Final Review: Amazon Echo Show 15

Behold Amazon's biggest smart screen. Touch screen problems keep it from being the best.

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Echo Show 15 Photo: Amazon

If you want a smart screen in your kitchen but you’re tight on counter space, the jumbo-sized, wall-mountable Amazon Echo Show 15, $250, may sound like a solid solution. However, after using an Echo Show 15 at home for several days, I discovered a number of drawbacks to the design, particularly when it comes to operating the touch screen. CR testers noted similar problems while evaluating a second Echo Show 15 in our labs.

Smart speakers with a touch screen often find a home in the kitchen, in part because they can’t compete with the TV in the family room and the very idea of a live mic and a camera in the bedroom makes many people uneasy. 

More on Smart Speakers

In addition to traditional duties, such as cranking tunes and timing a pot of pasta to a perfect al dente, a smart speaker with a screen can display recipes or how-to videos (not to mention more entertaining fare while your madeleines are in the oven).

That said, the kitchen poses challenges. A smart screen can take up valuable space on countertops already crammed with coffee makers and food processors. Another Amazon model launched last year, the Echo Show 10, requires a beach-ball-sized patch of clear counter space, and if you inadvertently place a travel mug or a bottle of cooking oil within that radius, the rotating screen can knock it over.

The Echo Show 15 is designed to sidestep that problem by being permanently mounted on a wall, where it can also function as a smart home hub and a message center. We borrowed a prelaunch model from Amazon in December 2021 to evaluate the benefits offered by this new design. But the device’s touch screen kept freezing up during our First Look evaluation, so we waited for the results of our lab tests.

Our technicians put a second Echo Show 15, bought at retail, through Consumer Reports’ normal evaluation. The device earned mixed scores—high on measures such as ease of use and versatility, but near the bottom of our rankings on sound quality. Like me, our testers also experienced problems with their unit’s touch screen.

Touch Screen Problems

Amazon promotes the Echo Show 15 as a command center for smart home devices, but I found its performance to be uneven.

When I used voice commands, I had no problems turning on a hall lamp with a Phillips Hue bulb or controlling my Christmas tree using an Amazon smart outlet, which, like the bulb, was supplied by Amazon for my evaluation of the Echo Show 15. However, when I tried to use the touch screen, this smart speaker was buggy.

At times, the screen simply locked up and refused to respond to any touch input, although the device did continue to respond to voice commands. At other times, the screen just went black. It cleared itself eventually without rebooting the device, but those pesky problems persisted throughout my evaluation.

“Some of those issues could have arisen because of problems with the other devices or the WiFi network,” says Rich Fisco, head of electronics testing for Consumer Reports.

The touch screen on the second sample purchased for our testers was prone to freezing up, too.

Aside from those intermittent freezes, the screen’s performance was often sluggish. When I pressed on the screen to turn a light on or off, the Echo Show 15 sometimes responded slowly or not at all. It occasionally said the smart bulb was off when it was on and vice versa. 

When I tried to view video feeds from a Ring doorbell and the security camera, also supplied by Amazon, the problems mounted. At first, I couldn’t get the video from the camera in my yard to show up on the Echo Show 15’s screen, though it did appear in the Ring app on my phone.

After removing and reinstalling the camera, I was finally able to see the feed on the Echo Show 15, but the performance was sluggish. Once again, there’s no way to know for sure where the problem originated, but the connection between the camera and my iPhone was fine.

After my initial evaluation in December, I contacted Amazon and a spokesperson said the company is “looking into your experience.” Last week, after our lab techs had similar issues, I reached out again. Amazon did not respond with a comment before our deadline for publication.

Less Than Stellar Sound

While the Amazon Echo Show 15 scored highly enough in our standard smart speaker testing to receive our recommendation, it rates well behind most models in one important area: sound quality.

The audio receives a Fair rating from our testers. That’s the same grade as the third-generation Amazon Echo Dot, which can often be purchased for under $30. The Echo Show 15, remember, costs about $250.

Our testers report that the bass is almost nonexistent, the congested midrange is plasticky and telephone-like, and the trebles are both sizzly and smeared. Those flaws make the Echo Show 15 adequate for listening to a podcast, but hardly a first choice for music. The sound quality is significantly worse than a number of Amazon models, including the $100 third-generation Amazon Echo and the fine-sounding Amazon Echo Studio, $200.

While wall mounting can compromise a speaker’s sound, our testers report that it’s not a deal breaker; Ikea’s similarly sized PictureFrame Speaker (which is not a smart speaker and doesn’t have a frame) performs quite well in our labs with sound that is on a par with Ikea’s highly rated Symfonik bookshelf speaker.

The Amazon Echo Show 15 does earn high marks for versatility, which is based on the number of useful features found on a device. It also gets points for having a straightforward setup, a well-thought-out smartphone app, and intuitive physical controls.

