“Alexa… what is the weather?” I know it is murky outside and Alexa usually does a good job of telling you the weather. But then my query is not directed at a regular Alexa Echo speaker, this is the Echo Spot. So along with the usual, it’s cloudy outside, I also get to see a screen which literally gives the picture. Alexa was always smart. Now, she has a screen to show off her brains. Amazon announced the Echo Spot and the Echo Show with touchscreen displays that lets you, as well as Alexa, do more with its ever-growing brains. The Echo Spot is the first such device to hit the Indian market.
Amazon Echo Spot
Amazon Echo Spot price in India – Rs 12,999
The Echo Spot is a ball-shaped smart speaker with a round screen. Yes, that sounds very strange, but then this is a new product category and good adjectives have not yet been invented to explain a product of this kind. You could call it a smart timepiece maybe, one that shows much more than time. Well, it has a round color touchscreen display up front. The speaker is mostly in the rear. Above the arc is are volume and mute buttons.
When you use the Alexa wake word, a ring around the screen’s colours up in acknowledgment. You know she’s listening. Yes, it was similar on the earlier Echos as well, but now there is a screen staring at you too. And when your query is registered, there is always something on the screen to add to the voice.
The best use of this is when you ask something like: “Alexa, who is Narendra Modi?” Immediately, there is a Wikipedia photo of the PM on screen as Alexa starts narrating his bio. In some case, like when I enquired about Sachin Tendulkar, she chose to show just text that rolled up as she spoke.
My interactions with Alexa, after the first few honeymoon weeks, have been limited to asking her to play a song I like, or something she thinks I might like. With the Spot, I was up to impress. “Alexa, play Leonard Cohen,” I said, trying my best to replace my squeaky voice with the Canadian baritone. She quickly played a Cohen number I was not that familiar with. She too was out to impress, pulling up album titles and all.
But then the Spot can show much more. In fact, if you ask for news, it can show a bulletin on the screen from news organisations like NDTV which have enabled the feature. You might have to really strain to figure out what is happening if one of the channels decide to show more than 12 speakers as is the norm these days with the news. With a news reader and some simple visuals it actually makes sense when you are catching up on news quickly. However, since the display is curved you either have to fit it in or live with some parts of the frame going out of frame. If you ask for flash news from Indian Express, you get to see just the headline.
The screen lets you do one thing you can’t on other Echo devices, and that is to shop. This could well be the sole reason Amazon decided to add a screen to Echo. I told Alexa I wanted to buy coffee and soon the last pack I bought on Amazon was on the Spot. All I had to say was add to cart and I was ready to check out. You can’t make the payment in India on the Spot and for that, you will need to open your cart on the app or desktop.
The other use of the screen is to (silently) prompt you about the things you can ask for, like the meaning of hypothesis, or what is the latest business news or what’s the trending video. It would be really awkward if this was done with voice, so the screen works here to increase the engagement for the Echo devices. And, then you can add your own pictures as the background.
The best feature, however, is the video calling abilities of the Echo Spot. You can make a video call from the Spot to anyone with the Alexa app on their phone, or someone with another Spot. The call can be initiated and ended using voice, and hence I think it is a great gift for all the elderly Indians with children staying abroad in faraway cities. This takes away the complication of Skype or WhatsApp calls for them. It is so easy that even before I could test it, I got a call from ‘Home’ with my six-year-old having figured out the feature without any external help.
So should you buy an Echo Spot?
Now, this is a really tough question. I love Echo devices and very natural, sometimes witty, Alexa. But do I want a screen to add to her charms? Well, that I’m not so sure about. In fact, despite all the prompting and the wonderful screen showing my photography exploits or the grinning face of my son, I rather just hear Alexa. Yeah, Amazon too is sure that voice will continue to be the main interaction means for this device too.
So I am not really sure I want the screen when the voice is doing so well. Also, at this price you get an Echo 2 which sounds much better than the spot. Till Amazon adds a bunch of skills that brings the screen to life and adds real value to the users. I would suggest this for those houses were the video calling will be a big add-on, but otherwise, the regular Echo series if perfectly fine in my books.