I’ve long dreamed about having a proper sort of home hub. One that’s always on, always showing me the things I want to control at any given time. Not huge. Not obtrusive.
The new Amazon Echo Hub, one several new Echo devices announced at Amazon’s 2023 devices event at HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia, very much seems to fit that bill. It’s a touchscreen that you’ll use to control all your things.
If you’ve ever been in a home with a professionally installed Crestron setup, you’ll get the vibe of the Echo Hub: Sleek. Slick. Sexy. But Crestron-type systems are not inexpensive. They’re not meant for you to set up on your own. The Echo Hub is the opposite of that. You’re meant to buy it and install it and use it yourself.
And that control gets a good bit smarter — or at least easier to set up — with the new Map View feature, which uses the lidar in an iPhone 12 or newer to scan rooms and build a floor plan. That technology isn’t new — many of the best robot vacuums already do it automatically — but it’s new to Alexa, and it lets you build your smart home setup visually instead of just saying “LAMP2 goes in SPAREROOM” or whatever. Visual is inherently better.
The Echo Hub is wall-mountable, and it looks great on a demo wall. Amazon says it’s easy to install, and I’ll let you try to convince your spouse of that before you try to break into the drywall. You’ve got a number of options to power it — that’s the sort of detail that tidy press images with hidden power cords tend to ignore — so your mileage may vary as to how clean your setup looks. And if none of that sounds like something you want to deal with, you can just get a Hub and keep it on a counter with a handy stand. More on that in a second.
But once you see one clean install, you’re going to want one. More than one, really. Entryways and offices and living rooms are the prime locations, and the Hub is priced so that you could get a couple and not break the bank.
Flying through the various controls and widgets looked pretty much like what I’d expect from a sub-$200 device, particularly one that’s not actually being sold yet. For the most part, everything looked smooth, but there were occasional graphical hiccups. That’s to be expected at this point. You have to wonder how much, at this price point, Amazon will be able to keep the graphics fluid, but that’s not a problem for us to solve today.
I watched lights turned off and on and Ring cameras displayed (Ring cameras are the only ones that work with the Hub right now if you want a live snapshot), and heard the built-in speakers, which exis,t but aren’t great because it’s supposed to be attached to a wall. And it all made me wonder:
Why would I want this instead of an Echo Show 8?
That’s almost certainly going to come down to a matter of where you’re going to put the thing, and just how badly you want the Hub’s home control UI. They’re two very different products with two different purposes. Both support the Zigbee, Sidewalk, Thread, Bluetooth, and Matter smart home standards. Both have an 8-inch screen. Both make sounds.
If you’re serious about visual home control, you’ll want a Hub. If you care more about sound and more casual home control — again, this all works via APIs and so you should be able to do anything you can do with the Hub through an Echo device — you should go with the Echo Show 8.