us with this dream that you are going to be able to talk to technology and they will do things for us. What we really want to do is just talk to our device, ask a simple question, what’s the weather going to be like today and get a response.” That was Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, introducing Siri on the iPhone 4S in 2011.
With the launch of iPhone in 2007, Apple managed to see multi-touch as the step beyond keyboard and keypads. When it launched Siri, it was evidently clear that voice will replace touch as the next method of interacting with personal communication device. While we are still not there yet, voice has held a special place in the world of science fiction dramas for really long time.
While Apple got a head start in the voice computing space with Siri, it is Google and Amazon that are spearheading the segment now. Although Google is still creating a space for ambient voice computing with Google Assistant, Amazon seems to have reached a maturity and relatedness to the industry that is hard to argue against. When Amazon launched Echo speakers with Alexa, I was a skeptic. But with several million units of these speakers already sold, it is evident that consumers are prepared to embrace voice as the next mode of interaction. But, Amazon doesn’t want to sell voice alone has an interface and rather believes that voice and touch can co-exist.
Alongside its Echo speakers, Amazon has also launched the Echo Show and Echo Spot, two smart speakers that feature a touch display. The e-commerce giant has launched the Rs 12,999 Echo Spot, the smaller of the two offerings in India, and here is our review of what a screen-based Echo offers over a normal Echo speaker.
What can you do with the screen?
If you mistake the Echo Spot for a table clock then you would be forgiven. It is, in fact, meant to be used as a table clock but the use case isn’t limited to that. It features a 2.5-inch circular display at the front with a round bezel that houses a camera module. Our review unit came in black but there is also a white variant that looks aesthetically more elegant, especially on a wooden table.
The display on the Echo Spot serves as the central console to display information. While Alexa can answer questions and read aloud messages, it can now show them on that round 2.5-inch display. One of the key idea with Echo Spot and the display is to consume media via video platforms. At this moment, you can watch videos from video platforms like Amazon Prime Video, Dailymotion and Vimeo. As you can see in the video, you can simply ask “Alexa, play Gravity on Prime Video” and it starts streaming the video on Echo Spot.
In order to make the video consumption more ubiquitous, Amazon has added a software element that forces the video to use the entire circular canvas of the Echo Spot. However, the circular display with a resolution of 480 x 480 pixels does not seem ideal for consuming long videos. It would rather be ideal for watching short YouTube videos, that is if you could.
This is going to be the biggest gripe with the Echo Spot; you can’t watch the 10-15 minute long video from Last Week Tonight on YouTube, since there’s no support for the platform. Also there is no native support for Hotstar just yet, which is clearly the bigger player in the video streaming segment. The display, however, comes handy in other areas like seeing your horoscope powered by Ganeshaspeaks or seeing the menu for a recipe from Sanjeev Kapoor’s kitchen. It also can be used to make video calls with your contacts who have the Alexa app installed on their smartphone. In a nutshell, the display acts as a great complement to Alexa and voice but it isn’t quite there in terms of delivering engagement.
Watch: Amazon Echo Spot First Look Video
What can Alexa do?
By this time, you probably know what Alexa can do. It can give you weather updates in the morning, stream music from Amazon Music, Saavn or Tunein, and it can control smart home devices like lights from brands like Philips and Syska. It can also answer questions like “What is 10 to the power of 308?” and you can ask Alexa follow up questions. For instance, you can ask “Who is the Prime Minister of India?” and then follow up with “How tall is he?”
Alexa is contextually aware and understands what you are referring to. But its USP in my opinion is the new Routines feature which is a smart way to automate voice actions. In the morning, when Alexa wakes me up with the alarm, I simply say “Alexa, Good Morning” in my response. Alexa knows that the good morning command means it has to first give me weather updates and then follow up with Flash Briefing. You can add endless number of actions for a particular phrase. I have set Alexa to play “White Noise” when I say “Good Night.”
The real convenience of Alexa can be seen when you have a kid around. My 3-year-old niece was more appalled by Alexa than me. She likes playing rhymes and watching kid-centric videos from Prime Video. However, there are times when you end up almost shouting at Alexa. There were several instances when my Dad said, “Karthek, don’t shout at that machine.” This served as a wake-up call to not get over dependent on our digital assistants.
Is Voice really replacing touch?
“I am not going to be that big a visionary but voice is here to complement touch,” said Parag Gupta – Head of Sales and Marketing, Amazon Devices during a briefing last month. At this moment, Alexa is merely a companion to touch on the Echo Spot but it does have the potential to replace touch altogether in the next few years. The onus is on developers to make that happen.
In the case of Alexa, Amazon says there are over 45 thousand skills (its own version for apps) on the digital assistant. I found myself using only a handful of them. In order for Alexa to truly replace touch and become the central method of interacting with all our computers, we would need Alexa to be on our phones, computers and even integrated within the walls and blinds of our home. Is it happening? No, it is not but it could definitely happen soon.
What I learned about my home
I want to be blunt here for a moment and tell you that it is almost impossible to own a home in Mumbai. But with Echo Spot at my home, I just understood how old my home is and how stuck-up we are in terms of design. If you are wondering why I’m blabbering about my home here then it is to tell you that my house is not ready for the smart home evolution.
The first and the biggest pain point for me was to redo the electrical connection and get the smart bulb set up. Many of us will realize over time that homes were designed with conventional lighting system in mind and it is not always friendly with smart home peripherals. Since the Echo Spot uses a proprietary connector for power supply, you need to place it somewhere closer to a power outlet. Had it been powered by the USB Type-C then I would have simply plugged it into a power bank lying around and used it as an extension.
The real potential of any Echo and Echo Spot in particular is when you add more smart devices to your home. It becomes more intuitive when you add peripherals like the Nest Camera or a smart thermostat. Since I didn’t have these gadgets at my disposal, the experience was short of being complete.
Should you buy the Amazon Echo Spot?
When you decide to buy an Echo speaker, the decision hinges on what you seek from it. If you want Alexa in addition to a decently loud speaker then you should look at standard Echo or Echo Plus. But if you want the Echo to show you contents like ingredients for a recipe or a trending video on Dailymotion then there is no other alternative to Echo Spot.
The Echo Spot is not only unique but it is also very beautifully designed. It has the right elements of Alexa’s features and a significant appeal in terms of being a futuristic device. At a retail price of Rs 12,999, the Echo Spot is not expensive either but it does not offer anything that can be considered groundbreaking. At least not yet.