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Amazon’s Echo Show 8 hits the sweet spot for smart displays

In just two short years, Amazon’s line of Alexa-powered smart displays has expanded from one oddly shaped device to three sleek units. They all share similar designs and features but with three different sizes and price points. The 10-inch Echo Show occupies the top of the line, with the largest screen, loudest speakers, and highest price, while the alarm clock-like Echo Show 5 is less expensive and fits much easier on a nightstand.

The newest model, the $129.99 Echo Show 8, splits the difference: it’s got an eight-inch screen and the same dual two-inch speakers and bass port as the 10-inch model, but it has a price that’s much closer to the considerably smaller Echo Show 5. It can do nearly all of the same things as the other Echo Show models, making it an ideal pick for someone who wants an Alexa-powered smart display with great sound without having to shell out more than $200 for the privilege.

Since the Echo Show 8’s capabilities are so similar to the other Echo Show models, I encourage you to read my reviews of the 10-inch model and the Echo Show 5, which cover a lot of the details with the experience. As mentioned, the Echo Show 8’s capabilities are closer to the 10-inch Show than the five-inch model: it can play video from a variety of sources (including Hulu, which isn’t available on the Echo Show 5); make video calls to other Echo Show devices or smartphones with the Alexa app; and play music from Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and others. It shares the same wedge-shaped design as the other two models, complete with a fabric back and two color options (white or black).

The display on the Show 8 isn’t particularly high-res, but it is bright and easy to see from across the room. There are sensors on the front to automatically adjust the screen’s brightness, but it doesn’t have the ability to tune the color to the ambient lighting in a room like Google’s Nest Hub smart displays can.

Like the Echo Show 5, the Show 8 has two far-field microphones for hearing voice commands and a 1-megapixel camera for video calls. I had no issues with the Show 8 hearing my voice commands, and while the camera isn’t exceptional, it’s fine for the occasional video call. Unlike Google’s Nest Hub Max or Facebook’s Portal devices, there aren’t any fancy subject tracking automatic framing features, so you have to make sure you’re standing in the frame when on a video call.

Where the Echo Show 8 stands out is in its sound quality: since it has the same speakers as the 10-inch model, it sounds remarkably similar, and it has the same ability to fill a small room with rich sound. My only complaint with the Show 8’s sound quality is that the bass can get a bit boomy, but that’s easily fixed with a tweak to the equalizer settings on the device or in the Alexa smartphone app. It’s much better-sounding than Google’s Nest Hub devices or Facebook’s Portal, and it’s much fuller than the Echo Show 5.

In fact, the Show 8 sounds so good that I’m not sure why you’d spend $100 more for the 10-inch model if listening to music is the thing you plan to do the most. The larger model’s screen is obviously slightly bigger, but thanks to the large fonts and icons in the Echo Show software, it’s still very easy to see information on the Echo Show 8 at a glance.

The other thing you get over the larger Show is the ability to block the camera with a built-in shutter, adding a level of privacy protection to the Show 8 that I appreciate. The one thing you give up is the built-in Zigbee smart home connectivity found on the larger model. But I don’t think that’s something most people will miss, as you can still use it to control countless lights, thermostats, locks, alarms, and other smart home gadgets just like other Echo speakers. You can also pull up the feed from supported video doorbells and security cameras right on the Show 8’s display.

Much like the other Echo Show devices, the video experience on the Show 8 is limited to a handful of services, including Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and NBC. There’s no way to watch Netflix on the Show 8 at all, and while you can use the built-in web browser to manually navigate to YouTube and play video that way, it’s a very cumbersome and annoying experience.

Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we’re going to start counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.

In order to use the Amazon Echo Show 8, you’ll need to download the Alexa app for iOS and Android. An Amazon account is required to sign in. By signing up for one of those, you must agree to its conditions of use.

After that, the Alexa app will ask what sort of device you want to connect. Just know that once you click on the device, you agree to a whole host of mandatory terms. In Amazon’s own words: “By proceeding, you agree to Amazon’s conditions of use and all of the terms found here.”

You can explore the documentation at that link, but below, we’ve listed the 12 terms that you must agree to:

Final tally: 13 mandatory agreements

Similarly, while Amazon likes to boast about the Echo Show’s ability to display recipes, complete with video and step-by-step instructions, the odds of finding the actual recipe you want to cook on the Show 8 are very slim.

Therefore, its screen is better used for things like viewing and managing a grocery list, seeing an extended weather forecast, or viewing upcoming calendar appointments. You can use it to display photos stored in Amazon Photos or on Facebook, but not Google Photos, which is where I have all of my family’s photos. I still prefer the Nest Hub as a digital photo frame because of its automatic color tuning and ability to plug into my Google Photos account. But if you don’t use Google Photos, that won’t matter to you.

Overall, if you’re interested in an Alexa-powered smart display, the Echo Show 8 checks off all of the boxes that matter without carrying the price burden of the larger Echo Show. While I don’t think it’s as good as the Nest Hub at being a digital photo frame, it’s much better for listening to music. At $130 (and frequently less, thanks to Amazon’s often and aggressive sales), the Show 8 is a capable smart display that can easily fit in a kitchen, home office, or living room.

Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge

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