Amazon Echo Show 8 2nd Gen review: Smart display with a smarter camera
Quick verdict: The upgraded Echo Show 8 2nd Gen benefits a lot from an improved and smart tracking camera. If you're in the Alexa camp, it's an easy recommendation.
- Camera works well for video tracking and calling
- Wide range of Alexa skills
- Physical camera shutter
- Lacks Google integrations
- Amazon Sidewalk is creepy
- Not a big upgrade over the 1st generation
Smart displays work best when they can maximise the benefits of visual presentation along with the features you'd expect out of a smart speaker. Amazon's upgraded second generation Echo Show 8 brings with it a vastly improved camera system along with snappy response that makes it easily the best Alexa-powered smart display on the market to date.
As with all matters smart home, there are still choices to make between Amazon, Google and to a lesser extent Apple, but if you're already an Alexa user and you're looking for a smart display to buy, this is very clearly the model to buy.
- 8-inch display is just the right size
- Not exactly high resolution
- Physical shutter button
At a technical level, there's not too much to say about the Echo Show 8 2nd Gen relative to its predecessor. You're still looking at an 8-inch, 1280x800 pixel display that sits within a wedge-shaped body.
Unlike the smaller Echo Show 5 2nd Gen, which comes with 3 colour choices, you've only got 2 colour choices to pick from: Glacier White or Charcoal. Either is relatively unobtrusive, which is what you want really for the back of a smart display. I mean, who spends any extra time looking at the back of a smart display anyway?
On the controls front everything is logically laid out, with physical volume buttons and an Alexa microphone muting button, as well as a dedicated switch that drops a physical shutter in front of the Echo Show 8 2nd Gen's 13MP camera. Given that the Echo Show 8 2nd Gen can act as a home security camera in its own right, being able to enforce a little privacy as and when you want it is a very welcome step.
- Easy set-up
- Consider whether Sidewalk is right for you
Installing the Echo Show 8 2nd Gen involves connecting it to your home or office Wi-Fi and signing in to your Amazon account. It will ask for address confirmation, which is interesting considering that here in Australia Amazon doesn't actually support voice-activated Amazon ordering just yet.
It will also ask you to enrol in Amazon Sidewalk, again, even though it's a feature that's only rolled out in the US so far.
Amazon Sidewalk uses part of your broadband connection to create an effective neighbourhood mesh of Amazon devices – so far, select Echo speakers/smart displays and Ring Doorbells. The idea here is that if your Ring Doorbell, for example, has poor Wi-Fi connectivity but is close enough to your neighbour, it will use some of that broadband connection to ensure that it can operate optimally. Your neighbour won't be able to see your doorbell feed, but equally their Echo Show 8 might use some of your connection if it's in a spot with poor Wi-Fi.
That's the consumer sell for Amazon Sidewalk, but it opens up a whole can of worms around network security and logging, because it's 100% managed by Amazon itself. You can opt out of Amazon Sidewalk, and I most definitely did as soon as the option presented itself.
Alexa still lies at the heart of the Echo experience even on an Echo Show, but it's supplanted by the fact that you can display information and video content on the Echo Show 8 2nd Gen's 8-inch display. Ask Alexa for the weather, for example, and you'll not only be told but also shown a visual of clouds, or sun or whatever the prevailing conditions may be. Alexa isn't quite as smart as Google when it comes to more general searches, however.
While I struggled a little with the speed of the Echo Show 5 2nd Gen in terms of touch controls and response, I had no real problems with the Echo Show 8 2nd Gen. It's quite simple to add what Amazon calls "Skills" to the Echo Show 8 2nd Gen, and these can range from recipe apps to games, and of course, streaming media services.
Here it's very much a mixed bag of available services. Amazon Prime Video is front and centre, and there is support for Netflix on board, but if you want to watch anything on YouTube, you'll be doing so via Amazon's own clunky Silk browser. Amazon and Google are not children who play well together, and one of the biggest strikes against the Echo experience generally is that it doesn't integrate well with Google's services.
If you've got photos in Google Photos, you won't be able to show them easily on the Echo Show 8 2nd Gen; Amazon would prefer you uploaded them to Amazon Photos instead. For many Australians, the line between Google and Amazon in the smart speaker/device space fell far more in Google's favour than Amazon, and this remains a big sticking point.
Which is a pity in a hardware sense, because there's a lot that the Echo Show 8 2nd Gen does very well indeed. Its large display makes it a nice and obvious pairing up to a Ring Video doorbell, but its camera smarts aren't simply limited to mirroring a smart doorbell or two.
Amazon significantly upped the quality of the onboard camera in the Echo Show 8 2nd Gen relative to its first generation sibling. That model had a paltry 1MP camera, but Amazon has instead grabbed much the same 13MP camera module found in the fancier Echo Show 10 3rd Gen for the 2nd Gen Echo Show 8.
It doesn't quite have the fancy spinning motors of the Echo Show 10 3rd Gen, but it does use that extra resolution to provide a digital pan and scan feature to try to keep you in shot even if you're moving around.
Place your Echo Show 8 2nd Gen on your kitchen benchtop, as I did, and it will relatively intelligently try to keep you in the frame of the shot during video calls. You can also opt to enable home monitoring, which allows you to access the Echo Show 8 2nd Gen's camera from the Alexa app on your phone when you're not at home. It's not a substitute for a full motion-sensitive camera, and it does display obvious alerts when in use, but it's still a nice added extra feature.
The 8-inch display on the Echo Show 8 2nd Gen makes it quite good as a benchtop video and audio player, helped by the integrated dual 2-inch speakers. There is still a quality gulf here between the Echo Show 8 2nd Gen and the Echo Show 10 3rd Gen model, but for quick video watching it's quite workable. The same is true for music playback, with Amazon's own music services the default.
The one catch here for Australian users is that while Amazon Prime membership does get you access to Amazon Music, that's a different offering to Amazon Music Unlimited. There's no distinction in the US, but here on just Prime you get a smaller music library to play with. You'll also be prompted to trial Music Unlimited if you select an artist or album not on the basic service. It's an annoying limitation to deal with, and again a bit of a hard push towards other Amazon products and services.
Should you buy the Amazon Echo Show 8 2nd Gen?
- Buy it if you want the best Amazon Alexa smart display.
- Don't buy it if you need Google integrations.
The Echo Show 8 2nd Gen sits in the middle position of Amazon's current array of smart displays, but it's easily the best option if Alexa is your smart assistant of choice. The larger display, better cameras and improved speakers put it well ahead of the smaller Echo Show 5 2nd Gen, and it's not really that much more expensive in any case. It's not as technically whizzy as the Echo Show 10 3rd Gen, but the rotating screen on that device is more a party piece than a really useful idea, and it's a much more expensive option.
The one sticking point for many Australians is that, unlike in the US, Google got its claws into the smart speaker and display market first, and there is pretty strong loyalty towards its services. You'd be smart to consider the competition, such as the Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen if you're not already in the Alexa space.
Pricing and availability
Where to buy
Images: Alex Kidman
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