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Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd gen, 2021) review: A no-brainer for video callers

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
120
inc. VAT

The new Amazon Echo Show 8 isn’t a huge upgrade on the previous generation, but for video call fans, it’s a no-brainer

Pros 
Excellent camera
Improved video call support
Decent sound quality
Cons 
Not a huge change from previous generation
No 3.5mm jack
Alexa isn’t as smart as Google Assistant
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The original Echo Show 8 was released in the times before Covid, when video calls would have been, for most right-thinking people, an absolute last resort.

The 2021 version is clearly designed with social distancing and remote working in mind, as the main change is substantial upgrade to the front-facing camera. Is it worth the price of an upgrade?

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Amazon Echo Show 8 (2021) review: What you need to know

As is typical with Amazon’s generational updates, the changes here are mostly iterative. The aim is to deliver a better product without reinventing the wheel while, crucially, keeping the price the same.

That means the 2021 Echo Show 8 has three major changes over the last generation – two positive and one negative. 
 
First, the front camera has been significantly improved, rising from a measly 1MP sensor to a mighty 13MP unit. That’s the difference between a largely perfunctory camera, and one matching the resolution of most selfie cameras on phones, so it’s a significant upgrade. Also note that, while the Echo Show 8 gets an uprade to 13MP, its smaller sibling, the Echo Show 5.

The resolution isn't the only improvement, either. The camera has also been upgraded to include automatic panning and zooming; in other words, the camera will, in effect, follow you around the room as you move about.

Then there’s a speed bump. While the 2019 Echo Show 8 was powered by a quad-core MediaTek 8163 processor, the 2021 edition gets an octa-core MediaTek 8183 chip for faster transitions and generally better responsiveness.

The negative change comes with the removal of the 3.5mm audio jack, which would have previously allowed you to connect your Echo Show to a different (presumably stronger) set of speakers. You can still connect to an external speaker via Bluetooth, but this is undeniably a downgrade.

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2021) review: Price and competition

A small but significant set of changes, then, and one that allows Amazon to keep the price static at £120. The Echo Show 8 isn’t the only model Amazon has refreshed: the £240 Echo Show 10 was updated earlier in the year with more dramatic upgrades, and the cheap-and-cheerful £75 Echo Show 5 has also been refreshed, although you’ll have to make do with just a 2MP camera on the basic model.

Then there are the alternatives from Google under the Nest Hub brand. These smart screens come with Google Assistant instead of Alexa and sell at £90 for the second generation Nest Hub or £220 for the Nest Hub Max – although only the latter is equipped with a camera. 

Buy the Nest Hub now from John Lewis


Amazon Echo Show 8 (2021) review: Design

Although I no longer have the first-generation model, as far as I can tell the Amazon Echo Show 8 hasn’t changed in design terms at all since its 2019 debut. It has an 8in screen, surrounded with chunky bezels at the front sat atop a wedge-shaped, fabric-covered speaker on a thick, rubber base. It’s a practical design, but the display can’t be tilted or adjusted.

A camera is embedded in the top right-hand corner of the bezel and, as with the previous generation, this can be blocked via a switch that physically covers it in case you’re worried about being spied on by Amazon. Pressing a button will also mute the mic, and Amazon says this will cut the feed directly, but it’s more an article of faith as the only evidence that it works is a thudding noise and an orange bar appearing along the bottom of the screen.

The screen is touch-sensitive, meaning you don’t just have to navigate the functionality by chatting to Alexa, and it has the same 1,280 x 800 resolution as the last generation. It’s a perfectly adequate screen, if a little reflective, which is something to bear in mind if you plan to keep it in a room near a window. It’s also rather prone to smudging, which is an issue for a touch screen, although it’s nothing a quick wipe won’t fix.

READ NEXT: Our guide to the best smart speakers you can buy

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2021) review: Performance

Amazon didn’t say anything about improving the sound quality at the launch of the device and, indeed, the specifications of the speaker’s dual drivers are the same, each measuring 2in across and rated at 10W.
 
