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The Echo Show 15 is Amazon’s biggest and most expensive smart display. Part smart TV, part central home hub aimed at families, the $250 Echo Show 15 has the potential to be useful, but only for a small fraction of smart display fans. In fact, it offers only a little more than smaller Echo Show devices.
The jumbo-sized smart display stands apart from the rest of the Echo Show lineup because it’s designed to be mounted on a wall — that is, if you have the wall space. And while you can buy a stand, that means valuable kitchen counter space occupied by a smart screen.
Considerations about size aside, the recent addition of Fire TV support is welcome. But unfortunately, the display’s audio is disappointing. The same could be said about its underwhelming 5-megapixel camera. And while the widget gallery brings the device close to being a family bulletin board, customizations are excessively limited.
A big screen designed for the entire family
With the Echo Show 15, Amazon is betting there’s a market for a hybrid TV-smart display. It supports the Fire TV streaming system and can play content from popular streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, and more. While it’ll never replace a primary TV in a living room, it’s a nice-to-have option in the kitchen for, say, Saturday morning cartoons with the little ones.
The 15-inch touchscreen is plenty bright and perfect for displaying photos. The white border around the display even makes the Echo Show 15 look like a traditional picture frame. However, not all photos can fill the full display, which spoils the effect. Even some of the device’s default nature photos display with a blurred background on either side of the image.
You can mount the Echo Show 15 horizontally or vertically. If you’re not hanging it on the wall, you’ll have to buy a display stand separately, which is how we ended up testing our review unit. For those convinced on a wall-mounted smart display, you’ll want to take into account viewing angles, if you want children to be able to reach the touchscreen, and how the cord will look if you’re not routing it through the wall.
Upon interacting with the Echo Show 15, you quickly realize it would be much better with an Alexa Voice Remote, which, like the stand, you’ll have to buy separately. Otherwise, you have to use the on-screen remote to navigate, which is a slow way to browse. Voice commands aren’t any better as they’re not reliable, even when you know what you want: Asking for a specific episode of “Abbott Elementary” brought up a news report about a school’s fundraiser.
Beyond being a mini smart TV, the Echo Show 15’s core functionality is as a digital bulletin board. It’s meant to live in a central, accessible spot in your home so everyone in the family can leave notes or look at the day’s schedule. That all sounds good in theory, but the lack of customization holds it back.
The Echo Show 15 makes use of half its large screen with a panel of widgets for your calendar, sticky notes, the weather, and more. The calendar can sync with your Google, Microsoft, and Apple accounts so you don’t need to separately add events to the Alexa device. It makes it easy to see what’s scheduled for the day ahead, and it’s one of the few widgets that lets you choose from a large or small display size. You can add up to 10 widgets into the gallery, but only about six will display without scrolling, depending on the size of the boxes.
We found the widget gallery a bit difficult to navigate, as widgets would open when we were trying to scroll past them. Widgets also take a second to open, so we often double-tapped when the response felt slow — not the best experience for such an expensive device. Eventually, we found it easier to just ask Alexa to open the widgets.
Beyond the clunky touchscreen issues, it would be nice if the widget gallery was more customizable. You can only show three sticky notes at a time, for example. You can rearrange the widgets, but there’s no way to change their size.
All told, there are about 40 widget options, but most of them are from Amazon. Options for services like Lyft or Instacart are lacking, as are shortcuts for Hulu or Netflix. But if you just want something that will display the note “take out the garbage,” the day’s weather, and everything on your calendar, the Echo Show 15 will do so in a way that’s harder to miss than on the Echo Show 8.
A command center for all your smart home devices
One useful widget is the one for smart-home control. Tap on it, and it will bring up your devices. If you have compatible security cameras, you can use the picture-in-picture feature to keep an eye on the video feed while watching a show.
Alexa is able to control a ton of smart devices, though the display doesn’t always enhance the experience. We’re still waiting for it to show a color wheel for light bulbs, for example, instead of having to open the app on your phone to choose the perfect hue.
The Echo Show 15 is also a Matter controller, which means it can control Matter devices, helping to synthesize communication across smart light bulbs, plugs, and switches from different manufacturers. However, Thread support (a wireless protocol similar to Zigbee and Z-Wave) and the ability to set up devices on an iOS device is not currently available.
Disappointing sound and camera quality
If you’re looking for a smart display to regularly play music, the Echo Show 15 is not it. Despite its large size, the Echo Show 15’s flat form factor doesn’t leave much room for speakers. There are two 1.6-inch speakers on the back left and right of the device, which also means they’re back-iring instead of front-firing. Overall, it makes music sound thin, though it might not affect your enjoyment of listening to news and podcasts.
The sound quality of the Echo Show 15 is comparable to the fifth-gen Echo Dot. Even the Echo Show 8’s dual-drive speaker system sounds better than the Echo Show 15, especially when it comes to bass. For context, the Echo Show 8 is $130, over $100 less than the 15, and it sounds more robust.
The 5-megapixel camera can’t compete with the 13-megapixel camera of the Echo Show 8, either. Video quality looks grainy, which is even more pronounced on such a big screen. If you use a stand for the device, you can change the camera’s angle a bit, something you can’t easily do with the wedge-shaped Echo Show 5 or 8.
A host of privacy protections
As with the other Echo Show devices, the 15 has a camera shutter and microphone mute button. You can also set Alexa to not record your requests and ask the device to forget the most recent question and everything you said that day. To erase all your past recordings, you can say, “Alexa, delete everything I’ve said.”
You’ll need to open the app or a web browser to adjust some of the privacy settings. Amazon warns that Alexa won’t function as well if you opt out of saving voice recordings.
There’s a visual recognition feature where Alexa will greet you with personalized recommendations when you step in front of the camera. On the setup screen, it warns that it may mistake you for family members who look alike, inadvertently showing them your content (like your calendar, for example).
You’ll have to weigh the convenience of personalized content with potential privacy issues. Amazon says it doesn’t have access to your visual ID images, and once you set it up, it’s pretty easy to delete.
Amazon Echo Show 15: Specs
Should you buy the Echo Show 15?
With Amazon cutting back on investment in its devices and Google no longer updating third-party devices, it makes sense to question whether a smart display is worth it. During testing, we found some areas where Alexa is lacking, like offering advice from a movie site for a cooking question. It also relies on “Alexa answers contributors” for some replies, which may make you want to double-check any answers.
Is Amazon’s Echo Show 15 a TV, smart display, or digital message board? It tries to do it all, but it doesn’t excel at any of them. While it functions as a Fire TV, the experience is clunky without a voice remote. The existing widgets are fine but limited in number. Aside from the size and a few extra features, like Fire TV, the 15 isn’t that different from the 8 when it comes to its functionality.
If you’re considering the Echo Show 15, you’ll want to keep in mind its size and how you’ll display it. For some, it might be the ideal mix of a small TV and digital message board for busy family members or roommates. But its inferior speakers and camera make the Echo Show 8 an attractive alternative if you can deal with a smaller screen.