A Family Center

As a home hub, the Echo Show 15 has shortcomings as well.

It features a new user interface that allows the home screen to be filled with applike “widgets,” which show everything from the weather and traffic to Post-it-like sticky notes where I could share inspirational quotes (“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. And inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”—Groucho Marx) or just remind my loved ones that there’s a family dinner tonight.

The Echo Show 15’s screen is quite bright, and the HD resolution is fine for watching SpongeBob or the feed from your baby monitor.

But the user interface is quite inflexible. You’re limited to 10 widgets in total, and only five can be displayed at any one time. I discovered that some widgets—like the stickies—were unnecessarily large; others—like my to-do list—could have used some extra space. Yet there was no way to resize or minimize the widgets. 

Indeed, as I was typing a message on the Stickies widget, I couldn’t help thinking that a $2 stack of Post-its and a $16 Ansel Adams wall calendar could do the same thing more easily and much more cheaply.

The Visual ID technology is supposed to recognize the individuals in your household by sight and by voice and provide them with personalized content. But when my adult son addressed Alexa, the device thought he was me and showed him my Dad-music playlist. To its credit, the Echo Show 15 didn’t make the same mistake with my daughter. You can also create a useful dedicated family calendar, but remember that it will also be visible to any houseguest who can see the Echo Show 15’s screen.

Where to Put the Amazon Echo Show 15

The first big question you face with the Amazon Echo Show 15 is where to put it. Because I wanted only a temporary installation, I used the Sanus stand Amazon included with the model instead of mounting it on a wall.

The Echo Show 15 takes up a significant amount of space. The 15-inch screen (measured diagonally) has a thick black bezel and a white “matte” meant to mimic the look of a sleek, gallery-style picture frame. While the usable part of the screen is about the same as that on my 15-inch MacBook Pro laptop, the Echo Show 15 requires a 15x10-inch space on your wall.

As I thought about where a permanently mounted Echo Show 15 would hang in my home, I realized that wall space in most kitchens is at as much of a premium as counter space. My newly renovated kitchen has only one spot with both wall space and access to an electrical outlet. And of course, dressing the Echo Show 15’s power cord is an important factor in the neatness of any installation.

In my case, the free wall space is off to the side of the primary work areas on my counters and my island. So if I needed, say, to look at the screen for the next steps in a recipe or watch a video about how to roll out the wafer-thin crust of a perfect Star Tavern-style bar pie pizza, I’d have to keep turning toward the screen and away from my work. Watching the video on a laptop or a tablet that can be whisked away later would be more convenient.

Also, the Echo Show 15 weighs 4 pounds, 4 ounces, heavy for a piece of wall art, so you’ll need to use a sturdy drywall anchor to hang it. But before you do that, you need to decide if you want to use this smart speaker in portrait mode or landscape mode. If you’re going to be watching a lot of videos, landscape mode seems like the way to go. If you want to use the Echo Show 15 like a giant smartphone with more space for those app-like widgets and other lists, portrait mode makes more sense.

Unfortunately, this is a decision you have to make before you get out the cordless drill, because the Echo Show 15’s mount doesn’t allow you to switch between orientations. A dual-position mount that allows you to choose between portrait and landscape (the device itself switches automatically like a smartphone) would solve that dilemma, but it’s not available at this point.

Should You Buy an Amazon Echo Show 15?

When I first heard about the Amazon Echo Show 15, I was intrigued by its potential. Earlier midsized smart screens like the second-generation Show were useful. Still it was hard to shake the idea that many of the functions could be easily replicated by a laptop, a tablet, or even a smartphone that doesn’t require a dedicated space better suited to an air fryer. 

The Echo Show 15 promised a screen with plenty of real estate backed up by the functionality of a legitimate family hub—all without taking up any counter space. In the end, though, it didn’t live up to my hopes.

The interface is inflexible. The sound is lackluster. And in our two trials, the large touch screen proved to be balky to a degree you don’t find in even a budget smartphone or tablet.

And with a price of $250, the Echo Show 15 is expensive for a smart screen; for the same money, you could buy a Chromebook or even a small TV. And despite that premium price, the Echo Show 15 falls short of the smaller Show 10 and much-less-expensive Show 8 in our smart speaker ratings.

While the notion of a large, wall-mounted smart home center in your kitchen remains enticing, the reality, at least in the form of the Echo Show 15, is unimpressive. Even if you can find a spot to permanently install it on your wall. 

Allen St. John

I believe that technology has the power to change our lives—for better or for worse. That's why I’ve spent my life reporting and writing about it for outlets of all sorts, from newspapers (such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times) to magazines (Popular Mechanics and Rolling Stone) and even my own books ("Newton’s Football" and "Clapton’s Guitar"). For me, there's no better way to spend a day than talking to a bunch of experts about an important subject and then writing a story that'll help others be smarter and better informed.