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The Amazon Echo Show is the best smart home assistant you can buy

  • The Amazon Echo Show is the first Echo with a display.
  • The screen enables all sorts of functions, including live video chat.
  • The unit is bulky, though, and it's the most expensive smart home assistant.

The Amazon Echo Show is the best smart home assistant I've ever tested.

It's worth your money to buy it instead of the much more affordable Echo or Echo Dot, since its screen enables a whole new array of uses.

The Echo Show costs $229 for one, with a $100 discount for two. By comparison, the Echo Dot is often priced as low as $35.

I've been testing them for a couple of days, and as I sit here typing my review, I'm already tempted to buy a second one. This is coming from someone who already owns four of the smaller Echo Dots, the larger Amazon Echo and two Google Home units.

Here's why the Amazon Echo is so appealing.

The touchscreen enables new functions

CNBC Tech: Amazon Echo Show 9
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Echo Show is the first Echo to sport a display, which means the information that Alexa, Amazon's smart voice assistant, gives you is also displayed right on the screen. When I asked for the weather, I could scroll through the forecast with a swipe.

CNBC Tech: Amazon Echo Show 8
Todd Haselton | CNBC

And I was able to actually see the steps of a recipe I called up using Alexa. I wasn't tempted to watch movies or TV shows on Alexa, but you can use the screen to catch up on content offered in Amazon's video library, too, like "Man in the High Castle." I also liked that the Echo Show provided the lyrics to songs I asked it to play, which is just a fun touch.

The speaker is pretty good, but not great

CNBC Tech: Amazon Echo Show 5
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I'm not an audiophile but I can tell the difference between cruddy speakers and good ones. The Amazon Echo Show gets nice and loud, but it's nowhere near as good as the Sonos Play:1 I have sitting in my living room.

CNBC Tech: Amazon Echo Show 2
Todd Haselton | CNBC

It sounds better than the Google Home and the original Amazon Echo, though, and it's probably better than any number of budget Bluetooth speakers you might otherwise stream your tunes to. It's good enough for sitting in a bedroom or living room, which is all I need. Know this, though: There's no 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can't hook it up to better speakers (or attach headphones if you want to.)

Video calling is pretty neat, but I'll never use it

CNBC Tech: Amazon Echo Show 3
Todd Haselton | CNBC

You can use the Amazon Echo Show to call other Echo Show units for video chats. I tested this with a second Echo Show with a colleague and it worked pretty well, it's kind of like a FaceTime or Skype chat, and clarity seemed pretty good. Amazon has this creepy "drop in" feature that lets you add contacts who are then allowed to pop up on your screen without any warning.

Amazon says this is for checking in on babies or the elderly, but it seems pretty darn weird to me. I wouldn't blame you for putting tape over the camera of your Echo Show — it seems to be this would be a perfect target for hackers.

It's bulky and always has to be plugged in

CNBC Tech: Amazon Echo Show 6
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Echo Show seems unnecessarily bulky in a world where thinner and lighter gadgets are far more appealing than chunky ones. Some of my colleagues thought it was pretty ugly. I kind of agree, at least now as I look at it sitting in my living room on an antique wood table.

It looks out of place, almost like a wannabe video phone from the 1980s. Also, you can't pick it up and move it from room to room without unplugging it. I wish it had a battery pack, if even a small one, so I could move it from my living room to my bedside at night.

There are thousands of skills

CNBC Tech: Amazon Echo Show 4
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Amazon Echo can tap into all sorts of "skills" to provide information. It syncs with AllRecipes for recipes and Spotify and Pandora and other music services, just like other Echo units.

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Todd Haselton | CNBC

If you want, you can get a briefing from CNBC (or other news sources) just with a simple command, and unlike other Echos, this one plays the relevant video. I loved the quick flash news briefings as I sipped my coffee in the living room.

Also, since it has a display, you can use it to call up video feeds from smart cameras around the house made by such companies as Logitech and Ring. I typically use other Echos to control my lights and listen to music. With the Echo Show, I had a lot more fun calling people, watching lyrics whiz by as I listened to music, and catching up on the news. I also loved being able to see, not just hear, the weather.

It's a direct link to the Amazon store

CNBC Tech: Amazon Echo Show 7
Todd Haselton | CNBC

It also made shopping on Amazon pretty fun. I could say, for example, Alexa buy soap, and the Echo would bring up a whole screen of different types of soaps. With just one tap I ordered a few bars for delivery in two days. You can't do that as easily with any other smart home assistant.

Buy it, or start with an Echo Dot

CNBC Tech: Amazon Echo Show
Todd Haseltojn | CNBC

If you have the budget, the Echo Show is the smart home assistant to buy. If you're still considering getting your feet wet, try the Echo Dot. That'll give you a sense of what Alexa can do and you can always decide to purchase the Echo Show later.