amazon echo show 5 2021
CNN  — 

Amazon’s entry-level Echo Show 5 smart display was already a solid device trusted by many, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that the tech giant didn’t do much by way of upgrades on this new edition.

In our several weeks of testing, the Show 5 delivered the same results across the board. For the price — it’s now slightly cheaper at $84.99 and features an upgraded (though still lackluster) 2-megapixel camera — it’s an Alexa smart display worthy of placement on a nightstand, though we do ultimately prefer the $109.99 Show 8 as a more feature-filled option.

The who, what and how

Who this is for: At $84.99, the Echo Show 5 is an affordable and capable smart display that is ideal for a nightstand. It gives you full access to Alexa for information on the fly, smart home control and a bevy of entertainment options.

What you need to know: Like all Echo devices, the Show 5 is deeply integrated into Amazon’s ecosystem, providing Alexa functionality and seamless access to Amazon’s library of movies, TV shows and music. In addition to keeping you entertained, you can use the device to control your smart home, like viewing a livestream from a Ring security camera, or turning off your Philips Hue lights as you go to bed. It also includes satisfactory privacy controls for those who aren’t 100% comfortable with an always-on and listening microphone and video camera.

How it compares: As Amazon’s entry-level smart display, the Show 5 is less feature-filled than the $129.99 Show 8 and $249.99 Echo Show 10. Those devices both feature more speakers that deliver better sound and boast much better cameras. (The Show 10 also has a new trick that allows the camera to follow you around the room, keeping the display front and center and you in the middle of the frame of video calls at all times.) If you’re looking for something outside of the Amazon ecosystem, Lenovo’s $39 Smart Clock is comparable to the Echo Show 5, but instead of using Alexa, it’s powered by Google Assistant. You could also look at the $99.99 second-generation Nest Hub, but that’s more in line with the Show 8 given the screen size.

A tiny smart display

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If you’ve used any Echo device, there’s an immediately recognizable design here. The Echo Show 5 looks like the original Echo Show or a miniature Show 8. It keeps the triangular build, which enables it to stand on its own and makes it easy to interact with the 5.5-inch display. The backside of the Show 5 is still covered in a mesh fabric-like material used on the Echo Show 10, Show 8, Echo Dot and fourth-gen Echo.

Your core control buttons — volume up, volume down, microphone mute and a camera shutter button — all live on the top. Like the Show 8 or 10, flipping the camera switch physically blocks the lens and disconnects it. 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 camera itself got a slight bump, but it’s nothing to cheer over. It’s now a 2-megapixel camera, which looks slightly less blurry but still doesn’t deliver a compelling experience.

Our main qualm with the camera has to do with the overall build of the Show 5. The actual tilt of the Show 5 makes it easy to use the touch screen, but it also makes the camera point upward. It might only partially place you in the shot, which isn’t ideal. Amazon didn’t opt to fix this in the 2021 model, so the solution remains buying a stand for the Show 5 to sit on.

The bottom of the Show 5 features a rubber grip that helps to keep the device in place, especially when playing music, while the included 15-watt power adapter plugs into the back of the device.

The star here is the 5.5-inch HD screen, which performs pretty well. With a resolution of 960 x 480, it can produce vibrant colors and offers a bevy of detail. Like in the original incarnation of the Show 5 in 2019, the 2021 model is highlighted by the built-in clock modes. Arguably, the Show 5 is best placed on a nightstand where the built-in clock faces can show their color and depth effects. You can say, “Alexa, customize my clock” to pick from an array of faces in several categories. Those include playful, modern, classic, photography and 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.

Those who want the classic Echo Show home screen of trending topics, news alerts and Amazon order updates can still select that mode. You can even switch back and forth on the flow, which allows the Show 5 to still be a multi-mode device.

A better camera and a solid speaker

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If you’re looking for an Echo Show that’s ideal for video calling, we’d look at the Show 8 or the rotating Show 10. The Show 5 doesn’t perform strongly in this area because its 2-megapixel camera lens doesn’t always get the lighting right, it can deliver a blurry, pixelated image and it tends to skew colors. (Some test shots embedded below.) Yes, it’s an improvement over the previous 1-megapixel lens, but it’s still not sufficient for something like a professional Zoom call, so we don’t recommend anyone upgrade for the camera improvement alone.

The Echo Show 5 houses the same single 4-watt speaker that pushes out the back. It produces tin-free sound that is pretty balanced. It’s certainly shy of anything you’d call booming, but the Show 5 delivers a wide soundstage with a focus on clarity and richness.

You can get music from almost anywhere, including Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Pandora and many others. You can also 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 multi-room experience.

At its heart, the Echo Show 5 is a smart speaker that 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. Philips Hue, Ring, Vocolinc, Schlage and Wemo are just a few of the companies that support control with Alexa.

You can do a lot with just your voice. For instance, you can say, “Alexa, show me the front door,” and it will connect to your Ring Video Doorbell 4, or ask Alexa to lock the house to engage all your smart locks and make sure you’re safe for the night. Swiping from left to right allows you to access the smart home tab, where you can use touch to control the smart home devices and see the groups of devices that work together. It’s kind of like a nervous system for the house.

It’s also 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 are 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.

The Echo Show 5 Kids Edition

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Amazon took the same updated Echo Show 5 and made a version of the small smart display specifically for kids. The $94.99 Show 5 Kids Edition has a chameleon design and features a version of Alexa that provides kid-friendly responses. For example, if your curious child asks if Santa is real, Alexa will reply with a whimsical answer instead of spilling the beans.

The Kids Edition costs $10 more than the regular Echo Show 5, but you get one year of Amazon Kids+ — the company’s parental control platform that also includes kid-friendly games, videos, audiobooks and music. You’re even able to create time limits for your child. You also get a two-year worry-free guarantee. Think of it like accident insurance with Amazon promising it will replace the Echo Show 5 should your child break it.

Kids can ask Alexa and the Echo Show 5 to read them a book at bedtime, or ask for help with their homework when the both of you are stumped. As a parent, you get complete control over what your child can do on the Echo Show 5. That means you can create a friends list that your child has permission to place video calls with, using the Show 5’s built-in camera.

Naturally, you and your child can still use the Kids Edition Show 5 to control smart home devices around the home, like turning off lights at bedtime.

We’ve enjoyed how easy and fun it is for our kids to interact with the Show 5, doing everything from asking for a joke or a new story to listening to their favorite music.

Bottom line

For $84.99, the Show 5 is a device for Alexa users who have a specific set of needs. It’s not as robust in terms of features set compared to the Show 8 and Show 10. But we’ve been testing it out on a nightstand and found that it’s really a delightful connected alarm clock that costs a few dollars less than those more premium models.

Amazon could have delivered a major upgrade here, but the brand is ultimately sticking with what works. We do wish there had been a more substantial upgrade to the camera, however. If you want a truly impressive smart display suitable for quality video calls, we’d say opt for the Echo Show 8 (or even the Nest Hub if you want a Google Assistant device). But if it’s a smaller-screened Echo and a low price you’re looking for, the Show 5 fits that bill just fine.