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Amazon Echo Spot review: As smart as it is cute

Amazon Echo Spot review: As smart as it is cute
From Engadget - December 18, 2017

Hardware

The Echo Spot is quite possibly the cutest product Amazon has ever made. Its circular display and spherical body lend it the charm of a retro alarm clock. Of course, the Echo Spot can also be used in other rooms in the house -- it's pretty useful in the kitchen too -- but it will look right at home on your nightstand.

Sticking with the alarm clock theme, the Spot is relatively compact and lightweight. It measures 4.1 x 3.8 x 3.6 inches and weighs 14.8 ounces (0.9 pound), making it easy to move around. The whole thing is fashioned out of a sturdy matte plastic, available in either black or white. I am a fan of the white model myself -- the contrasting black bezels surrounding the circular display add some visual interest.

That display is indeed a full circle; there's no so-called flat tire at the bottom. It measures 2.5 inches across and has a 480 x 480 resolution. That might sound terrible, but for such a tiny screen, it's more than adequate. Plus, the Spot is not something you will be staring at for hours on end, so the low resolution gets a pass.

Otherwise, I really like the Spot's screen. It's bright, colorful and the viewing angles are wide. I found that the small display was perfectly functional for showing basic information like the weather, a calendar overview, trending headlines and to-do lists. It also works well for video calling -- there's a VGA camera above the display just for that -- though I would not advise using it for watching longer videos (more on that in a moment).

Swiping down from the top of the display reveals a settings menu, where you can enable Bluetooth, change WiFi settings and disable the camera, among other things. This is also where you adjust the Spot's brightness levels, which is important for dimming the lights when you are sleeping. You can also choose up to 12 different clock faces in both analog and digital designs. If you like, you can use your own personal photos as your clock's wallpaper -- just upload your chosen image using the Alexa app or Prime Photos. Of course, the touchscreen also works for swiping through lists or playing and pausing media. You will still be using Alexa for the majority of tasks, but the touchscreen adds an extra layer of functionality.

The Spot has three buttons on top: two for the volume and one that disables the microphone and the camera. On the back is a 3.5mm audio jack that acts as a line out for dedicated speakers or headphones. Internally, there's a 2x2 microphone array plus WiFi and Bluetooth radios. When Alexa is listening, a blue circle appears on the display; when the microphone is muted, that circle turns red.

In use

Like other Echo devices, the Spot is easy to set up. The screen makes that process especially easy. Simply plug it in, and on-screen instructions will walk you through. When prompted for a WiFi password and your Amazon login credentials, you can use the Spot's touchscreen keyboard to enter those in. If you like, you can also use the Alexa app (available on iOS and Android) to set up the Spot, but it's not necessary. Once you are done, the device plays a short welcome video.

At this point, it would seem that the Echo Spot functions a lot like a regular Alexa-powered Echo. Using the Alexa app, I connected my Google Calendar for setting up appointments. I also hooked up my Spotify and Amazon Music accounts. You can ask it for the time or the weather, play music or just ask Alexa some basic search queries. The Spot also works with compatible smart home appliances, and supports a wide assortment of so-called skills, like making lists, setting reminders and even playing Jeopardy. But, as with the Show, the benefit of the Spot is that you can also see Alexa's answers on-screen, which is often more helpful than just listening to them.

For example, when you ask Alexa for the weather, the Spot will show you the highs and lows of the day, as well as the weather for the next six days (along with the chances of precipitation). When adding items to your shopping list, the device reveals the other items in your list without you having to ask. If you are setting up a second alarm 30 minutes after your first one (I have multiple wake-up alarms; do not judge me), it will show you the one you already set. In other words, the Spot's display sometimes expands on what Alexa gives you, with more information than you initially asked for. It's not necessary, but it sure is convenient.

Even when the screen does not elaborate on Alexa's answer, being able to look and interact with the display is useful. When you ask for trending topics, for example, the Spot shows you a scrolling list of headlines while reciting the first three. You can then ask Alexa to read any one of them in more depth, or you could just scroll and tap through the list yourself. As I found, reading it on your own is often faster than having Alexa do it for you.

By default, the Echo Spot rotates between the time, weather, upcoming calendar appointments, your to-do list, a selection of trending stories and a list of "Things to try," which amount to suggestions on how to use the device.

As for voice commands, the Spot had few problems recognizing my voice, even when I was speaking from across the room. However, it did struggle to pick up what I was saying if there was a lot of surrounding noise. When I had the Echo Spot's volume maxed out playing a song, for example, I had to get a few feet closer so that it could hear me.

You can already make voice calls and send messages with the screen-less Echos, but the display and camera on the Spot means video calls are now possible. You can make video calls with anyone with an Echo Spot or Show, as well as anyone with the Alexa app installed on their phone.

Music and media

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Wrap-up

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