PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

Story highlights

The Echo Show 5 offers a sharp display and booming sound in a compact design

Amazon's Echo Show 5 is available for preorder now for $89.99

The Echo smart speaker lineup is growing. Amazon’s Echo Show 5 ($89.99; amazon.com) is a new speaker that packs in a screen, but instead of getting larger (like the previous Echo Show), this model shrinks it down. For $89.99, you get a 5.5-inch HD display and all the power of Alexa in your choice of charcoal or sandstone. It will be released on Wednesday, but you can preorder now.

This miniature Echo is downright cute. It can easily sit on a nightstand, desk, garage bench or kitchen counter. It’s bigger than the circular Echo Spot ($129.99; amazon.com) and smaller than the 2nd Gen Echo Show ($229.99; amazon.com), and more importantly it’s cheaper than either of them. It reminds me of the Goldilocks story – the middle one feels just right.

While Amazon has shrunk the design, you still get all the skills, streaming services (both visual and audio), ability to make calls and more. In the years since Alexa was first unveiled, it’s gotten much smarter, from a more natural “speaking” voice to the ability to act as a basic security system, and it’s still improving all the time. The availability of thousands of third-party skills makes it an endless experience.

Let’s dive into how the Echo Show 5 performs in the real world.

A simple setup experience

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

Like all Echos before it, and hopefully the ones coming in the future, the Echo Show 5 is easy to set up.

When you plug it in, the Echo Show 5 will complete its first boot. If you already have a Wi-Fi network associated with your Amazon account, it will have the credentials and likely will ask you to confirm. After that, verify your password (or swap the account if need be) and the experience begins.

If you’ve used the larger Echo Show, you’ll be familiar with the design and button placement. The back of the Show 5 has the power port and a 3.5mm audio output for easy connection to speakers. The top features a microphone on-off button that doubles as a control for the camera. Next to that is a volume control button with two microphones in between.

The newest addition is a camera shutter sliding switch, which puts privacy at the forefront. When you turn this on, a solid white piece covers the front-facing camera. It’s a physical block that goes a step further than the electronic on-off button at the top. For those concerned with privacy, it’s a handy feature and can add some peace of mind, especially since it’s a visual reminder that the camera is off.

The Show 5 keeps the fabric-like outer skin and has a triangular profile that allows it to stand on its own pretty easily. My only complaint here is that the tilt is not as extreme as it was the earlier Echo Show, so the camera needs to be pushed down a bit. Luckily, Amazon sells a stand for $19.99 which gives you some adjustments that rectify this problem. The bottom of the device has a thin rubber piece that contains device information and gives the Echo Show 5 a grip to keep it from sliding around when it is pumping out tunes or streaming the latest episode of your favorite show.

A sharp and vibrant display

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

Make no mistake: The 5.5-inch HD screen on the Echo Show 5 performs really well. It has a resolution of 960 x 480 and produces vibrant colors. The many clock faces that you can choose from offer a great trip down screen-quality lane, as the Show 5 offers lots of colors, subtle shadows and lovely gradients.

In our testing, we tried streaming movies, singing along to songs with lyrics on the screen, following cooking steps, making a few video calls, and posing many questions to Alexa. It’s always neat to see how a screen can help the experience, and seeing the answer to a question in text is helpful. In the kitchen, rather than digging out an iPad or a Galaxy Tab, you can have a fully hands-free experience with Alexa so you won’t smudge or get food on the Echo Show 5.

Amazon has been working on the experience when it comes to touch, for those times when you don’t want to use your voice. It’s still great and there are some new shortcuts for easily accessing skills or even settings. There’s a communication tab that lets you easily make calls or send messages. As expected, the Echo Show 5 does an excellent job of recognizing inputs. There’s also a boatload of accessibility features available out of the box including magnification, color inversion, and closed captioning.

A customizable clock

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

To me, the Echo Show 5 is perfect for the nightstand and might even replace the Echo Spot. With its 5.5-inch display, you can see more and control more. It’s an ideal size for a clock.

