Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) review: A worthy mid-range smart display

If you’ve decided that Alexa is the digital assistant you want in your home, the Echo Show 8 is an excellent mid-range smart display. If you’ve settled on Google Assistant instead and deployed a lot of those speakers, there’s probably nothing here that would make starting over a worthwhile endeavor.

The Echo Show 8 has a bright, vibrant 8-inch touchscreen display with moderate resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels and very good off-axis viewing angles; a pair of 2.0-inch built-in speakers, plus a passive radiator, that deliver pleasing background music; and a 13-megapixel, wide-angle camera that digitally pans and zooms to keep you in the frame when making video calls. It’s a worthy successor to the first-gen Echo Show 8, and enough of a step up to warrant ditching the one you already have—especially if you want to move the first-gen model into another room.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best smart speakers, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.

And if you’re using Echo devices to control your smart home, it’s almost impossible to have too many of them around the house. That said, they will fight with each other to serve you if they’re too close to each other, and that can be annoying in the extreme. I am disappointed to report, however, that the new Echo Show 8 doesn’t include a Zigbee smart home hub. If that’s a must-have feature for you, you’ll need to forgo the display and buy the $100 Echo (4th Gen) or $200 Echo Studio, or step up to the $250 Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen) if a display is another must-have feature.

echo show 8 profile Michael Brown / IDG

Being 3.9 inches deep, the Echo Show 8 (2nd Edition) will take just a little more space on your desk than a Google Nest Hub (2nd Gen), which is 2.7 inches deep.

It’s also puzzling that nothing in Amazon’s smart home ecosystem supports Thread today, even though Amazon is a member of both the Thread Group and the Connectivity Standards Alliance (formerly the Zigbee Alliance).

Amazon’s second-generation Echo Show 8 carries the same price tag as the original 8-inch smart display, although you’ll find Amazon is clearing out its existing inventory with steep discounts. A 13-megapixel front-facing camera is the main appeal here—that’s a huge step up from the 1MP camera in the original—and it can do some very interesting things. Most importantly, when you make video calls—either Echo-to-Echo or using Zoom—the camera will automatically track your face and digitally pan and zoom to keep you in frame (from the perspective of the person you’re speaking with, that is).

echo show 8 charcoal commslead Amazon

Video calling is one of the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen)’s best features, and now it supports up to 7 people on a call.

If more than one person is in front of the camera, you can designate one person as the priority subject, and the Echo will do its best to keep that one person in the frame. This digital trickery can’t do magic, however, and you don’t need to move all that far to the left or right to defeat its best efforts. If you want something that will really track you around the room, you need to buy the more-expensive Echo Show 10 with its revolving display.

A new feature launched late last year enables you to make group calls—either audio or video—with as many as seven people on the call. You’ll need to create a group from the contacts in your Alexa app, give the group a name—My Family, for example—and then you can say “Alexa, call my family” and the display will send out calls to everyone in the group. Everyone in the group will need to have a compatible Echo device or at least the Amazon Alexa app on their smartphone. Once one person has created that group, anyone in the group will be able to initiate a call to that group, so no one needs to re-invent the wheel.

echo show 8 glacier white group call Amazon

A new Echo feature lets you make group video calls with up to 7 other participarnts.

An entirely new Reactions and AR Effects feature that’s billed as “coming soon” will let you tap on the display during Alexa calls (or Drop In sessions with another Echo smart display) to add graphical overlays of things such as hearts and confetti as reactions during calls). AR Effects, meanwhile, will let you appear in street art, classical paintings, and similar augmented reality scenes. This feature was not available for review, so I can only report as to how Amazon has described it.

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