As before, sound quality isn’t too shabby, with output somewhere between the Echo Dot and full-sized Echo speaker, and although it’s a little on the bassy side, you can tweak it so the bass doesn’t dominate quite so much.
 
This puts it some way behind the brilliant audio offered by the 10in Echo Show but ahead of the Echo Show 5. If it were all about sound quality, however, you’d still be better off purchasing a fourth-generation Amazon Echo for £90 or the brilliant – and equally affordable – Nest Audio, so the question becomes whether the addition of a screen actually adds anything. I would tentatively say yes, but it really depends on your usage, and even then you might be better off opting for one of the cheaper non-display smart speakers.

In day-to-day use, the visual functions still feel a little unnecessary. You can have the lock screen cycle through your photos if you use Amazon Photos or are happy to connect your Facebook account, which is nice but not as slick as the Nest Hub for users of Google Photos. Likewise, while it’s pleasing to be able to look at album art of the song you’re listening to, or for the weather forecast to be illustrated with sun and rain cloud icons, these aren’t exactly what you’d call killer features. 
 
On the other hand, being able to ask the Echo Show to find brownie recipes, and for Alexa to then read said recipes onscreen step by step is extremely helpful. If you’re a visual learner, you can ask to see even more brownie recipes on YouTube, and the familiar search page will appear via the built-in Silk web browser. It isn’t quite as clean as the Nest’s integration, which is unsurprising given Google owns YouTube, but it does the job if you’re in need of a brownie fix, as I now am after writing the word so many times in this paragraph.
 
And I have to say that in terms of video, the Echo Show has improved enormously since the previous generation. While it still won’t let you Chromecast things as the Nest Hub does, it’s no longer just limited to Amazon Prime Video. You can log in to Netflix, at which point saying something like “Alexa, play Black Mirror” will instantly bring up the dystopian anthology show ready to play.

For me, despite its slightly smaller size and weaker speaker, the Nest Hub is still preferable for video streams due to the flexibility of Chromecast support, allowing Plex, iPlayer and Disney Plus streaming for instance, but for the vast majority of people, this will do just fine now the “big two” streaming services are covered.
 
Then there’s video calling, and the 13MP camera is certainly a big improvement. It’s the same specification as on the larger Echo Show 10 and its image quality is good enough that it puts most other webcams to shame. I also didn’t have any problem picking up what my test subject on the Echo Show was saying, which is hardly surprising given Alexa needs good-quality mics to hear what you’re saying.

While the device doesn’t physically move to follow the speaker like the larger Echo Show, the panning and zooming works reasonably well, too, once enabled. It’s a subtle but welcome addition, although I suspect most people will prefer to remain static for the kind of calls where this would actually matter; thankfully, I haven’t had to take part in a video job interview, but I can’t imagine you’d want to be wandering around the room during one of those.

On the subject of video calls, the default is, of course, Amazon’s own group videoconferencing but, just as you can use Spotify instead of Amazon Music Unlimited as the speaker's music source, you can also enable Skype here. Zoom would be nice but although it is supported on the Echo Show 8 in the US, that support has yet to emerge over here in the UK. Juggling all these services is a bit of a faff, as is enabling them in the first place, but it does work.

Amazon Echo Show 8 (2021) review: Verdict

At the same £120 price as the previous generation, it’s hard to fault the latest Echo Show 8; it’s a marvellous product with a sensible set of improvements. But unless you make a lot of video calls, it’s probably not worth upgrading from the previous model.

For me, the Nest Hub is still better, but that’s mainly down to personal preference and my deep integration with the Google ecosystem. I use Google Calendar, YouTube and Chromecast a lot; I don’t have the same reliance on Amazon’s alternatives, and find Google Assistant more reliable than Alexa, too.

The sub-£100 Nest Hub doesn’t come with a camera, however, so if you’re someone who’s invited to a lot of video calls then the Echo Show 8 is the superior option – unless you fancy breaking the £200 barrier and opting for a Nest Hub Max instead.

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