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Amazon’s Echo Show 5 is the smart alarm clock to get

It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of a voice-controlled smart alarm clock was little more than science fiction. Now, the smart alarm clock is not only a real thing, but there are multiple smart alarm clocks to choose from. Amazon’s Echo Show 5 is the company’s latest entry into this space, sitting alongside the still available (for now) Echo Spot from 2017.

Of course, the $89.99 Echo Show 5 isn’t just a smart alarm clock. It’s a fully functional smart display. It’s capable of nearly everything that Amazon’s larger Echo Show can do, just in a smaller package. It also has some updated features that address my complaints with the Echo Spot. The Echo Show 5 is the best smart alarm clock available now, even if all you ever use it for is yelling at Alexa to snooze your alarm or tell you the day’s weather.

The Echo Show 5 is quite literally a smaller version of the Echo Show that Amazon released last year. It has a rectangular wedge shape that houses a 5.5-inch screen and a single small speaker. The full-size Echo Show obviously has more speakers that are better and louder, but you would never want to put one on your nightstand. (I’m guessing Amazon will eventually rename the larger one “the Echo Show 10,” but for now, it’s still the Echo Show. Not confusing at all!)

Compared to the smaller Echo Spot, the Show 5’s design allows for a much more practical (and larger) screen. But its design is decidedly less fun and unique than the Spot’s cleaved softball-like shape. That fun will cost you $40 more, and the Spot is a worse device in every other metric, so I don’t think it’s worth it. You can get the Show 5 in any color you’d like, so long as it’s white or black.

The Show 5 does maintain the Spot’s small footprint, and it’s easy to find room for it on a nightstand, desk, shelf, or mantle. It doesn’t really take up much more space than a traditional alarm clock, and it’s far more practical to use in more places than the full-size Echo Show.

The Echo Show 5 (right) is only slightly larger than the Echo Spot (left) but considerably smaller than the Echo Show (in rear).

The Echo Show 5 (right) has a larger and more useful display than the Lenovo Smart Clock (left).

The 5.5-inch screen won’t win any awards for pixel density: it’s just 960 x 480 pixels, meaning your phone certainly has a much higher resolution. But it’s perfectly fine for the types of things it displays, and it’s easy to see from across a room. It also adjusts its brightness automatically for the amount of light in the room and gets appropriately dim at night so it’s not shining into your eyes when you’re trying to sleep. The screen is the main difference between the Echo Show 5 and an Echo Dot, but it makes the Show much more practical as a bedside clock.

Likewise, the 4-watt speaker won’t be good for bumping the tunes at a house party, but it’s surprisingly full and powerful for casual music listening or podcasts, and Alexa’s voice is clear and easy to hear through it. It sounds better than the Echo Spot and the Lenovo Smart Clock and even better than the larger Nest Home Hub. You can output the Show 5’s audio to another speaker via 3.5mm cable or a Bluetooth connection, but I doubt most people will need to.

Amazon is using just two microphones to pick up voice commands, as opposed to the four on the larger Show or seven on an audio-only Echo. I didn’t notice any issues with the Show 5 hearing my voice commands, even while it was playing music or video.

Like the other Echo devices with screens, the Echo Show 5 includes a built-in camera for video calls to other Echo devices, the Alexa app, or Skype. It’s not a great camera — it’s just 1 megapixel and doesn’t have advanced HDR features — but if you really want to use it for a quick video chat, it’s perfectly adequate. (I doubt the photo booth features Amazon also includes with the camera will get much use, however.)

A physical shutter can disable the Echo Show 5’s camera and block its view while keeping the always-on microphones active.

The thing that Amazon did add is a hardware switch that physically blocks the camera. This is a little thing that makes a big difference: if you’re going to put an internet-connected device with a camera in your bedroom, you want the most assurance you can get that it’s not recording when you don’t want it to. A physical shutter that blocks the lens is the best way to do this. I’ve actually resorted to sticking a googly eye over the Echo Spot, which lacks a physical shutter, because I don’t always trust a software switch to turn it off. I hope that, going forward, Amazon includes the physical shutter on all of its Echo devices with cameras.

The Show 5 is capable of all of the same things as the larger Show, including many of the same video sources (Amazon Prime Video, NBC, and Vevo), Alexa skills, and voice controls. It even has the same Firefox and Silk web browsers available on it. That sets it apart from the similar-looking but frustratingly limited Lenovo Smart Clock, which barely makes use of its display for anything other than showing the time.

Of course, it doesn’t support YouTube because while Amazon and Google are no longer fighting in the schoolyard, they aren’t exactly sitting at the same lunch table either. You can access YouTube via one of the built-in web browsers, but it’s a miserable experience and you can’t play any clips via voice controls. But it’s less of a loss on this smaller device since I don’t think it’s very practical for watching video with any regularity. As mentioned earlier, your phone has a better — and probably larger — screen for watching video anyway.

The Show 5’s screen is good for a quick glance to see the time or weather info, and Amazon has designed a number of customizable clock faces for it. You can set also your own custom image for it with the Alexa app or play a slideshow of whatever photos you might have in a Prime photos account or on Facebook. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have access to Google Photos, which is where I have my phone automatically upload all of my photos. That means it will never compete with Google’s Nest Home Hub as a digital picture frame for me. The Show 5 can also pull up video feeds from Ring or Amazon cameras, with support for two-way audio.

A new slide-out pane offers quick access to common functions.

Recently used smart home actions are easily accessible.

The software is very similar to the larger Echo Show’s, but Amazon has added a new quick-access pane that’s populated by common stuff you would want to do. When you swipe left from the right edge of the device, you will find buttons for music, alarms, smart home controls, video, Alexa skills, and a new communications hub for all of the ways you can talk to people on the device. More often than not, it’s usually easier to use voice commands for most of these features, but it might be a good way to not annoy the person you share a bed with when you want to turn out the lights.

Given its compact size, you can put the Echo Show 5 almost anywhere you want. I could see a lot of people using it as a connected clock radio on their desk or in a study. The most obvious place to use it is on a nightstand as an alarm clock, and Amazon has added a few features to make it more useful there. Not only can you ask Alexa to set alarms with your voice, but you can choose from many different alarm sounds, including Disney and SpongeBob-themed ones for kids and Tara Reid’s character from Sharknado warning you to get up and stay away from the windows. (Yes, really.) Or you can ask for a specific song to play from Spotify or Amazon Music.

A new Alexa Sunrise feature will gradually brighten the screen when it’s time for the alarm to go off, and you can use your voice to snooze or stop the alarm. You can also tap the top of the Show 5 to snooze the alarm, much like you can do on the Lenovo Smart Clock or a traditional alarm clock.

The Echo Show 5 is small enough to go almost anywhere, but it’s most at home on a nightstand.

Overall, I think the Echo Show 5 is Amazon’s best implementation of a smart display yet. It still has the same limitations as the larger Echo Show — no Google services, no real apps, no Netflix, no proper YouTube support, etc. — but its smaller size means you probably wouldn’t use most of those things on it anyway. Its much lower cost compared to the $230 Show makes it easier to accept that it’s good at a limited set of features and no more.

It’s also the best smart alarm clock available now, with a good range of functions, loud and clear audio, and easy-to-use voice commands. At $90 (and with Amazon’s penchant for putting Echo devices on sale, likely frequently less), the Echo Show 5 is less expensive than Amazon’s own Echo Spot and just $10 more than the far less impressive Lenovo Smart Clock. The combination of an accessible price and good execution earn it an easy spot on my nightstand.

Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge

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