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Amazon Echo Show 15 review: A disappointing display

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
240
inc VAT

Amazon’s biggest smart display gets some things right but poor sound quality lets the side down

Pros 
Big, bright and colourful display
Widgets are promising
Looks great
Cons 
Terrible sound quality
Some flaws persist from previous Echo Shows
Pricey
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The Amazon Echo Show 15 is an outlier, and not just because of its out of the ordinary looks or the fact that it’s designed to be wall-mounted like a picture frame. Rather, because it’s the first Echo speaker I’ve actively disliked since the original Echo released way back in 2016.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things the Echo Show 15 gets right. Through its use of widgets, it makes much better use of its 15in expanse of screen than other display-based Echo speakers have before it and its picture-frame design merges more considerately into your decor.

Echo Show 15 review: What do you get for the money?

The Echo Show 15 is the largest of all the Echo speakers right now and, as you might expect, it’s also the priciest, costing £240. It has a 15.6in, Full HD display that you can mount either in landscape or portrait orientation, and it houses a pair of stereo 1.6in speaker drivers, alongside a 5MP webcam.

By default, Amazon wants you to wall-mount the Echo Show 15 and it comes with all the hardware to do that – a sturdy metal bracket, four screws and rawl plugs. You’ll need to supply the drill and elbow grease but it’s a simple enough job and it holds the speaker firmly and securely. It needs to be plugged into the mains, though, so you’ll have a cable running down the wall.

If your preference is to stand-mount the speaker, you’ll have to shell out extra. The official stand, pictured in this review, will set you back a further £30 – there’s a £270 bundle available on the main Echo Show page on the Amazon website – and it allows you to mount the Show in either portrait or landscape.

The stand lets you tilt the screen back and forth but you can’t switch orientation quickly. If you want to go from landscape to portrait orientation, you have to unscrew the stand from the rear, turn the speaker around and screw it back in. It might be inconvenient, but the stand does hold the Echo Show 15 extremely securely in place, with a rubberised base preventing the front lip of the 2.2kg speaker from slipping forward.

The Echo Show 15 might look very different from the rest of Amazon’s Echo speakers but it operates in very much the same way. It’s still principally voice driven: you use the “Alexa” or “computer” wake words to get its attention and you can then play music, radio and TV or control smart home devices without touching the display.

Like Amazon’s other display based smart speakers, it has a camera so you can make video calls or “drop in” to other Echo devices and that camera has a physical shutter so you can block its view at the drop of a hat. The only other physical controls on the frame are a mute button for Alexa and the volume up and down controls.

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Amazon Echo Show 15 review: What’s different about it?

With such a large display, it makes sense that Amazon has made some changes to the Show 15’s UI. There are some who will, inevitably, choose to use the screen as a photo frame, and it’s undoubtedly very good at this; the IPS panel is bright and crisp and looks great. You can use it to display family photos stored on your Amazon photos account, or there’s a selection of artworks to cycle through, with a few seasonal photos selected by Amazon.

However, should you choose to do this, you would miss out on the Echo Show’s star attraction: widgets. These information-based tiles dock to the right-hand side of the main screen, and can be used to display, among other things, to-do and shopping lists, recipe ideas from the BBC Good Food website, recommended music, your calendar and favourite photos.

My personal favourite right now is the Smart Home Favourites widget, which lists buttons to activate any devices you might have placed in your Alexa smart home list. A quick tap can be used to turn lights and smart plugs on and off, access security camera streams or turn up the heating on your smart thermostat.

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However, there’s nowhere on the home screen to permanently display handy things like music controls or even to display what’s playing now. Ask Alexa to play a BBC radio station, for instance, and what’s displayed on screen is, frankly, an embarrassment, with only a logo appearing on screen, the name of the current show and pause and skip control buttons. You have to go back to the home screen to view the clock or the weather or anything else, for that matter.

The Spotify view is better, but not by much, occupying the full screen with what’s playing at the top and some “music for you” suggestions just below. Quite why Amazon couldn’t just shunt these third-party apps into the screen space to the left of the widgets, I’ll never know. It would certainly work much better than this.

Amazon Echo Show 15 review: What does it sound like?

While these issues are an irritation, the worst feature of the Echo Show 15 is undoubtedly the sound quality. In a word, it’s awful. It’s thin and reedy with no bass to speak of and worse than this, there’s a serious lack of body in the mid-range, too. Not only does music sound insipid and watered down but radio voices feel robbed of life and vitality.

In short, if you want to enjoy listening to your smart speaker as well as using it to help organise your home life and view your family snaps on, then you’re better off with the Echo Show 10. Or any other Amazon smart display for that matter. I can’t remember reviewing a speaker I actively disliked listening to as much as I have this one.

The Echo Show’s single saving grace in this regard is that it is possible to offload the audio to Bluetooth stream audio to another device in the near vicinity, but this isn’t something you should have to worry about, frankly, in this day and age. It’s truly dreadful.

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Amazon Echo Show 15 review: Verdict

Now, I care deeply about sound quality so perhaps I’m not the one to deliver a balanced verdict on the Echo Show 15 because, aside from the awful audio it has plenty of redeeming features. It looks great, whether you have it mounted on the wall or on a stand and it’s nice to have the option of positioning it portrait style as well as in landscape.

It makes a great digital photo frame and the introduction of widgets means it makes much better use of the screen space than Amazon’s previous large-screen Echo devices. It’s particularly good as a hub for controlling your smart home devices and voice control as well as ever.

The sound quality kills it for me as a viable smart speaker, unfortunately, which is a shame because even if it sounded mediocre I’d be prepared to cut it some slack. Alas, I can’t and you probably shouldn’t, either.

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