The arrival of Amazon's Echo family of smart speakers was notable both for how long we'd been waiting for it to happen, as well as what we didn't get. A number of Amazon's highest-profile and most fancy Alexa-powered speaker devices simply weren't on the menu when it first launched down under, including both screen-enabled models, the Amazon Echo Show and Amazon Echo Spot.
There's no sign of the Echo Show yet, but you can now purchase an Amazon Echo Spot with support for Australian English and services here in Australia.
Distinct alarm-clock design sets it apart from other smart speakers
Bluetooth support and a 3.5mm jack cover your basic audio needs
By far the most notable aspect of the Amazon Echo Spot is its design, because for a smart speaker, it sure doesn't look like a smart speaker. Indeed, the design practically screams "Smart Alarm Clock", and that's really a category that hasn't been explored with any depth to date.
With a rounded design that measures in at around 91 x 104 x 91mm, the Echo Spot is on the smaller side for a smart speaker, although not quite as diminutive as its sibling Echo Dot, or for that matter the Google Home Mini.
The design is a round ball with a third of its body sliced away to "reveal" the round display screen, which measures in at 6.3cm with a relatively low resolution of 480 pixels across; its round display sounds low-resolution but Amazon rather cleverly limits what you can watch on it, so you're not likely to complain about this aspect of its construction.
At the top you'll find the usual array of volume and microphone muting buttons. For a device that's likely to see some duty as a bedside alarm clock, it feels more likely than not that the microphone mute might see more action than on other Alexa devices, if you follow me.
The display screen is touch-sensitive, but inputs are very limited to left and right swipes, as well as a downwards swipe to reveal the settings, mute and brightness adjustments bar.
In terms of input, aside from the power cable that snakes out from the rear, you've got a standard 3.5mm audio jack to connect the Echo Spot up to bigger and better speakers if that suits your needs. The Echo Spot is also Bluetooth capable if you want to stream music to it.
Better audio quality than the Echo Dot, but nothing to write home about
Touch screen opens up a variety of new features and functions
Supports connections with numerous other smart home devices including security cameras and video doorbells
The Echo Spot isn't sold by Amazon as a high-end speaker device, and it's really not. Audio is more attuned to offering voice-based information than it is to working as a music speaker, although the Spot is rather obviously superior to the cheaper Echo Dot, as you'd expect.
Where the Echo Spot has to stand out a little more is in the fact that its screen opens up possibilities for visual display that no other currently available smart speaker in Australia can match. At launch, this is rather limited to news bulletins from the ABC or Sky News, as well as movie trailers via IMDB. At launch, the ABC News bulletin seemed to never update, but hopefully that's a launch quirk or feed issue, rather than a permanent problem.
One curious point here is that IMDB serves up US trailers, which means release dates and the like don't gel well at all with Australian ones.
If you're particularly keen, you can also watch Amazon Prime Video through the Echo Spot, although that's pretty much an exercise in masochism. I mean, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel is exceptional viewing, but it's not well served on a tiny round screen in any way.
The display screen can also show shopping lists, the progress of timers or alarms, and of course, clock faces. Most of these are analogue clock faces, because that's a more logical match for a round display screen, although some digital faces are available. You can set a night mode for relative dimming, although this is still relatively bright, so if you find electronic light disturbs your sleep, this could be problematic.
A camera sits behind the display screen giving the Echo Spot its other party trick, which is video calling. While regular Echo speakers support voice calls, the camera on the Spot allows for two types of video calling. Make a regular call, and as long as your recipient has an Echo Spot, it will come up on their device, or optionally through the Amazon Echo app if it's installed on a smartphone or tablet they have. That's very much a Skype/Facetime style video call in the classic sense.
The other video call type exclusive to the Spot is what Amazon calls "Drop In" calling. Essentially it's a way to fire up the Spot's camera without call accept or reject buttons, used for contacting close family members or trusted friends. You've got to enable Drop In on both sides of an Echo conversation to make it work. Once that's done, if you tell Alexa to Drop In on your friends or family, they get a brief chime, about 5 seconds of blurred video and then they're live, no matter what they're doing.