You can say, “Alexa, customize my clock” to pick from an array of faces in several categories. Those include playful, modern, classic, photography and even personal photos. It’s an entertaining feature that lets your personality shine through. You can control which clock is shown via your voice or in settings with touch. You can choose to show the date or weather and customize the color of backgrounds.

Overall, it’s an elegant feature and it doesn’t remove trending topics or rotating news features. And as always, you can mix those up in settings to get a better experience for you.

One speaker that pumps out big sound

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

Probably the most surprising thing I experienced with the Echo Show 5 is that the single 4-watt speaker can push out a big sound. It’s one thing that Amazon has gotten better with over time, and the speaker and audio hardware in Echo devices are perfect now. Gone are the tinny sounds and unbalanced music – although if it’s coming from a lousy source, it could still happen.

Alexa’s voice can be booming, and when you stream music, the Show 5 sounds just as good. At about 50% volume, it filled out a good-sized room. Pushing it up against a corner of a wall will make the sound seem louder, thanks to a rear-firing speaker design. It’s a neat trick that isn’t exclusive to Echo.

You can get music from almost anywhere. You can stream from Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, iHeart Radio, TuneIn, Pandora and many others. Plus you can connect from an iPhone, Android, tablet or computer to stream music via Bluetooth. You can even pair the Echo Show 5 with other Echos or Bluetooth speakers for a multiroom experience. If you want a hardwired experience, you can connect via the audio jack on the back.

Control your smart home, cook with ease

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

At its heart, the Echo Show 5 is still a smart speaker. It can help to power or control a smart home. There’s a growing list of smart home devices that support Alexa, and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down. Philip Hue, Ring, Vocolink, Schlage and WeMo are just a few of the companies that support control with Alexa.

This means you can just say “Alexa, show me the front door,” and it will connect to your Ring Video Doorbell 2. Ask Alexa to lock the house and the smart locks will make sure you’re safe for the night. You can do a lot with just your voice. Swiping from left to right allows you to access the smart home tab, where you can touch to control the smart home and see groups of devices that work together. It’s kind of like a nervous system for the house.

It’s a big help when you’re cooking. While the screen can be tough to see at times, it does a good job of not throwing too much stuff on the screen. And since Alexa talks to you, you can still easily follow along with instructions and can ask her to repeat if need be.

There’s a ton of other skills to choose from. You can get daily briefings from news organizations like CNN or NPR, or enjoy jokes from late-night TV. There are also skills for surf cams, travel info and much more.

If you’re looking to connect with family, you can ask Alexa to make a video call or even drop in on another Echo device in your family. Plus, Skype offers an Alexa skill for video or audio calling on these devices.

The competition

PHOTO: Jacob Krol/CNN

Within Amazon’s line, the Echo Show 5 is now the third smart speaker with a screen, joining the Echo Spot and the Echo Show. All of these pack in the same experience with equal access to Alexa. The main differences are the screen size and the price. The Echo Spot, with a 2.5-inch screen, is $129.99; the Echo Show 5 is $89.99 and has a 5.5-inch screen; and the Echo Show, with a 10.1-inch screen, is $229.99.

On the Google side, there is the Nest Hub, which offers the Google Assistant with a 7-inch screen for $149.99, and a forthcoming more massive Nest Hub Max.

Bottom line

I was a big fan of the 2nd Generation Echo Show, but the Echo Show 5 ($89.99; amazon.com) is my new favorite. With its 5.5-inch display and sleek miniature build, the Show 5 is perfect for a nightstand or desk. I’m keeping it on my nightstand and I’ve been having a blast with the customizable clocks.

When it comes to music playback, the Echo Show 5 can definitely pump up the tunes and sounds really good with an overall balanced mix.

You can’t beat the price. At $89.99, the Show 5 undercuts the Echo Spot, Echo Show, and even the Echo Plus. It’s a no-brainer purchase for those starting fresh in the Echo family or for those who want to expand or upgrade their current setup.

I’m buying my own and will probably deck out the home with them. It’s also my go-to recommendation for a smart speaker.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed prices at the time of publication.