It was not so long ago that the idea of a voice-controlled smart alarm clock was a little more than science fiction. Now the clear alarm clock is not just a real thing, but there are more smart alarm clocks to choose from. Amazon's Echo Show 5 is the company's latest entry into this space, which joins the ever-available (so far) Echo Spot from 2017.
Of course, the $ 89.99 Echo Show 5 is not just a smart alarm clock. It is a fully functional smart display. It's capable of just about anything the Amazon's greater Echo Show can do, just in a smaller package. It also has some updated features that address my complaints with Echo Spot. Echo Show 5 is the best smart alarm clock available now, even though everything you ever use it, shouts on Alexa to snooze your alarm or tell the weather of the day.
Echo Show 5 is quite literally a smaller version of the Echo Show that Amazon released last year. It has a rectangular wedge shape that houses a 5.5-inch screen and a small speaker. The full-size Echo Show obviously has more speakers that are better and higher, but you will never put one on your bedside table. (I guess Amazon will eventually rename the larger "Echo Show 10", but for now it's still the Echo Show. Not confusing at all!)
Compared to the smaller Echo Spot, Show 5's design allows one to much more convenient (and larger) screen. But its design is certainly less fun and unique than Spot's split softball-like shape. The fun will cost you $ 40 more, and Spot is a worse unit in all other metrics, so I don't think it's worth it. You can get View 5 in any color you want as long as it is white or black.
Show 5 retains Spot's small footprint and it's easy to find space on a nightstand, desk, shelf, or mantle. It doesn't take much more space than a traditional alarm clock, and it is far more convenient to use in more places than the full-size Echo Show.
The 5.5-inch screen won't win any pixel density prices: it's only 960 x 480 pixels, which means your phone definitely has a much higher resolution. But it is just fine for the types of things it shows and it's easy to watch from across a room. It also adjusts its brightness automatically for the amount of light in the room and becomes appropriately dim at night so it does not shine into your eyes when trying to sleep. The screen is the biggest difference between Echo Show 5 and Echo Dot, but it makes the Show much more convenient as a bedding.
Likewise, the 4-watt speaker won't be good at bumping the melodies into a home party, but it's surprisingly full and powerful for casual music Listening or podcasts, and Alexa voice are clear and easy to hear. It sounds better than Echo Spot and Lenovo Smart Clock and even better than the larger Nest Home Hub. You can display Show 5's audio to another speaker through a 3.5mm cable or Bluetooth connection, but I doubt most people need it.
Amazon uses only two microphones to retrieve voice commands as opposed to the four on larger shows or seven on a sound-only echo. I haven't noticed any problems with the Show 5 hearing my voice commands even though it played music or video.
Like the other Echo devices with monitors, the Echo Show 5 includes a built-in video calling camera for other Echo devices, the Alexa app or Skype. It's not a large camera – it's only 1 megapixel and doesn't have advanced HDR features – but if you really want to use it for a fast video chat, it's perfect. (I doubt the camera features that Amazon also contains, but the camera will be very useful.)
What Amazon added is a hardware switch that physically blocks the camera. This is a small thing that makes a big difference: If you need to put an internet-connected device with a camera in your bedroom, you will have the utmost certainty you can get it does not record when you don't want it. A physical shutter that blocks the lens is the best way to do this. In fact, I've set up a googly eye on Echo Spot, which lacks a physical shutter because I don't always trust a software switch to turn it off. I hope that Amazon will in future include the physical shutter of all its Echo cameras with cameras.
Show 5 is capable of all the same things as the larger Show, including many of the same video sources (Amazon Prime Video, NBC and Vevo), Alexa skills and voice control. It even has the same Firefox and silk web browsers available on it. It sets it apart from the similar appearance but frustratingly limited Lenovo Smart Clock, which hardly uses the screen for anything other than showing time.
Of course, it does not support YouTube because while Amazon and Google are no longer struggling in the schoolyard, they are not even at the same lunch table. You can access YouTube through one of the built-in web browsers, but it's a miserable experience, and you can't play any clips via voice control. But there is less loss on this smaller device, as I don't think it is very convenient to watch video with any regularity. As mentioned earlier, your phone has a better – and probably larger – screen to watch video anyway.
The Show 5 screen is good for a quick look to see time or weather information, and Amazon has designed a number of custom watch faces for it. You can also set your own custom image to it with the Alexa app or play a slideshow of the photos you may have on a Prime Photos account or on Facebook. Unfortunately, it does not have access to Google Photos, where I automatically create my phone on all my photos. That means it will never compete with Google's Nest Home Hub as a digital picture frame for me. Show 5 can also draw video feeds from Ring or Amazon cameras, with two-way audio support.
The software looks like much larger Echo Show, but Amazon has added a new quick access panel populated by common things you'd like to do. When you turn left from the right edge of the device, you'll find music, alarm, smart home controls, video, Alexa skills, and a new communication center for every way you can talk to people on the device. More often than not, it is usually easier to use voice commands for most of these features, but it can be a good way to not annoy the person you are sharing a bed with when you want to turn off the lights.
Considering its compact size, you can put Echo Show 5 almost anywhere you want. I could see many people using it as a connected clock radio on their desk or in a survey. The most obvious place to use is on a nightstand as an alarm clock, and Amazon has added a few features to make it more useful there. Not only can you ask Alexa to set alarms with your voice, but you can choose from many different alarm sounds, including Disney and SpongeBob children and Tara Reid's character from Sharknado warn Get up and stay away from the windows. (Yes, really.) Or you can ask for a particular song to play from Spotify or Amazon Music.
A new Alexa Sunrise feature will gradually brighten the screen when it's time for the alarm to go off and you can use your voice to turn off or stop the alarm. You can also tap the top of View 5 to snooze the alarm just like you can on Lenovo Smart Clock or a traditional alarm clock.
All in all, I believe that Echo Show 5 is Amazon's best implementation of a smart display yet. It still has the same limitations as the larger Echo Show – no Google services, no real apps, no Netflix, no proper YouTube support, etc. – but the smaller size means you probably wouldn't use most of the stuff on it Nevertheless. Its much lower price compared to the $ 230 Show makes it easier to accept that it's good with a limited number of features and no more.
It is also the best smart alarm clock now available, with a wide range of features, loud and clear sound and easy to use voice commands. At $ 90 (and with Amazon's penchant for selling Echo devices for sale, probably less often), the Echo Show 5 is cheaper than Amazon's own Echo Spot and only $ 10 more than the much less impressive Lenovo Smart Clock. The combination of an available price and good execution makes it an easy place on my bedside table.
Photographs by Dan Seifert / The Verge
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