Even though I had originally decided not to pick up an Echo Show 15, it fell to its lowest price ever on Black Friday and I just couldn’t help myself. Not only is it one of the best smart displays overall, it’s also the only one you can easily mount on the wall without any additional hardware. In fact, being able to mount it on the wall is what finally pushed me over the edge.
When I first moved into my house, there was an alarm control panel mounted in the exact same spot where my Echo Show 15 now resides. I considered reactivating the security system since it was already there, but the high monthly cost and the fact that I would need all-new equipment held me back, so I installed some of the best home security cameras instead.
The deactivated alarm control panel remained on the wall in my kitchen until one day, it started beeping for no reason. I tried unplugging it and that worked for a while but eventually, the beeping returned. Fed up and frustrated after it woke me up early on a Saturday morning, I ripped it off the wall and finally got rid of it. Although I patched the holes and cleaned things up as best I could, it was obvious that there used to be something there.
Sometime between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I was walking through my kitchen and it hit me. The Echo Show 15 was the perfect size – or at least close enough – to cover the spot on my wall where my alarm control panel used to be.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been digging deep into the menus and options available on the Echo Show 15 in an attempt to make it my own. Despite its larger 15.6-inch screen and unique user interface, it just isn’t nearly as customizable as I had hoped — even though it just hit its one year anniversary.
Where are the widgets?
At the time of writing, there are only 31 widgets available for the Echo Show 15. This is certainly more than the 14 widgets that were available at launch. However, Amazon has now had a year to develop more first-party widgets and approve new ones made by third-party developers.
Of these 31 widgets, 21 of them are first-party and were developed by Amazon and the remaining 10 were created by just five other developers including Sleep Jar, Philosophical Creations, Cookpad, Shazam Design LLC and surprisingly, Comedy Central. Seeing Trevor Noah prominently featured among the Echo Show 15’s widgets does seem kind of strange, especially since he actually left The Daily Show earlier this week.
I understand that Amazon doesn’t want its competitors building widgets for the Echo Show 15 but there are plenty of third-party developers that could add useful new features to its flagship smart display. Alternatively, the company could also devise a way for customers to make their own widgets either in a browser or on one of the best Amazon Fire tablets.
While the original iPhone won everyone over with its design and functionality, the launch of the App Store a year later gave the device real staying power. Amazon could follow suit by creating its own widget store for the Echo Show 15 or at least expanding the existing Widget Gallery. It doesn’t need to be as comprehensive as the Amazon Appstore but more widget choices would likely be a welcome addition by Echo Show 15 users.
Although too many widgets might slow down the device, it does ship with 3GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. Another possibility is that Amazon was so busy working on the Fire TV update for the Echo Show 15 that it wasn’t prioritizing widgets.
A limited layout
In landscape mode on the Echo Show 15, widgets take up about 40% of the screen while the remaining 60 percent is dedicated to the device’s Display Cards. By switching to portrait mode though, these percentages are reversed and you have a lot more space for widgets.
There are still some limitations and you can only have one large widget and three smaller widgets on display at the same time. You can add more but you have to scroll up to access them ,which isn’t that helpful if you’re mainly using the Echo Show 15 to have glanceable information at the ready.
Even though the Display Cards are a mainstay of both the Echo Show 5 and Echo Show 8, the widgets were one of the selling points of the Echo Show 15 – at least until its Fire TV functionality was announced. An all-widget mode would be a nice way to help this larger smart display stand out or Amazon could even make the device’s Display Cards into their own widget so that users could choose to remove them if they want.
Silk browser almost saved the day
Since I was a bit disappointed by the number of widgets and not having full control over resizing them, I turned to Amazon’s Silk browser as a means of customizing my Echo Show 15 further.
If you didn’t know, the Silk browser is available on every model of Echo Show and Fire TV Stick and you just need to ask Alexa to “open Silk” to use it. Silk is a Chromium-based browser that works just like any other web browser and with it, you can add bookmarks, search the web and more.
For this reason, I figured I could use it to bring up the digital dashboard I set up earlier this year using DakBoard to have more information – like the Tom’s Guide RSS feed – available at a glance on the Echo Show 15’s display. Since DakBoard works in any browser, I knew I could plug my custom URL into Silk and have my personalized dashboard show up on the Echo Show 15.
Unfortunately, Silk times out and returns to the home screen after 45 seconds and there currently isn’t a way to have the browser run in full screen on the Echo Show 15. I considered trying Firefox instead but Mozilla ended support for Echo Show devices in April of last year.
Amazon Echo Show 15 bottom line
Even though the Echo Show 15 can’t be customized to my heart’s content, it’s still a great device and I don’t regret purchasing it. Not only did it help cover up where the alarm control panel used to be on my kitchen wall, it has proven to be quite useful. I can check the weather quickly before heading out and I’m also able to see how much traffic there is on my commute.
Still, I wish Amazon would do more with its widgets since they were the Echo Show 15’s main differentiator before the Fire TV update rolled out. Hopefully it arrives on my device soon as I’m eager to see what it’s like controlling a smart display with a remote — something I never thought I’d be able to do.