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Echo Show 15 Review: A Little Too Amazon

Rating: 7/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $250
An Echo Show 15 on a desk next to an Xbox controller
Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

For years, I’ve wanted a control center for my smart home—a place where I can look to see the status of all my gadgets and even control them on the fly. I thought the $249.99 Echo Show 15 might be the answer to my wishes. Unfortunately, Amazon had to be Amazon, and that mars the experience.

At first glance, you might think the Echo Show 15 is just a bigger Echo Show, but that’s not really true. Like most smart displays, Amazon has long focused on the Echo Show as a “counter screen” type device, with angled displays and small-ish screens. But the Echo Show 15 is entirely different. This is a thing meant to look nice in your home, whether that be on a counter or your wall. Squint, and you might confuse it for a picture frame. And that look necessitates decision-making for where the device.

Here's What We Like

  • Big clear screen
  • Visual ID is useful
  • Multiple mount options

And What We Don't

  • Widgets are lacking
  • Speakers are tinny

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Easy to Set Up With a Few New Steps

An Echo Show 15 hung on a wall
Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

With most Echo devices, setup is pretty straightforward. You plug in the Echo, connect the app, log in with your Amazon account and choose a few options, then you’re good to go. But the Echo Show 15 is a tiny bit more involved due to the nature of the device.

The design of this Echo Show resembles a picture frame, which means you can’t just plop it on a nightstand and call it a day. Instead, you have a choice: do you want it on a flat surface, or do you want to hang it on a wall? If you’re going to place it on a desk or countertop, you’ll need to buy a separate stand. And if you want it on the wall, prepare to drill some holes. Amazon includes a template to help with that process, but you need to pick whether to display in portrait or horizontal mode first because it can’t rotate while mounted. Just be prepared to give up a good bit of space if you want it on your desk. As the name implies, it houses a 15-inch screen, and the “frame” bit makes the overall device even larger.

Amazon Echo Show 15 also entails one optional extra step during the software setup. In addition to Voice ID, you can choose to enable Visual ID. It’s a new feature that will also be available on the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) and Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen). The company promises that all processing takes place locally, and the images of your face won’t hit Amazon’s cloud. While I didn’t plan to hang the Echo Show 15 on the wall (I’m not drilling holes for a review unit), it seems pretty easy to hang the device high enough to cause problems with Visual ID setup. You have to stand centered to the camera and turn in multiple directions, so it gets a good look at you.

If you don’t want Visual ID, you don’t have to set it up. And if the idea of an Amazon camera on your wall doesn’t sit well with you, you’ll appreciate the physical privacy shutter. Slide the switch, and a white barrier slides in front of the camera. I like the touch of the white cover, as it nearly blends in with the white picture frame look. As it turns out, the mounting holes for the optional stands are VESA compatible, so I hung it on my computer monitor’s wall mount for review pictures. In theory, that’s another option you could go with if you want.

New Widgets, a Smart Home Hub, and So Much More

An Echo Show 15, offering recipe suggestions
Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

The Echo Show 15 is a drastic departure from other Echo Show devices, thanks to new features like Widgets. Those Widgets will eventually come to other Echo Show devices, but given this screen’s sheer size, they’ll probably always work “best” here.

To start, the Echo Show 15 has 14 widgets you can select. They are Alexa suggestions, Calendar, Commute, Cookpad Recipe of the Day, Favorite Photos, Games, Maps, Music and Audio, Reorder Suggestions, Shopping List, Smart Home Favorites, Sticky Notes, To-Do List, Weather, What to Eat, What to Watch, and Your Deliveries. Right away, you should notice a couple of patterns here.

One, most of the widgets are Amazon-made. Third-party widgets are a long way off, with only one in the list (Cookpad Recipe of the Day) naming a developer other than Amazon. That’s a pity for early adopters because the choices are pretty threadbare right now. And that leads to the second pattern.

Amazon’s widgets are primarily about selling you stuff. Oh sure, there’s a smart home widget and a calendar widget. But look through that list again: favorite photos relies on Amazon’s cloud, which you’ll want a Prime subscription to utilize, then there’s Shopping List, What to Eat, What to Watch, and Reorder Suggestions. Yes, that last one blatantly advertises stuff you should buy again. Even Alexa suggestions reinforce using the Amazon ecosystem.