Hopefully they're not getting dressed, or out of the shower, or anything similar. Drop In did work quite well for basic video quality in my tests, but it did give me pause for thought as to where I'd place the Echo Spot, and who I'd give Drop In access to.
However, the Echo Spot isn't just a smart alarm clock with video calling as it's also a fully capable Alexa-based smart speaker. That means that you get full access to the library of Australian-compatible Alexa Skills, which you install to the Echo Spot from the Amazon Alexa app for Android or iOS smartphones.
There's a wide and growing range of skills available, covering everything from banking to checking flights to smart home integration, and in most respects the Echo Spot is no different to any other Alexa-enabled device. The integration of a display screen does mean that some apps display relevant information onscreen, such as more detailed weather alerts, but it's far from universal, so expect a lot of skill logos or the plain clock face with some skills.
You are also still limited to just one registered voice on an Echo device in Australia. That doesn't mean that the Echo Spot will only listen to you, but instead that anyone can access your calendars, music and information simply by asking. Multi-voice Alexa support does exist in the US, but it's anyone's guess as to when we'll see it down under.
I did have some concerns about how the Echo Spot's unusual shape might affect its microphone pickup, but in my tests it performed quite well at picking up my voice, even from a distance. Alexa's voice still has that artificial quality that reminds you that it's not actually human, but she's certainly listening all the time, unless you disable the microphone.
Given the Echo Spot's screen is a selling feature it feels unlikely that you'd drop it out of sight as you might do with an Echo Dot, because then you won't be able to see the screen, so it's likely most of your interactions with it would be up close in any case.
That screen also means that you can integrate it with a range of smart home cameras and doorbells. Amazon's recent acquisition of Ring and its range of video doorbells means that it's supported, as are Arlo's range of cameras, or Belkin's WeMo switches and lights, just to name a few. Searching for the requisite skills in the Echo App is a bit of a chore, because they're not well sorted, with obvious search terms often not being the in the number one position.
There's also an odd catch here for video monitoring, because while you can feed video from a Ring Doorbell to the Echo Spot, you have to explicitly ask it to do so each time it rings or detects motion.
An option to automatically feed would be ideal, because otherwise you've got to be alerted to a ring event, then tell Alexa to view the feed, then wait for it to get the feed... by which time you've probably missed your Amazon delivery anyway.
Versatile while still being simple to use
A little on the pricey side
The Echo Spot is a very different kind of smart speaker, because the inclusion of a display screen adds all sorts of smartphone-style capabilities into what is otherwise a voice-driven world.
In some ways, Amazon hasn't done a lot with that screen, in order to keep voice the focus, but that also means they've kept it simple and easy to use, which is a big plus. It's also a speaker with cute industrial design, so where you'd probably hide an Echo Dot, your Echo Spot is much more likely to be proudly displayed.
You'll pay a premium for the privilege, and it's going to work a lot better in a house that's already Alexa-enabled rather than being your first Echo speaker, but within those constraints it works well.
Pricing and availability
The Amazon Echo Spot is available to purchase from Amazon Australia for $199.
Click to buy Amazon Echo Spot - Black from Amazon AU
The smart speaker space is a very busy one, with many options open to you.
Within the available Echo space, the Echo Dot is the closest match to the Echo Spot in terms of features and audio quality, and is considerably cheaper at just $79. If you do want audio quality better than the Spot, consider the $149 Amazon Echo or the $229 Echo Plus if Zigbee integration is important to your smart home plans.
Alex Kidman was the tech and telco editor at Finder and is now a freelance technology writer. He's been a technology writer with experience spanning more than 20 years, writing and editing at Gizmodo, CNET, PC Magazine, Kotaku and many more. Alex has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of New England and a serious passion for retro gaming.
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