Amazon’s latest smart home hub is touchy-feely

May 17, 2024
3 mins read
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Summary

Amazon Echo Hub

PAT PILCHER plays with Amazon’s latest smart home hub and finds that it’s a nicely intuitive interfacer with his gadget-laden environment.

$379

It used to be that smart home systems were the expensive playthings of the idle rich or the stuff of James Bond movies. Everything was controlled by ultra-expensive custom touchscreen panels. Then Amazon changed the game with Alexa.

Not only was Echo hardware packing Alexa affordable, but having voice control of your smart home felt like magic. Amazon, flush with the success of Alexa, and looking to the next big thing, dropped the Echo Show range on the market. These combined a touchscreen interface with voice control. Now with their latest, the Echo Show Hub, Amazon has come back full circle, and the touch screen is front and centre (but don’t worry, Alexa is there too).

For my home where the smart gadgets number in the hundreds, the Echo Hub proved to be a boon. Its touchscreen interface makes short work of finding the right widgets to control and its intuitive layout makes everything smart home-related an absolute breeze.

It has an 8-inch screen which sports the same size display as the Echo Show 8, but that’s about as far as the resemblance goes. The Echo Hub looks more like a smallish tablet given its 15mm deep chassis. Where the Echo Show 8 was designed to stand alone on a desk or shelf, Amazon made the bizarre decision to design the hub for wall mounting, not to bundling a stand for it. That said, there is an optional stand that can be bought separately, and wall mounting allows the hub to be located somewhere central for easy access to all your smart home gear. The other factor in figuring out where the Echo Hub can be located is access to power. To that end, it comes with a USB-C power-brick which Amazon has kitted out with a 1.8m power cable. For tidier wall mounting, the Echo Hub has a cavity on its rear with integrated cable clips, allowing you to stow excess cable. There’s no camera and in an interesting move, the volume and mic mute buttons are on its side, making them easier to reach if the Hub is wall-mounted.

Summoning Alexa with the “Alexa” command worked well even in noisy environments. This is due to the three mics on the front of the Echo Hub. Just in case, there’s also a fourth mic on the rear. On the audio front, the hub has a pair of speakers on its top. They did a fine job of providing Alexa replies, but really aren’t designed for music playback.  Under its hood, the Echo Hub packs the new smart home standard, Matter, for future-proofing, and there’s also support for Zigbee, Bluetooth and Wi-fi.

Where the Echo Hub shines, however, is its new interface. While it can display photos when in standby, it’ll activate its home screen when its proximity sensor detects a person is nearby. The home screen displays widgets for your smart home gear, and all the widgets are grouped in logical categories, making everything easy to find. The widgets are context-sensitive so lights have handy on/off, brightness and colour controls, and an entire category of lights can be turned off or on with a single tap.

Further aiding in navigating its touch-screen interface, the Echo Hub lists device types across the bottom of the screen. These are laid out as Lights, Cameras, Switches, Plugs and so on. Tap any of these and the relevant widgets are displayed. The overall design is elegant and sufficiently intuitive that I was able to get it up and going in mere minutes as there is no learning curve. Having access to a simple touchscreen interface for smart home widgets also proved to be both quicker and easier than using voice commands, as I rarely remember the names of the many devices scattered throughout my home.

One feature I particularly liked was the camera controls. For Ring cameras and doorbells, the Hub can display a thumbnail view of any motion the camera/doorbell most recently saw. This handily allows me to keep an eye on comings and goings in and around my property. If I do get visitors, I can also use the hub as an intercom with the cameras or doorbell to chat with whoever is within hearing distance.

The camera multi-view option also works with more than just Ring cameras. If you need to get a real-time feed from any camera in the multi-view widget, simply double-tap the camera and you should be good to go. It isn’t just all about driving smart home similar gear either. Customisable Widgets can be added to the home page. These can take the form of sticky notes, calendar appointments or even a panel for quick access to the various cameras around your home.

The touchscreen interface transforms the Echo Hub from a nice-to-have gadget into an insanely useful must-have. If, like me, you have a metric crap-tonne of smart home gear and are looking for an effortless way to use and manage them, the Echo Hub provides an elegant and intuitive way of doing just that.

https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B0BCR4YW51

Pat has been talking about tech on TV, radio and print for over 20 years, having served time as a TV tech guy and currently penning reviews for Witchdoctor. He loves nothing more than rolling his sleeves up and playing with shiny gadgets.

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