Amazon’s newly redesigned Echo Show 8 offers a form factor with a ton of potential. The relatively small smart speaker/display combo is roughly the size and shape of a small Kindle Fire in a stand and offers an extremely high-resolution camera as well as stereo speakers, an eight-core CPU, a mic array for better voice recognition and processing, and a relatively heavy, flat base that positions its screen well for viewing at either desk or chest height.
We were lucky enough to get two of the new devices for hands-on testing before launch and have had them for about a week.
Overview and controls
Amazon Echo Show 8 (2021)
Most of your interaction with the Echo Show 8 is done via either its 8-inch touchscreen or its built-in mic array. The mic array is excellent and easily outperformed the Echo and Google Home smart speakers (Dot, Mini, and full-sized) I’ve tested in the past. Even when my kids rickroll me at the device’s top volume, a no-more-than-moderately loud “Alexa, stop playing that garbage” succeeds in getting her attention—and getting her to stop playing that garbage—10 times out of 10.
The touchscreen itself is responsive, but it’s not up to normal tablet standards—while the display measures a solid 8 inches, its 1280×800 resolution pales in comparison to the 2560×1600 offered by my Huawei MediaPad M5 or an iPad Air’s 2360×1640. Fortunately, the lower resolution doesn’t mean visible “jaggies”—Amazon seems to be doing an excellent job anti-aliasing the display—but it sharply limits the screen real estate in the Silk browser.
Worse, we don’t like the on-screen keyboard—it takes up the entire screen rather than being a half-screen overlay. It then wastes all that stolen real estate with an Echo logo, which splits the keyboard into two widely separated halves. The enormous Echo logo is sometimes—but only sometimes—an equally enormous mic button, which if toggled allows you to voice-direct the keyboard instead of tapping it.
Buttons and ports
In addition to touchscreen and mic inputs, the Echo Show 8 offers hardware volume buttons on the top edge of the device, flanked by a mic mute button on the left and a camera toggle on the right. The camera toggle slides from left to right, and it moves a physical obstacle across the front-facing camera lens, which gives a satisfying click when fully closed.
The mute button is unfortunately digital-only—but its setting does survive reboots. If you mute your Show’s mic and then lose power, the Show will still be muted when your power comes back up.
On the back of the Echo Show 8 are a power jack and a micro-USB port. The power jack is, somewhat disappointingly, a DC barrel—so try not to lose the wall-wart that came with the Echo. We initially thought the micro-USB port would allow us to power the Echo Show 8 from the nearby USB hub we charge phones and tablets with—but unfortunately not.
After a bit of sleuthing, we discovered that Amazon does not support the use of this micro-USB port for end users—but that it can support some micro-USB-to-Ethernet adapters for use with wired networks. One Echo Show 8 (first-gen) user reported this specific Ethernet adapter worked flawlessly; we believe the same adapter should work equally well in the new version of the Echo Show 8.
Echo Show 8 as clock radio/bedside music machine
A week of hands-on testing sounds like a lot of time—but it’s nowhere near enough time to go over every use case for the device. Like any Alexa-powered device, the Echo Show 8 can function as a smart home hub in addition to more obvious use as a tablet, smart speaker, or videoconferencing gadget. Your humble author has a determinedly dumb (and reliable) home, so we have not tested the automation features yet.
When Amazon first announced the new Echo Show lineup, I personally got quite excited about the 8—unlike the smaller Echo Show 5, it has stereo speakers. I like to go to sleep with music at night, and while just using my Android tablet as a standalone media player works, it made me desperately miss my 1991-era Panasonic boom box—which has vastly better sound quality than any smart speaker I’ve found, let alone a phone or tablet. Alas, old reliable has been consigned to the living room for actual FM radio use only, since it lacks both Bluetooth capability and a line-in port. (It had a CD player, so why would Panasonic give it a line-in? Manufacturers in the 1990s obviously believed the compact disc was the last medium music would ever be stored on or delivered via.)
A few weeks before the announcement, I noticed Google’s Nest Audio smart speakers could be linked in stereo pairs—and I’d purchased a couple, set them on the bedside table behind my head, and linked them up. They sound good—probably not as good as the Panasonic, but at least close. Unfortunately, the process of getting audio from my tablet or phone into the paired Nest Audio speakers is, in our own Ron Amadeo’s words, “pretty janky.” Just Bluetooth-pairing my tablet to the Nest Audios didn’t work; instead, I needed to use the Google Home app to “cast” to them, much as you’d cast video to a smart television. Does it work? Yes. Is it clunky? Yes. Does it occasionally crash in the middle of the night with a loud blu-donk sound effect? Also, unfortunately, yes.