Large, lovely screen
Can’t tilt or swivel
Amazon intends to make this a family hub of sorts, mixing personalized widgets with the usual assortment of pushy Alexa recommendations that occupy other Show screens. Assuming you can actually find a place for it, the Show 15 feels like an attempt to shoehorn your family’s organizational needs into a device that’s surprisingly disorganized.
Even if you were to fully embrace an Alexa-powered organization ecosystem, who’s going to walk over to the Show to look at it rather than just pulling out a phone? What’s more, the Show 15 mounts on a wall, power cord thwarting the decor, or on an unappealing, limiting stand that costs extra. And its speakers pale in comparison to other Echo devices. So while there’s no debating the big draw of the big screen, this feels like a flawed, largely unnecessary product.
About the Echo Show 15
- Price: $249.99
- Connectivity: 2.4GHz and 5Ghz dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
- Smart assistants: Amazon Alexa
- Camera: 5 megapixels
- Resolution: 1920 x 1080 pixels
- Speakers: 2 full-range speakers
- Microphones: 6 microphones
- Dimensions: 9.9-inches H x 15.8-inches W x 1.4-inches D
Amazon currently offers just one color option for the Show 15: a black frame with a white bezel surrounding the screen. The overall design is nice, if a little plain. Viewed from the side, it’s a chunky-looking device.
What we like
The big screen
It’s easy to get drawn in by the Show’s 15.6-inch touchscreen, with its 1080p resolution and vibrant colors. If you move past roughly a 60-degree viewing angle (either direction from center), the visibility starts to decrease. Assuming this ends up on your wall, that shouldn’t pose any real problems.
The idea here is to let you absorb widget-based information at a glance–weather, notes, and so on–but how effectively you’re able to do that depends on where the Show gets mounted. I found that I could stand around six feet away and still see the text of, say, the to-do list.
Visual ID for a personalized experience
Just as other Echo devices can learn your voice, the Echo Show 15 can learn your face. And if you create profiles for each family member, the Show will recognize who’s standing close by and display custom information for them like reminders, calendar entries, recently played music and so on.
Although the feature is called Visual ID, Alexa didn’t understand when I said, “Set up Visual ID.” Instead, I had to ask her to “learn my face.” From there it’s easy to set up–much like configuring Face ID on an iPhone–and the Show’s camera is very quick to recognize who’s in view and switch to that person’s information.
Some worthwhile widgets
The Show 15 currently offers 17 widgets, though a handful of those are just “large” versions of things like Maps and the calendar. The latter is a decidedly useful tool, along with Sticky Notes, Weather and Shopping List. Commuters may appreciate the map as well, which can show any current traffic delays.
I particularly like the smart-home control panel, which affords one-tap access to things like lights and thermostat settings (assuming you have such smart-home hardware configured for use with Alexa). But there’s no larger version of this widget, meaning you have to scroll if you want to see more than three shortcuts at a time.
What’s more, many of the widgets just duplicate things that are already preprogrammed to display in the “main” section of the screen: Alexa suggestions, Amazon reorder suggestions, cooking ideas, delivery tracking and so on. You can access all these tools on any Echo Show device; here you just get the option of keeping them visible in mini windows.
What we don’t like
Limited placement options
The thick, heavy Echo Show 15 was designed to mount on a wall, but potential buyers should think long and hard about which wall it might be. A kitchen or dining area makes the most sense, as that’s where family members tend to gather, but in my house, there wasn’t a single viable spot. The need for power limits placement options even further, and anyway I wasn’t wild about the idea of a power cord running down my wall.
Assuming you do go that route, you’ll need the four provided screws and anchors. A simple, straightforward template and instruction guide make wall mounting as easy as possible. Unfortunately, this is a flush-mount situation: Once the screen is secure (in either portrait or landscape orientation), you can’t tilt, pivot or otherwise adjust it.
As for the Sanus stand (a $30 option at the time of purchase), it’s a clunky, unattractive addition. It also allows for portrait or landscape mounting, but you can’t switch between the two without physically unscrewing the screen. Even worse, the stand itself doesn’t turn: You can’t, for example, face the Show toward you in the kitchen while you’re cooking and then back to the dining table to watch Netflix while eating–not easily, anyway. A turntable base would have made this a much more versatile solution.
