Amazon has launched a new software feature for their Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 tablets called Show Mode that essentially turns the tablets into an Amazon Echo Show. This new mode works best in conjunction with the new Show Mode Dock that Amazon simultaneously announced, but the dock is not required. All the same hands-free Alexa features are available whether you have the dock or not. Here’s an overview of everything Show Mode on a Fire tablet has to offer and how it compares to the capabilities of the Echo Show.
Amazon’s tablets have had Alexa capabilities ever since the voice assistant arrived on tablets in late 2016. There has always been a minor visual component to Alexa on tablets, called Alexa Cards, but this new Show Mode takes it to another level by completely swapping out the main interface with one that can be entirely controlled with your voice. The new voice-friendly interface, called Show Mode, can be toggled on and off through a switch in the tablet’s notification pane. You can also toggle it with your voice by saying “Alexa, launch/exit Show Mode.”
Show Mode is only available on the Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 tablets. The only real difference between the two tablets, as far as Show Mode is concerned, is that the Fire HD 8 needs to be plugged into power for hands-free Alexa to work while the screen is off, whereas the Fire HD 10 accepts hands-free commands at all times. Amazon’s least expensive tablet, the Fire 7, does not have Show Mode. As mentioned, Amazon also sells a Show Mode Dock to compliment the feature. I’ll be giving the dock a full review in a separate post, but its main purpose is to automatically switch between Show Mode and regular tablet mode, while also providing a convenient stand with wireless charging.
At $109.99 for the Fire HD 8 with Show Mode Dock or $189.99 for the Fire HD 10 with Show Mode Dock, you’re getting a whole lot more bang for your buck going that route than with if you were to buy an Echo Show at $229.99. However, there are several differences and downsides to Show Mode when compared to the Echo Show that you need to take into consideration when deciding between the two.
First of all, the Show Mode interface is, for the most part, identical to the Echo Show interface. The two don’t just kind of resemble each other. They are exactly the same. Since both devices run variants of Android under the hood, the Echo Show and Show Mode on a tablet probably share the same code base. If I don’t go over some specific Alexa feature in this article, it’s safe to assume it’s because the feature is identical on both types of devices.
A big selling point of the Echo Show is its video calling capabilities. Show Mode on a tablet shares almost all ofthe same calling features as the Echo Show. When someone calls you, whether it’s through video or audio only, a tablet in Show Mode rings along with all your other Echo devices. You can accept the call on the tablet and its front-facing camera can be used for two-way video calls. You can also initiate a call from a tablet in Show Mode to another Echo Device you own or to a person on your Alexa contact list.
The key difference between a tablet in Show Mode and the Echo Show is that you cannot drop-in on the tablet. Drop-in is the feature that allows you to automatically start a call without the receiving party needing to answer it. If, for example, you have an Echo Show in one room and a tablet in Show Mode in another room, you cannot tell the Echo Show to drop in on the tablet. You can, however, tell the tablet to drop-in on the Echo Show or have the Echo Show call the tablet, but the tablet needs to manually answer the call. All other Alexa calling and messaging capabilities work with Show Mode, but keep in mind that a tablet in Show Mode cannot be on the receiving end of a drop-in call.
I must mention that the video framerate being broadcast by my Fire HD 10 during an Alexa call was horrible. While everything was buttery smooth to the person using the tablet in Show Mode, the video feed coming from the tablet that the other part was seeing was unwatchable. A static image or no video at all would have been better. Audio was perfect during all calls, but the tablet simply could not output a smooth video feed during a call.
I tried this between a tablet and an Echo Show, a tablet and an Echo Spot, and a tablet and the Alexa app. In all cases, the video coming from the tablet was very bad. I’m hoping this is a bug that will be fixed and not just a limitation of the Fire HD 10 tablet. These calls were made over the same network. Calls between the Echo Show and Echo Spot were perfect, as were calls between the Echo devices and the Alexa app, so it doesn’t seem like it was an issue with the connection.
Another capability available on the Echo Show that is not available on a tablet in Show Mode is Alexa Announcements. A tablet in Show Mode cannot receive an Alexa announcement. If you make an announcement from any Alexa device, the tablet in Show Mode will sit silently while the announcement plays out of your other Alexa devices. An announcement can be initiated from a tablet in Show Mode to other Alexa devices, but the tablet cannot receive one.
Music is among the most common uses of an Alexa device and Show Mode on a tablet is almost identical in that regard to the Echo Show and other Alexa devices. The one difference is that a tablet in Show Mode cannot be placed into a group with other Alexa devices for multi-room audio. Tablets running Show Mode can only play music locally on themselves.
The speakers on the Fire HD 10, and I assume the Fire HD 8 as well, are pretty bad for music. I’d go as far as to say that the speaker in the Amazon Echo Dot sounds slightly better. You can pair a Fire tablet to Bluetooth speakers or connect it to wired speakers and still use Show Mode, but if playing music is a something you’ll be doing often, you might be better off with an Echo Show instead.
Another downside of a tablet in Show Mode is that you cannot ask to switch to a different profile in your household, like you can with all Echo devices, including the Echo Show. Switching profiles allows multiple people in the same house to easily access their own content, like music playlists or 3rd-party accounts, like a Pandora account. Alexa being used on a tablet in Show Mode is locked to the account that is logged into the regular tablet interface.
All other Alexa capabilities not mentioned above are pretty much identical on a tablet in Show Mode as they are on an Echo Show. Things like flash briefings, local searches, movie times, traffic requests, alarms, timers, reminders, shopping/To-Do lists, podcasts, audiobooks, Kindle books, weather requests, security camera viewing, watching movies or shows from Amazon video, smart home control, and the thousands of Alexa skills all work identically through Show Mode on a tablet as they do through an Echo Show.