An Echo Show 15 hanging on the wall above a laptop
Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

All of that shows the underlying drive of Amazon using the Echo Show 15 as an advertising center, but we’ll get to that in a moment. First, I’d like to focus on my hopes and dreams for this thing: a nice smart home hub you can hang on the wall. I’m sorry to say it doesn’t work out that way.

Like most of the widgets, you can’t resize the smart home widget. Some offer a large and small option, but most don’t. As such, the smart home widget only shows a few “favorite” devices. Three and a half on the screen, followed by the other half of a device plus another two. If you want the rest, you’ll have to navigate to the smart home section found in the notification shade. That’ll get you an Alexa app-like list of devices. Be prepared for some frustration here, though; actually interacting with the Echo Show 15 by touch is somewhat slow. Everything takes a little longer than it feels like it should.

The other problem is one that all Echo Show devices share: the home screen content (besides the widgets, that is) serves primarily as yet another advertisement center. By default, it’ll offer recipe suggestions, Alexa tips, trending topics, frequent order suggestions, notifications from Alexa services, and more. Thankfully, you can turn (nearly) all of that off by digging into the settings, but that leaves you with wasted space you can’t hide that still advertises Amazon some and mainly rotates through weather and clock photos. I’d rather make the Widgets full screen.

The Camera and Audio Could Be Better

The side of an Echo Show 15 showing physical buttons and a switch
Depending on your mount choices, the volume and camera privacy shutter buttons are easy to reach. Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

One of the other new standout features of the Echo Show 15 is Visual ID, and that’s made possible by the camera built into the device. Visual ID detects who you are and pops up custom content for you, such as calendar appointments, in the home screen area. If you go through the process for multiple people, you’ll get helpful features like leaving notes for each other. You tell Alexa to leave a note for “John,” and when John steps in front of the Echo Show 15, the note pops up.

It worked seamlessly and seemed to have no trouble recognizing me. But that’s the extent of the nice things I can say about the camera. For actual video calls, it isn’t great. The quality is low-end webcam level. And the placement makes the “no eye contact” issue with videos worse. It’s far away from the center of the screen, giving you a “looking at something else” appearance. That’s true whether you’re in portrait or landscape.

Likewise, the speakers aren’t anything to write home about either. As large as the Echo Show 15 is, you’d think Amazon could fit in some speakers capable of thump, but apparently, that isn’t the case. Everything comes out tinny and threadbare. I strained to hear any bass coming from the device and quickly turned to other speakers for my music. It’s okay for video calls, but in theory, you can watch videos or listen to music on the Echo Show 15. In practice, I can’t say you’d enjoy it.

A Good First Effort, But Wait For The Sequel

An Echo Show 16 with the words "Camera off" on the screen
You get an on-screen confirmation when the privacy shutter closes as well. Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

Generally speaking, anytime a company tries a new product design, I advise waiting for the second attempt. Here, Amazon proves my point. The Echo Show 15 is by no means bad. It’s just not great. I have trouble understanding why I’d use it instead of any other Echo product. You’ll get better sound out of the Echo Show 8, and eventually the same features. For the same price, you can get the Echo Show 10, and it pivots to follow you in the room.

It isn’t that $250 is too much to ask for this device. It’s essentially a (limited) 15-inch tablet, and most tablets cost more. But it IS limited—you mount this thing somewhere, and you can’t download apps. So it’s not really a tablet, and the comparison doesn’t hold. And I appreciate the thought of a “smart home hub” that also “looks like a picture frame.”

The problem is it’s not yet a very good smart home hub. Interacting by touch is too slow, getting to your smart home devices to control them by touch is too clunky, and you’ll have to endure Amazon advertisements along the way. It’s still faster and better to control by voice, and at that point, why not spend less on an Echo speaker?

The Echo Show 15 is, without a doubt, a beautiful device that will fit into your home. But for now, that beauty is only skin deep. I think Amazon has a great starting point, and I hope the company tries again with an updated model. If it does and sticks the landing, this could be my next smart home hub.

Rating: 7/10
Price: $250

Here’s What We Like

  • Big clear screen
  • Visual ID is useful
  • Multiple mount options

And What We Don't

  • Widgets are lacking
  • Speakers are tinny

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson is the Editor in Chief of Review Geek and is responsible for the site's content direction. He has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smart home enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code. Read Full Bio »