Speaking of Netflix, while the Show can indeed stream video from that service and various others, this assumes it’s placed somewhere you’d actually be comfortable sitting and watching. I realize I’d be complaining if it couldn’t stream video, but this all goes back to the challenge of finding a logical home for it.
Subpar speaker quality
Part of that struggle involves the speakers. Unlike the Echo Show 10 and Echo Studio, the Show 15 definitely wasn’t built with music in mind. Instead, because it’s like a TV (that is, mostly screen), it has limited space inside for speakers. The two it has are at the rear and angled toward the wall.
All of this helps explain why the Echo Show 15 just doesn’t sound good. Music is flat and a bit tinny, with little bass to speak of. Other smart screens I’ve tried, including the Echo Show 10 and Meta Portal Plus, deliver notably superior sound.
Frustrating to use
From its basic home-screen operations to its menus and settings, nearly everything about this device is an exercise in frustration.
Widgets, ostensibly the star of the, er, Show, are at the top of the list. You can display either four or six of them, but that’s it. You can’t resize the widget window (even though there’s a “handle” along the side that would seem to be specifically for that purpose). You can’t resize individual widgets that might benefit from displaying more or less information. You can’t even scale down to two widgets, leaving the bulk of the home screen for photos or the like.
And many of the widgets themselves are a mix of “meh” and useless. Take the to-do list (please): There’s no obvious way to add an item like you would on a phone or tablet. (Yes, you’re supposed to do this by voice, but why not allow tap-type entries for those who prefer it?) Even worse, there’s no way to check off completed items from within the widget itself. If you try to swipe a to-do, it swipes the entire widget bar. If you tap one, you’re taken to a full-screen to-do interface. Why isn’t this widget interactive?
Indeed, little about the UI makes sense; Amazon can’t seem to find the right balance between voice-powered device and oversize tablet. This is easier to overlook on smaller Echo Shows, but here screen interaction is a much bigger part of the equation. I constantly found myself struggling to do what I wanted to do or find a setting that would help me make changes.
Suppose, for example, you want to use the Show primarily as a digital photo frame–a great option given its size, and actually a reasonably priced one relative to dedicated photo frames.
You can do this, but switching to full-screen photo mode means you get photos and nothing else. You can’t even overlay a clock, something all other Echo Show models allow. Meanwhile, photo-slideshow settings–the scant few that are available–are inexplicably located in an “Alexa preferences” menu. And using the Amazon Photos app to add new pictures to a “photo frame” folder? Maddeningly difficult. (That’s true not just for the Show 15, but all Echo Show devices.)
Limited camera and video calls
Out of the box, the Echo Show 15 can video-call other Echo Show devices or anyone who has the Alexa app. It works with Skype as well, but there’s no support for services like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. Zoom calling won’t be in the mix until sometime in 2022.
Although it incorporates some fun AR effects, like costumes and sunglasses, the camera, which operates at a fairly low-resolution 5 megapixels, doesn’t offer any kind of movement tracking. That’s in contrast to the Echo Show 10 and its 13-megapixel camera with auto-framing. (That device already supports Zoom calls, too.)
The 14-inch Portal Plus handles Zoom as well, along with Messenger and WhatsApp. It has a much higher-resolution camera, plus tracking features. (It’s also priced $100 higher.)
There’s far less controversy surrounding Amazon’s collection and use of customer data than similar displays from Facebook’s Portal line, but it should come as no surprise by now that Amazon collects and uses customer data.
Here, however, you have two key defenses at your disposal, starting with a physical privacy shutter that instantly disables the camera. That switch is located right along the top edge of the frame. In addition, you can access and adjust a variety of privacy settings for both the device and the Alexa ecosystem. Just ask Alexa, "How do I review my privacy settings?"
Should you buy it?
No, it’s disappointing in nearly every way
At $250, the Echo Show 15 is priced the same as the Echo Show 10. The latter may have a smaller screen, but it’s a far more versatile device. It’s much better at music. It’s better at video calls and showing off your photos. And it can rotate with ease, either manually or as you move about.
Your family’s mileage may vary, but after a week with the Show 15, mine found little value in it.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Rick Broida has been writing about consumer technology since the days of the Commodore Amiga, meaning he’s not only incredibly old, but also the undisputed champion of Defender of the Crown.
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