December 21, 2017
So the Echo Spot is a glorified alarm clock. To me, though, it represents something more as I get ready to return to work after being laid off 6 months ago. To get back into the routine of waking up early on weekdays, I *need* an alarm clock now, and the Spot is my early "new job" present. I was delighted when it was delivered a whole day before the official release date. Echo Spot is a metaphor for Alexa sneaking into the earliest, most vulnerable part of your daily routine, and in my case it's a very exciting journey as I return to a regular 9-to-5 (with *pay*). Enough about my plight--how will this thing work for YOU?
Four stars out of five because Echo Spot's screen is a useful addition to Alexa, the overall aesthetic design is great, the sound is very good for a tiny speaker, BUT the price is high and the video ecosystem is immature (and not ideal on a round screen). You should buy it if you really need a fancy device in the kitchen or bedroom and you have this amount budgeted for an "extravagant" gadget for yourself or loved one. Otherwise, wait a little while until the price eventually decreases.
WHO SHOULD BUY AN ECHO SPOT?
The Echo Spot is one of the more expensive ways to enter the Alex ecosystem. It has a screen, which none of the other small speaker versions have. Only the angular (ugly?) tablet-on-stand Echo Show has a screen, but that's where the differences end.
✓ If you care about style and want to put a device in the bedroom, on a desk at work, or in the kitchen, the Spot would look great.
✓ If you want to see the live video feed from a Nest/Dropcam/Ring, etc. camera, watch a video (albeit a limited selection right now), see reminders, lists, song lyrics and recipes, that screen is really helpful.
✓ If you want an upgrade to the Dot (whose speaker isn't really meant for music) and have about the same amount of money to spend as the Echo (Gen 2), the Spot should be on your shortlist. The Echo G2 wins for sound quality by a small margin, but the Spot wins big for versatility with its screen and hardwired line-out for an external speaker (which the larger Echo Show inexplicably lacks, supporting only Bluetooth and not corded external speakers).
HOW DOES THE SCREEN LOOK?
Good, not great. The resolution is excellent, somewhat close to retina, but the brightness is just OK, the glare is waaaay worse than I wanted (similar to the new/cheap Fire tablet screens, which lack the gapless lamination you'd find on the older/expensive Fire tablets and of course on all modern iPads). These previous factors coupled with the visible (but not terrible) color-shifting at extreme viewing angles make me realize how spoiled I am with flagship phone and tablet screens in the last 2-3 years. This is not a top-tier smartphone display, but I have to give a lot of credit for the cool-factor of a perfectly round screen.
ARE VIDEOS WATCHABLE?
I looked up a recipe for the ever-sumptuous pannacotta. To my delight, the Spot immediately took me to allrecipes.com with a video on how to make an easy version of this Italian dessert. The video was zoomed in to fill the circular screen, and it looked surprisingly "normal". It's not likely that Amazon somehow curated videos for ones that look good on a circle screen, so my assumption is that most video producers just center tightly on their subjects and we actually don't use the sides of our rectangular screens very much.
That being said, I couldn't stand to watch long-form content on this tiny screen. Moreover, where is YouTube? Please end this fight, Amazon and Google. Maybe it will be available in 2018. Until then, recipes from non-Google sites are the killer app for the Spot, and they are a tremendously useful feature.
HOW IS THE SOUND?
I own the Echo Dot (gen 2) and the Echo (gen 1), and the sound of the Echo Spot is somewhere between them. If the Echo Dot is 30 in quality and the Echo is 100, the Spot is probably a 70 or perhaps even 80. It's going to forego a lot of bass richness, but I listened to many hours of music this week and I was pleasantly surprised at how good the sound actually was. It's certainly better than any other speaker I've had in a bedroom or at work, which is where the majority of these will end up. If you want even better sound, then buy a nice Bluetooth speaker as a satellite, but the Echo Spot already sounds as good as the $50 little Bluetooth cubes a co-worker had at my former job. It's got a standard stereo out port and Bluetooth streaming, so if you need better speakers now or down the road, you can expand.
WHAT ARE SOME THINGS YOU LIKE?
✓ Design, weight, premium feel
✓ Very responsive touch screen
✓ Lyrics for songs (the killer app for old Christmas carols, wow!)
