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The Amazon Echo Show 15 blurs the line between smart displays and TVs
A solid smart display that deserves bigger ambitions.
Hardware this nice deserves better, and the Amazon Echo Show 15's big screen form-factor feels let down by the absence of more ambitious software.
Amazon’s local smart display lineup is getting larger with the company’s biggest smart display yet: the Amazon Echo Show 15.
Like Amazon’s other smart speakers, the Echo Show 15 offers up all the usual voice and touch-based features from calendar reminders to recipe recommendations to video streaming through platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
More pixels typically makes for a better viewing experience, and the Echo Show 15 leans into that expectation. Bigger means better is the name of the game here.
If the above functionality and a bigger screen are all you’re after, then this Alexa-enabled smart display does a decent job for a decent price. However, beyond those expectations, the Amazon Echo Show 15 falls short of what it could be. It lurches towards an exciting future, but falls afoul of familiar pitfalls along the way.
How much does the Amazon Echo Show 15 cost in Australia?
In Australia, pricing for the Amazon Echo Show 15 starts and ends at $399. The smart frame can be bundled with the optional tilt-stand accessory for $448.
At that price, the Echo Show 15 ends up being one of two the most expensive Echo Show devices in Amazon’s stable. For comparison, the Echo Show 10 is also priced at $399 while the Echo Show 8 and Echo Show 5 cost $199 and $119 respectively. Check out the table below for a breakdown of how the Echo Show 15 rates in terms of price.
Amazon Echo Show 15 - Hardware and design
Amazon’s latest smart display is only available in a single color, but the ubiquitous black borders on it make it a natural fit for a kitchen bench, living room wall or even a home study environment. I opted for the third option, since I couldn't find a natural or easy fit for it elsewhere in my home.
In any case, the Amazon Echo Show 15 is a slate-style smart display kitted out with a 15.6-inch 1080p display, a pair of 1.6-inch full-range speakers and a 5-megapixel camera that's used for video calling. These box-ticking specs are complemented by the modern privacy features that more conscious consumers now expect from smart speakers and smart displays. To that end, the Echo Show 15 boasts both a physical camera shutter and microphone-off slider.
Given the amount of overlap between this and the rest of the Echo lineup, Amazon is mainly looking to differentiate the Echo Show 15 by size alone. While you can watch stuff on the Echo Show 8 or Echo Show 10, the bump upwards in resolution here goes a long way towards making watching content on the Echo Show 15 much more viable. Likewise, the extra five or so inches of physical "screen estate" found here might not sound like a lot, but they make a definite difference when it comes to multitasking.
Essentially, the company’s latest smart display is positioned as a smart frame that takes up a little more space but adds a lot more versatility. Even if the Echo Show 15 isn’t quite big (or capable) enough to replace something like Samsung’s Frame TV, it feels like a clear step in that direction. Amazon is even giving consumers the option of wall-mounting the smart frame or orienting it via an optional tilt-stand accessory.
Amazon Echo Show 15 - Software and experience
As someone who usually prefers to rely on the Google Assistant rather than Alexa, I found that Echo Show 15 worked surprisingly well as a side-screen in my home office. I might have not found as much utility if I had a multi-monitor setup, but as someone with a single display attached to their desktop, having that secondary screen that I could use to control music, sideload video content or get at-a-glance info about my calendar was pretty nifty. The speakers inside this thing aren't exceptional, but they're more than merely fit for purpose.
At first glance, the home screen on the Echo Show 15 offers up plenty of room for personalisation. you can quickly and easily create your own slate of tiled widgets and at-a-glance elements to suit your individual or specific needs.
Unfortunately, these new possibilities are quickly curtailed by the frustrating realities of the Alexa ecosystem as it currently exists.
When it comes to widgets, there are only around a dozen to choose from. And while the Amazon Echo Show 15 is arguably at its best when it functions as a hands-free miniature smart TV, it won't take long for you to run up against the limits of that experience.
As opposed to a fully-fledged Smart TV, most streaming services aren’t directly accessible on the Echo Show 15. There’s no YouTube app, or even a search bar. If you’re looking for content outside of Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, you’ll have to load it up via a web browser. All of this is predictably clunky.
Amazon lets you work around these limits via a web browser interface, but they don't even do a particularly good job of it. There's no clear way to save bookmarks or pages. Add to that the frequent hitches and general sluggishness of the user interface on the device, and the sum total ends up drifting far from what it could be.
It’s not hard to imagine a smart display of this size and resolution competing with a smaller Smart TV. However, right now, we’re talking about a showdown with a foregone conclusion.
I’ll be the first to admit that video playback is far from the only application available to the Echo Show 15, but it’s one of the two biggest and clearest use cases where the larger screen justifies the added cost involved. If you aren’t using the hardware here in a way that taps into that, it’s not clear why you would or should opt for this over the alternatives.
On that note, I liked the idea of setting up and using the Echo Show 15 as a digital picture frame, but the fact that I’d have to migrate my entire photo collection from Google Photos or iCloud to Amazon’s own service is something of a sticking point.
There’s a good product here, but it feels buried by the inconveniences of having to work around the limits of the software experience and Amazon’s active efforts to push you towards buying additional products and services from them leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Is the Amazon Echo Show 15 worth buying?
The Amazon Echo Show 15 matches the rest of the range in functionality, but falls short on harnessing the full potential of the larger form-factor. If all you’re after is an Echo Show 10 with a larger screen, it’ll get the job done. However, even then, it’s held back by a slow processor and a lack of dedicated streaming apps.
It’s not hard to see how Amazon could upscale this formula further and even make a play into the smaller end of the TV market, but it’s clear that any such expansion would require them to address and refine what's here in a big way.
Right now, the Amazon Echo Show 15 can competently hold its own as a sideshow, but can’t quite cut it as the main event.
How does the Amazon Echo Show 15 compare?
Take a look at the table below for a sense of how the Amazon Echo Show 15 compares to rivals from Lenovo and Google, as well as the rest of Amazon’s own Echo Show line.