After experiencing the auto-tracking technology for the first time, I felt a mix of awe and dread. Not only can Amazon’s devices see and hear us—now, they can follow us, too. It doesn’t have wheels. It’s more like a dog who watches you get kibble from the pantry as he sits like a good boy.
The Echo Show 10, which begins shipping Thursday, has a 10.1-inch screen connected by a robot arm. At $250, it’s also the company’s most expensive Echo.
Like other Alexa devices, this one can set timers and control your smart lightbulbs. And as a speaker, it sounds great. But the main idea is that its screen is visible whenever you look up, displaying your Netflix show or the next step in a recipe. And if you’re multitasking on a video call, the camera and robot arm will keep you in frame.
At first, the autonomously moving screen was more creepy than cool. After a few days, that unnerving feeling dissipated. At some point, the robo-screen actually started to make sense.
Historically, the Seattle-based tech company has had a lot of success convincing people to bring these sorts of devices into their homes: The Echo was the first to get millions of people comfortable with always-listening, internet-connected microphones. Why wouldn’t Amazon be able do the same for stalking screens?
The device leverages the four onboard microphones and camera to follow you around. Once the screen locates your position using your voice, the camera kicks in. Computer-vision software analyzes your shape, determines the edges of your body and looks at the colors of your clothing. It recognizes you’re a human but, unlike Google’s Nest Hub Max, the Echo Show 10 doesn’t recognize faces.
This processing happens within milliseconds—on the device itself. None of the images, videos or audio associated with motion tracking are sent to the cloud, says Amazon.
The screen can automatically move 360 degrees on its cylindrical base. I became aware of the Echo Show’s full rotational path when mine knocked over a water bottle as it spun to follow me out of the room. The display’s tilt, however, has to be adjusted manually.
While tracking me, the Echo Show 10 would occasionally get confused. Once, it got distracted by a TV behind me; another time, it started following another person who entered the kitchen. It definitely behaves best when you’re alone with it.
“Alexa, stop following me” turns off tracking, as does switching on my favorite feature, the shutter that covers the camera’s lens.
The device’s main attraction is video calling. The camera is 13 megapixels, a major upgrade from the 1-megapixel cameras on previous Echo Show models. The auto-framing feature is neat, too. Say you’re cooking a meal while catching up with a friend: The camera will follow as you move around the kitchen, digitally panning and zooming to keep you framed like a reality-TV star. (Facebook’s Portal does this, but without the help of a robotic arm.)
Right now, the Echo Show 10 supports Alexa video calling, available to anyone with an Echo Show or the Alexa smartphone app on their phone. It also runs Skype. Amazon says support for Zoom and the company’s own enterprise Chime app is coming soon, but didn’t provide further details.
Being able to see the screen wherever you are is useful in other ways, too, like if you are deaf or hard of hearing and have Alexa captions turned on.
The robot arm also comes into play when you’re out of the house and using the Echo Show 10 as an indoor security camera. You can access the device’s camera from the Alexa app and swivel the camera around the room to see what is going on. If Alexa Guard is enabled, the device can also detect the sound of smoke alarms, carbon-monoxide alarms or breaking glass.
While Amazon fully encrypts Alexa data—including video calls—and generally has a good record of protecting users’ information, I still get nervous having digital eyes open inside my home. After all, hackers have successfully attacked other internet-connected cameras, including baby monitors.
There is also the question of Amazon itself overstepping its bounds, though I suppose Amazon has more valuable information than anything it can get from a camera or microphone. After all, it knows my purchase history, what I am shopping for, where I live, where I used to live, what I am reading and watching and all of my credit card numbers, past and present.
In retrospect, a smart speaker with a stalking screen is the least creepy thing about Amazon.
“Amazon takes customer privacy seriously and we have taken measures to make Echo Show 10 secure,” including encrypting data, releasing automatic security updates and banning third-party apps, a company spokeswoman said.
I really got used to using Alexa with a screen—it makes so much practical sense. Glancing at a forecast is more efficient than waiting for Alexa to read the day’s highs and lows. And the device’s photo-frame capabilities show off an often underused Prime perk: unlimited photo storage.
I really wanted to watch live TV on it, but the options are limited. Hulu with Live TV is the only one of the many live streaming services officially supported on the Echo Show. (You can technically watch others, without voice control, using the device’s web browser.) Facebook’s Portal, which is also Alexa-enabled, works with Sling TV, Showtime, Starz and CBS All Access apps. Google’s Nest Hub works with all of those, plus YouTube TV and Disney+.
My husband, Will, on the other hand, hates having another screen around. And I understand why: The Echo Show actively tries to grab your attention. New suggestions appear every 10 seconds: Remember, you have this appointment tomorrow. Try this new skill. There is a new documentary on Hulu. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are getting a divorce. “Try, ‘Alexa, what’s the Kim Kardashian story?,’ ” the device nudges.
You can turn off the headlines and calendar reminders, but Alexa suggestions can’t be disabled. It is another indicator that the more we use the device, the more Amazon benefits. Hence the eager-puppy robo-screen that can’t keep its eyes off me.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.