Amazon Echo Show 5 Review: Smaller Isn’t Always Better


Amazon’s new Echo Show 5 has tough competition. For the past six months I’ve had a similar smart display, the Google Home Hub—recently renamed the Google Nest Hub—sitting on my bedside table. For better or legitimately worse, the virtual assistant living in the Google Nest Hub now knows me. My favorite photos automatically show up on its seven-inch display. When I set an alarm, it knows to go completely dark afterwards so I can sleep. In the wee hours of the morning, when the Hub chimes that it’s time for me to wake up, all I have to mumble is “Google, stahhhp.” And it does.

Amazon’s $90 Echo Show 5, another voice-controlled display, hasn’t been as intuitive as a bedside buddy. But it works well in an office, in the living room, on a kitchen countertop. It’s another tiny touchpoint for the charming voice assistant Alexa, part of Amazon’s quest to infiltrate our home lives. And the Echo Show 5 seems slightly less vulnerable to the privacy foibles of earlier Alexa products. Slightly.

The Amazon Echo Show 5 is a shrunken, more adorable version of its larger Echo Show brethren.

Oh right, Alexa! That’s the whole thing about Amazon’s Echo products: They have Alexa built in.

With the Echo Show, first launched in 2017, Amazon created a visual representation of what Alexa could do. Instead of shouting an Alexa command into the limited airspace of your galley kitchen and hoping your smart speaker could field the request—whether to set a timer, play a song, or hear a news report—the Show would show you an information card related to your query. And if voice control didn’t cut it, you could tap and swipe on the touchscreen.

The Amazon Echo Show 5 is a shrunken, more adorable version of its larger Echo Show brethren. It’s called the “5” not because it’s the fifth version of the product, but because it has a 5.5-inch touchscreen display. The first Echo Show had a seven-inch display. It was a stable tablet on your countertop, and frankly, I was a fan of it. The second Echo Show had a 10-inch display. The Echo Show 5 rounds out the family.

At $90, the new Show is also less expensive than the others. It undercuts the Google Nest Hub (which initially cost $130 but can now be found online for $100). It’s even cheaper than another one of Amazon’s Alexa-equipped products, the Echo Spot, which actually is designed to serve as a smart alarm clock. The Lenovo Smart Clock, however, which works with Google Assistant, has the Echo Show 5 beat in price; it only costs $80.


The back of the Echo Show 5 is fabric-wrapped, like the Lenovo Smart Clock. Amazon’s device is more sophisticated looking than Lenovo’s. It has a single speaker inside of it. This means it works fine as a conduit for Alexa and as a nice little background speaker, but, reader, it’s not going to blow your Prime-ordered socks off.

The top of the gadget is lined with physical buttons. There are buttons to turn the volume up and down, a button with which to mute the far-field microphones, and a physical shutter button that blocks the front-facing camera. The mute buttons existed on previous Echo Shows, but the shutter button did not.

This shutter button is part of Amazon’s attempt to make you feel better about having its eyes and ears in your home. When you close the shutter or re-open it, a banner on the screen lets you know the camera’s status as well.

Interestingly, the camera shutter doesn’t entirely shut you off to outside communication if you have “Drop In” enabled. Drop In is a feature that lets fellow Echo Show users call or video chat with one another; it also lets you use your Alexa mobile app to “drop in” on your own home. But even if your camera shutter is closed, voice calls are still enabled. You have to go into settings and opt out of Drop In entirely to disable that feature.

Skill Shot

Alexa still nails the basics on the Echo Show 5, and the basics are what I’d wager you’d mostly use it for. You can ask Alexa for the weather, or to read you snippets of weird news. You can play music from a variety of services (Spotify, in my case). You can play some videos, like a Reuters TV news video, although it still lacks native support for YouTube, so videos play through a web browser. It’s great for setting timers. Seriously, I’d say 90 percent of my Alexa queries are made up of requests to set timers while I’m cooking up some dish.

If you want to dive deeper into Alexa’s compatible apps, which Amazon calls “skills,” you can ask the Show to play a Headspace meditation routine, call you an Uber, or guide you through a random workout from an app called Random Workout. Alexa has been criticized in the past for requiring you to speak in a very specific syntax, and that is still the case. When I asked the Echo Show 5, “Alexa, what are some skills I can use?” the virtual assistant replied, “Sorry, I’m not sure about that.” It turns out that “Alexa, what are your skills?” is the proper keyphrase.

Like the other smart home displays, the Echo Show 5 is also something of a hub for smart home controls. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with the same support for the Zigbee protocol that other Shows do, so it works only with specific devices. If you happen to have have Zigbee-compatible smart home gadgets, you’ll have to buy a separate hub, then link that to the Echo Show 5. The Echo Show 5 does work with Amazon’s own Ring security camera, which I have declined to set up in my own home because of stories like this, and Amazon’s smart plug. I used the latter gadget with a bedroom lamp, so I could turn the light off at night with a voice command.

Speaking of bedtime, when I first set up the Echo Show 5, I determined it would go in the bedroom. (I already had an Alexa-equipped Sonos in the living room; I didn’t want to take up counter space in the kitchen.) The Echo Show 5 has a nighttime mode that you can activate in the settings, establishing parameters around the times when you normally go to sleep and rise.

It was iffy as a bedside device. The first night I used it, the display remained lit even after I asked Alexa to set an alarm for the morning. This resulted in me fumbling through a series of voice phrases to get the thing to go dark. (“Alexa, go dark.” “Sorry, what device?” “Alexa, go to sleep.” Nada. “Alexa, turn off the display.” Success!) On subsequent nights the display dimmed like it’s supposed to, and showed the time in red text. This still wasn’t dark enough for me. (Repeat the aforementioned cycle of commands.)

The Echo Show 5 also seems sensitive to movement and, possibly, light. Fumble for your phone on your nightstand the the Echo Show lights up again, as if it’s eager to wake up and get on with the day. On one particular morning, when I reached over to dismiss the 5:15 am alarm, the display continued to show for several minutes afterwards that it was 5:15 am. My Echo Show 5 was frozen in time.

Short Change

There are elements of Echo Show 5 that at the time of review just weren’t ready yet. It’s supposed to have a new communications hub, a control panel you can access by swiping left on the home screen that will show icons for Calls, Messages, Drop In, and more. At the time of writing, this still wasn’t available.

Amazon has also been touting new voice-controlled privacy features, like the ability to ask Alexa to delete whatever you just asked. That’s not available yet; Alexa instead directs you to the mobile app to manage your stored voice queries. You can also ask the virtual assistant to delete every voice query you made that day, but this feature isn’t turned on by default. You’ll have to go into your Alexa Privacy settings in the mobile app first, which is within Settings, which is the last menu option when you tap on the app’s hamburger button. This stuff is just not easy enough to find.

Adding to that, some of the earlier magic of the Echo Show just gets lost on this smaller screen. Sure, you could watch Fleabag from Prime Video on it, but would you really want to? For some reason it feels normal to watch a show on a 5.5-inch screen when you have the ability to hold a glass slab inches from your own nose, but it feels unnatural to watch it on the same size screen all the way over there on the tabletop. I set up the Echo Show 5 so it would rotate through some of my old Facebook photos, but all it did was prove that a seven-inch display—like the Google Nest Hub—is really more ideal for this kind of thing.

Smaller is certainly better for some things, and you might be swayed by the Echo Show 5’s cuteness. I won’t blame you for that, if you’re looking for a sub-$100 Echo device with a screen. But smaller has its sacrifices too.

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