Technology

Amazon’s new Echo Show 15 is meant to hang on your wall

Amazon is once again expanding its lineup of Echo Show smart displays, and this time, it’s going bigger. The new $249.99 Echo Show 15 is the largest smart display the company has released so far, with a 15-inch, 1080p HD display. It’s also got a different design than the company’s prior models — instead of being a touchscreen attached to a bulky speaker, the Echo Show 15 is flat and can be hung on the wall.

Amazon’s pitch for this smart display is for it to be a shared hub for families to see things like upcoming calendar appointments, to-dos, sticky note reminders, and shopping lists. It envisions it being placed in communal spaces — a living room, frequently accessed hallway, and, of course, the kitchen. It’s capable of all the things prior Echo Show smart displays could do, such as playing music, showing weather reports, streaming video, controlling smart home gadgets, and all the other stuff you can ask Alexa for.

But the Show 15 leverages its larger screen to also show more useful, permanently placed widgets alongside the familiar carousel of headlines, third-party skill advertisements, and so on. Those widgets can be customized depending on your preferences, whether you want to show a calendar, to-do list, recipe recommendations, favorite smart home controls, or whatever. Amazon is building a handful of these widgets itself, but it’s also developed an API that developers can use to add them to their Alexa Skills.

Unfortunately, it won’t be possible to utilize the whole display with your own preferred items if you wanted to create a smart home dashboard, for example. Half the screen is always dedicated to the rotating home content seen on other Echo Show displays — the other half is where widgets live.

The larger screen also comes into play with the new picture-in-picture feature, which allows you to view a security camera feed or video doorbell while also looking at other content. It’s the first Echo Show to support full HD resolution streaming from Netflix, Amazon’s Prime Video, Hulu, and others. Amazon also announced that TikTok and Sling TV support is coming to its entire line of smart displays.

The Show 15’s design is meant to mimic a picture frame, and you can use it for a full-screen photo viewer if you want (Amazon says it adapts its color to ambient lighting conditions much like other recent Echo Show devices). There’s a big resemblance to Samsung’s Frame TV, another screen that’s meant to look like a picture frame, just on a smaller level. At launch, the Show 15 has a black frame with a white bezel surrounding the display — the company would not commit to releasing other styles in the future when I asked.

That picture frame aesthetic speaks to the Echo Show 15’s intended placement: hung on a wall in either portrait or landscape orientation. But in the demos I was shown ahead of today’s announcement, the power cord for the Show 15 hung down from the display itself, and there was no obvious way to hide it. Amazon did not say if the cord was rated for in-wall use when asked, either. Amazon says other accessories, like a stand for putting it out on the counter or an under-cabinet mount, will be available.

The Echo Show 15 has a 5-megapixel front-facing camera that can be used for video calling. But it also has the capability to identify who is in front of the Echo Show 15 and then show personalized content, such as a greeting, reminders, calendar events, specific notes, or other information for them.

It can also limit the content available to age-appropriate items when it recognizes a child is using it. Amazon says this new Visual ID feature leverages the custom-designed AZ2 neural edge processor inside the Show 15, a follow-up to the AZ1 that debuted in last year’s Echo devices.

Amazon says all of the processing for the Visual ID happens locally, and the identifying information is stored on the Echo Show 15 itself, not in the cloud. The facial profiles are not shared across devices, meaning you’d need to set it up with each individual Echo Show 15 should you have more than one. And turning off the camera or blocking it with the built-in shutter will disable the feature entirely.

The Echo Show 15 is the biggest update to the form factor of a smart display since they first started showing up on the market a few years ago. It also cleverly addresses a number of problems that have shown up with them: they take up often precious counter space and look conspicuously gadget-y. The Show 15 mostly masks its technology behind an aesthetically neutral design that can work in many homes.

But whether the Echo Show 15 will prove more useful than prior Echo smart displays is an open question. Amazon’s new widget system could be handy, but I remain skeptical that third parties will actually leverage it in a meaningful way (a Daily Show widget came up in my briefing more than once, but I’m not convinced of its utility).

The Echo Show 15 will also likely suffer from the shortcomings of prior Echo Show displays. Recipes are often a big pitch for smart displays, but unless the recipe you want happens to be in the databases of Amazon’s partners (Allrecipes, Epicurious, or Tasty), it’s not a useful thing in the real world. You also can’t easily share photos or videos from your phone to an Echo Show, like you might cast to an Apple TV or Chromecast on a TV (or one of Google’s smart displays).

We’ll have to reserve final judgment once we’ve been able to test the Echo Show 15 firsthand. Still, it’s an intriguing device, and we’re curious to see how it will actually fit in a real home when it arrives later this year.