Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Amazon’s Box With Screen Gets Reviewed

It looks like the embargo lifted for reviews of the Amazon Echo Show. Overall, it sounds like another competent front-end for Alexa, but see if you can spot a trend.

Alex Cranz, Gizmodo:

It even has a camera for video calling! Though it currently only works with other Alexa-enabled devices, including Echo and the Alexa app on your phone. It’s a neat concept, and can be fun to use. When I was testing the Echo Show at the office I shouted “call home” and the Echo in my apartment immediately startled my dog and my roommate, and being able to simply say “call mom” and have your mom’s face appear on screen feels like some Star Trek futurist wonder. But it also means that now Amazon isn’t just listening to everything you do, it’s also watching everything you do, and that can feel… creepy. Particularly if you keep the Echo Show in your bedroom.

Mat Honan, Buzzfeed:

It has this wild new feature called Drop In. Drop In lets you give people permission to automatically connect with your device. Here’s how it works. Let’s say my father has activated Drop In for me on his Echo Show. All I have to do is say, ‘Alexa, drop in on Dad.’ It then turns on the microphone and camera on my father’s device and starts broadcasting that to me. For the several seconds of the call, my father’s video screen would appear fogged over. But then there he’ll be. And to be clear: This happens even if he doesn’t answer. Unless he declines the call, audibly or by tapping on the screen, it goes through. It just starts. Hello, you look nice today.

Ry Crist, CNet:

That brings us right to Alexa’s new “Drop In” feature. Enable it, and you’ll be able to authorize specific contacts to peep in on your camera feed regardless of whether or not you actually pick up the call. When they do, they’ll see a blurred feed for the first 10 seconds, during which you have the option of disabling the camera or rejecting the call outright. You’ll also see a notification on screen whenever someone is actively viewing your feed. The feature pairs with a motion sensor in the Echo Show itself that — again, when authorized — lets your contacts know when it senses you nearby. Seems a bit creepy, but it also sounds like a pretty sensible way of keeping an eye on an aging relative.

Yeah, Drop In does seem really creepy. It may be disabled by default and blur the video feed for the first ten seconds, but it doesn’t do the equivalent of blurring for the audio. And wasn’t it just recently that people were putting tape over their the cameras on their computers just in case?

Matt Blaze:

And if “Drop In” control is implemented at server side, that means even if it’s configured off, it can be turned on remotely.

I’m sure there will be plenty of people fawning over this thing, and I kind of get why — if you’re in the Amazon echosystem ecosystem and you like what Alexa can do for you, this gives you all of that plus stuff that works better on a screen. But I still see it as more invasive than helpful, and it looks like one of those digital picture frames that you could pick up at Circuit City ca. 2007. I’ll pass.