I had one main reason for wanting a smart home device: to spy on my dogs when they were home alone and see what they got up to.
As it turns out, the latest version of the Echo Show 8 helps me do exactly that, plus a whole lot more.
The Echo Show series from Amazon has been out for a while, but the latest generation of the Echo 8 features a more powerful camera for improved quality video calling, and a decent screen and dual stereo speakers that provide you with a pretty spot-on unit for entertainment - I'm talking Netflix, YouTube, and Spotify (what else do you really need, right?).
Let's start with the setup, my least favourite part of any new device. The Echo Show 8 measures 200 x 135 x 99mm, so it's a pretty decent size, kind of like a small tablet. We initially set ours up on our kitchen breakfast bar, then moved it into the living room.
Now, there's no getting around having to do the standard setup if this is your first Amazon device. There's a couple of things you'll need to get the most out of your Echo. Make sure you've got your smartphone on hand, and make sure you have 1/an Amazon account and 2/downloaded the latest version of the Amazon Alexa app.
From there, it's pretty straightforward. Enter your Wi-Fi details, and the Amazon voice assistant will help you through all the setup - signing in, adding your YouTube, Spotify, Netflix/whatever accounts, setting up your voice recognition, reminders, calls. Once that's all done, you're good to go, and you'll have full access to the Echo's smart features, including voice or touch control of any other smart device you have set up, such as security cameras, lights, coffee makers, or even the spa.
Let's start with the camera. Like I said, my primary motivation for one of these devices was to spy on my dogs. Before you judge, one of these dogs is 15 years old and gets a bit grumpy if left alone for too long, and I worry about her. So when I'm not at home, it's nice to be able to open my Alexa app, "drop in" on my device, and see both dogs happily sleeping all the livelong day thanks to a live feed. It's also nice to scare - I mean surprise - my partner in the house when he doesn't expect it.
Don't worry folks - for those who don't appreciate a cheeky spy, the Echo Show 8 comes with a handy built-in shutter, so those at home can manually cover the camera if they are wanting some privacy.
Amazon seriously upped its camera game with this latest model. The 13-megapixel camera provides a clear image for quality video calling, and automatically pans and zooms so everyone stays centred in the frame when on a call.
You can make voice and video calls from the device to other Echo devices, or to anyone who has downloaded the Alexa app. This is super handy if you can't find your phone, or if you're in the middle of something like cooking and can't use your hands.
The 8-inch HD screen with adaptive colour and dual stereo speakers makes the Echo Show 8 ideal for entertainment. A simple, 'Alexa, play Britney Spears' (or whoever) on Spotify will bring up her latest catalogue, or you can ask it to play directly from one of your own playlists. I enjoyed watching workout videos on YouTube - no need to pull out my laptop or get it set up for a session.
Let's touch on those speakers for a moment. They are loud. On first try, I started turning the volume up as far as it would go to see if they were any good. I only got to about halfway before I stopped. So, remember to ask Alexa to set the volume to what's comfortable!
The Amazon voice assistant, Alexa, is constantly learning. It will suggest better ways to ask questions, so it can give you more accurate answers. I've found I ask her a lot of things on the daily, such as how long it would take to get somewhere, the weather, the latest news updates, and of course to search the internet to prove I am right about something.
While not in use, the Echo Show 8 works as a live photo album. You can use one of the pre-installed screensavers or upload your own photos for a slideshow, which is what I've done and it's great.
Overall, I've found the Echo Show 8 to be a fantastic addition to our home. It's not too large and looks nice amongst our other decor, the video quality is excellent, and I was very impressed with the sound. I check in on my dogs multiple times a day, and it's great to play music, follow a recipe, or watch a workout.
And for NZ$239, the price tag is not too shabby either.