✓ Video calling (worked well with my Alexa app on my Android phone)
✓ Voice drop-in / intercom
✓ Custom photo upload for background
✓ Simple, uncomplicated UI, and most things, even Wi-Fi setup, don't need the Alexa app--this is a good gift for people who aren't bonded to a smartphone
✓ Easily watch Amazon video content (but on a tiny screen)
✓ Multi-room features are INCREDIBLE. During setup, I had my Echo Dot in the same room, and Alexa just *knew* (ESP is a great name) which device I was talking to; playing music in all rooms is nifty as well...
✓ Mics and voice recognition seem just as good as all the other Echo devices, even though Spot seems to have only 4, not 7 like my original Echo and new Echo Dot both have
THINGS LESS LIKABLE?
❌ Power cord is not USB--why can't this just be a USB-C device?!?
❌ Not a lot of clock faces, just 6 analog and digital right now; I do LOVE the "bokeh" clock face, though, which is a geeky photographer's term that refers to those out of focus rings made by lens aperture blades
❌ Can't watch many video sources, yet
❌ Expensive--this thing is as overpriced as the original Echo, so expect it to drop to about half the current level in 1-2 years
❌ Screen is silly small for watching longer videos or videos that can't be cropped to circular proportions
❌ No way to really "stop" video--it started again on its own today, which was beyond annoying because I had left the room at least 5 minutes beforehand and heard it resume from across the hall
❌ UPDATE: You can "tap" anywhere on the touchscreen while the alarm is going off to snooze for 9 minutes. Very cool! Thanks to commenter Smokey DeBear for correcting me. (Original statement, now no longer valid: Utility as an alarm clock relies on using your voice--no dedicated buttons or intuitive way to snooze, etc.)
❌ Camera could be a risk for those concerned about privacy and can't be *truly* disabled aside from blackout tape (which apparently stops the motion sensor and auto-brightness as well)
ABOUT THE PHOTOS
I wanted to include some common fruit for size comparison, so the logical sequence is to show you a grapefruit and tangerine so that you can visually see the Spot is about the size of a large orange. My wife then decided that Spot was "lonely" and needed "friends", so the two citrus fruits got faces, courtesy of a black Sharpie. Hopefully she'll keep the marker away from the Spot itself!
To show an example of a custom clock face, I then took a photo of the grapefruit with the smiley face and made it the "face" of the Echo Spot. It was already round, so the cropping worked really well. You can upload any photo from your phone and zoom/crop to fit.
UPDATE AFTER 5 DAYS
Everyone who has come over for holiday gatherings has been amazed by the sound quality. It's a tiny form factor for such rich sound.
I realized that the motion sensor will enable lyrics display as you walk up to it, waking it from the clock mode if music is playing. Neat!
My phone is suddenly becoming less useful to call people because the speakerphone quality of the Echo Spot is just incredible. Everyone I've called says the audio on their side is amazing. Alexa wakes up and processes voice commands so much quicker than "OK Google" on my Nexus 6P, so it's more convenient to call when I'm near an Echo device.
The kids love playing 20 questions and The Magic Door with Alexa. The Spot's screen doesn't help much with those, but I can definitely see other games/skills being built to entertain kids (and big kids) for hours. This could be a great homework helper in the future as the ecosystem evolves . . . "Alexa, how do you spell syzygy?" and the word appears on the screen as Alexa reinforces with spoken letters, S-Y-Z-Y-G-Y.
UPDATE AFTER 4 WEEKS
Things that cracked me up the most: "Alexa, sing a barbershop quartet" and "Alexa, sing auld lang syne." The first is pretty bad, but Auld Lang Syne is FABULOUS and obviously has some human backup singers.
Things I'm totally addicted to: I use the Echo Spot as a remote portal to check-in with the kids while I'm working remotely. I "drop in" on their Echo Dot and have been reading aloud to them ("Lord of the Rings," if you're curious) for an hour or so, a few times a week. The speakerphone quality is phenomenal and the connection is very stable. I wouldn't be able to do this on my cellphone.
Lists galore: I now have half a dozen lists going because it's so easy to make lists and add stuff via voice. I worry that my short-term memory will be totally gone in a few years as I now depend on virtual assistants for everything . . .
ALSO, responding to another reviewer, the clock's time size is big on the INCLUDED clock faces! See the last photo I just uploaded. Amazon must think that if you have a personal photo uploaded, you want the time to be small (which makes sense--you can see your photo better), so if you want the numbers large, just don't upload a personal watchface photo. Maybe they'll give an option to change that in the future, but it's not a big deal, in my opinion. Finally, if you walk up to the Spot and the camera senses your motion, the display will change to the weather or reminders, etc. Therefore: it's only big when it senses no motion (you're far away) and you've got a stock clock face. Pretty smart!