There I am, minding my own business, when a friend’s face suddenly fills the screen of the new device I’m checking out. I’m getting a call. Not on a phone, but on Amazon’s Echo Spot. Alexa... answer...

The Spot gives the trusty old alarm clock a whole new lease of life. It looks undeniably cute, a ball of a gadget with a big, bright screen for a face. Amazon has a bunch of clock faces to play with and you can bring in your own photos as a background, though with a bit of work in the Alexa app.

You can schedule a night mode to turn off the screen and wake the Spot by talking to it and even use it as a night light — or turn off with a voice command.

Here, not there

If you ask Alexa ‘Are you there?’ she promptly says she’s not there but here. Joke. But Alexa does live in the Spot and has a go at answering all your questions, sometimes correctly and sometimes frustratingly; such as when I asked her what a black cat was and she said it was usually something dark brown. The Spot has the same ‘Skills’ as the other Echo speakers and all you need to do is get into the app and enable the ones you want. A huge number are India-specific, so that covers just about everything we Indians like, from cricket to Bollywood, horoscopes to the Gayatri mantra, Tarla Dalal recipes to Santa-Banta jokes.

I did find however that I had to repeat the wake word too often because Alexa didn’t hear me. She has four mics and can often hear you from across the room, but just as often, not.

Drop In any time

The signature feature on the Spot and one that many will just love despite slight wariness, is the Drop In. The Spot has a camera, which remains off by default but wakes up if someone with another Spot (or the Alexa app) decides to call you on audio or video. You can instantly see each other. You can turn off the feature whenever you’re not open to being disturbed. You can also turn off the camera mid-call or press the mute button on the top of the device.

Video calls are nice and clear and don’t have any delay or sluggishness attached to them. I can see how parents and grandparents will love talking to their children or how friends would chat for hours on this device. If you have a big house, you can put in more than one Spot and Drop In on the kids in their room or the kitchen and so on.

Messages are also sent by mere voice command and will ping on the phone via the app and on all the Echo devices. This is all so much fun that one forgets one could just pick up Whatsapp and do all the messaging, video or audio calling one wants.

All you have to do is ask the smart assistant for a song and it plays — picked up from Amazon Prime, TuneIn Radio or Saavn. It isn’t always an ideal experience. For example, asking for different versions of a song is difficult as you have to be specific. Playing a genre from TuneIn doesn’t work — you have to know the name of a station. But for the most part, the experience is nice, especially if you set up the device with other speakers all over the house.

The Spot can let you watch movies from Prime but this isn’t the ideal place to watch an entire film. The movie plays in one strip leaving most of the screen empty. You can zoom in, but then the scene and people get cut out of the picture. Unfortunately, YouTube isn’t supported because Google doesn’t make it available.

Smarten up

The Echo Spot doesn’t have the connectivity bridge or hub that the Echo Plus does. If you want to use Philips smart lights, you will need to get the hub, and it isn’t all that cheap. But the good news is that there are lights and other products that don’t call for that hub. Xiaomi’s Yee Lights, which you can buy online from various stores, don’t need a hub. There’s a list of other smart home products you could use with all the Echo speakers, such as home cameras.

The Echoes offer what may be one of the fastest shopping experiences ever. And the Spot is able to show you what you’re buying.

Hands-free shopping

First, load up your Amazon Pay balance. Then, give permission to voice-shop on the Alexa app. You’ll be asked to set a code for safety. When you suddenly remember something you want to buy, call up Alexa to add it to your list or just buy it outright. Many don’t see the point of a screen slapped on to a voice-first device. They have a point. But the Spot’s little screen isn’t meant to be made a meal of. It’s just for quick snacks of content such as checking out something or glancing at information quickly. The video calls feature is going to appeal to many. Compared with the more multi-person or family friendly format of the Echo Plus, the Spot is more personal. The only problem with it is that it’s more expensive than it ideally should be.

Price: ₹12,999, ₹10,499 (introductory)

Pros: Very attractive device, enjoyable to use, display adds to voice well and easily, clear video and audio calling, convenient  multifunctions

Cons: Often needs repetition of wake word, needs more detailed shopping commands, a little expensive, excludes the smart home bridge