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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Spam in my kitchen: The Amazon Echo Show arrives

Firemen Rescue Baby Deer
“Alexa, tell me about the baby deer.”

So I got an Amazon Echo Show last week—this is the Amazon Echo model with the screen on the front. If you’ve seen the pictures, it looks like a weird ’80s TV set, but a lot of that has to do with a lack of scale in many photos—it’s quite small, though definitely boxy and strange.

I am going to need to live with the Echo Show for a while to really get a sense of how having a screen affects the Echo experience. It’s clear that what’s in the product today is simply not good enough, but Amazon has shown with the previous Echo that it could constantly add new features and improve the service and software, so I’m at least somewhat optimistic.

I can see the promise of having that screen in my kitchen, because like kitchen TV sets of yore, it can provide video right where you’re working. The Echo Show can stream some live video and play back YouTube clips. I’m not really interested in playing an episode of “The Americans” from Amazon Prime Video while I’m cooking, but given all the apps Amazon has available for its Fire TV platform, I have to wonder if there will be a way for me to get access to other features (like Netflix, or MLB.TV) over time.

For years now I’ve had some repurposed music players that I’ve used as dumb screens around my house to display the current time and the temperature in my backyard, courtesy of my home weather station. They’re getting old and outmoded and I like the idea of using the Echo Show as a place to display similar information so it’s available at a glance.

Unfortunately, right now the Echo Show’s main screen isn’t particularly customizable beyond the background wallpaper image. At its best, it shows me the current time and weather for my town. At its worst, it’s a billboard for garbage news headlines and videos I don’t care about.

Update: In a previous version of this story, I said there was “nothing I could do to stop the flow of stuff I don’t want onto that screen.” This isn’t entirely true, but the state of affairs is maddening. Despite Amazon requiring you to set almost every setting for any Echo device from the Alexa mobile app, the Echo Show does contain a hidden Settings screen that you can bring up either by swiping down from the top of the screen (turns out there’s a menu hidden up there—don’t swipe over the camera lens, though, or you’ll smudge it) or by asking Alexa to show you the settings. On this screen, some of the settings from the Alexa app are available, while others aren’t, and other settings are available only on the device. What a mess.

Among the settings options is a Home Card Preferences sub-menu, that lets you change whether the data cards on the home screen rotate a single time or continuously, and let you turn off Notifications (alerts from skills and other Alexa services), Upcoming Events (from your calendar), Drop In (displaying who’s available for a slightly creepy video peek right now among your Drop In contacts), and Trending Topics (wacky stories and videos!).

Unfortunately, that’s it - and if you turn everything off, you’ll still see a rotating collection of hints about ways you can use the Echo by uttering various phrases. So you can turn off the viral news and video spam, and your own calendar, but the level of control is extremely limited—if you can find it at all.

Otherwise, your best option is to put the device in Do Not Disturb mode, where only a clock shows. But I don’t really want that—there’s information I do want to display on this device, it’s just not what Amazon wants to offer me. If I could configure the Echo Show to just show the time and my current temperature and weather forecast, I’d be much happier. It would be even better if I could choose widgets to put into the rotation and provide actual information of value. Maybe that will come in time?

What I don’t want in my kitchen is spam. And right now, that’s what the Echo Show is doing—it’s spamming my eyes when I’m in the kitchen. I’m willing to give it a little bit of time for Amazon to get its act together, but it’s embarrassing that this product shipped with this feature as the default. It’s like buying a TV set or car stereo that can’t be taken out of showroom demo mode.

If you’re an Echo fan who is considering an Echo Show, steer clear for now. The fact that there is a setting (albeit hidden on the device) is reason for hope that things will get better. But the customizability of the home screen needs a lot of work.

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