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Using Amazon's Alexa Echo Show and Alternatives for Senior Video Calling - October 2022

Using Amazon's Alexa Echo Show and Alternatives for Senior Video Calling - October 2022

There’s no debate that the Amazon Alexa Echo line of products have become incredibly popular among mainstream audiences, likely being the most pervasive digital assistant in the home.  The Echo Show version of these virtual assistants includes a screen that can be used for video calls and communication, among many other things.  However, the question that this article attempts to answer is whether or not the popular Echo Show product line is the best option for senior video calling and video calling for older adults.  

This article will also compare how the Alexa Echo Show video calling functionality compares to the ONSCREEN video calling experience for seniors, and we will try to help you, the reader who’s likely shopping for a solution for their aging parents, determine which video calling experience is best for your needs.

Alexa Echo Show: Feature Rich and Powerful

The first thing to note about the Echo Show is that it has many capabilities.  These capabilities allow its owner to do things like check the weather, set a timer, get news, automate the lights and A/C of a home, and even hear jokes told by Alexa, the virtual assistant built into the Echo Show.  Using voice commands, the owner can say things like “Alexa, what’s the weather?” Or “Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes.“  However, studies have shown that while it’s easy to get started with these kinds of commands, some seniors have struggled with the rigid sentence structure that Alexa requires.  Making sure that the wake word “hey Alexa” is always spoken clearly and at the beginning of the command is something that older adults often forget to do, and can end up being frustrated by this.

For video calling there are a couple of options to be considered: inbound calls using something like Drop In calls, or the senior can call out with an Alexa voice command like “Hey Alexa, call Cathy.”  


Using Drop-In for Video Calls on the Echo Show

When setting up the Echo Show, the device owner would likely set up the device for their older parents.  When you’re the owner of a device, or part of a family/household group defined in the Alexa App, you’re able to Drop In on that device, basically calling any time you would like.  To make a Drop In call, the caller uses the Amazon Alexa mobile app, or another Echo Show device, and the call is connected automatically after a few seconds.  There is a short chime sound made as the call comes in and is connected.  Then the camera on the Echo Show should come on, allowing the caller to see into the room, and the senior that may be there can see the caller.  This is a nice and convenient feature to be able to check in on an elderly senior, but there are a few things that we’d like to point out that ONSCREEN does differently.


ONSCREEN’s Auto-Answer Feature

While in some ways similar to Alexa’s Drop-In feature, ONSCREEN automatically answers an incoming call on the senior’s big screen TV, providing a much bigger and essentially life-sized experience.  However, one important difference for ONSCREEN is the ability to set an answering schedule, on behalf of the senior.  This means that the senior has more privacy and would know when to expect others that might “drop-in”, instead of potentially worrying that someone can just show up on their screen at any time.  Typically, a senior might want to have this feature enabled only some days of the week, during certain time windows — for example, Fri-Sun, 4pm-7pm. ONSCREEN allows this kind of schedule to be set up, being considerate of the senior’s privacy and independence.

When the call is coming in, ONSCREEN provides a 30 second countdown timer on the TV, with a ringing chime.  We think this is the right amount of time to allow a senior to prepare for the incoming call, getting comfortable on the couch and ensuring that the senior is actually in front of the video calling device for the call.

Here's a video of how it works:


Calling Out to Others using Echo Show

As mentioned earlier, using Alexa to make calls can be either straight forward, or quite challenging, depending on the senior’s ability to formulate the request in the format that Alexa can understand.  There will also need to be a contact list set up on the device, where the people the senior is trying to call are added.  So simply saying “Alexa, call John” requires some setup ahead of time, using the Alexa Mobile App and some testing in advance to ensure it all works well.


Calling Out to Others using ONSCREEN

ONSCREEN has decided to not provide voice commands at this time, due to some of the challenges that have been shown for seniors using digital voice assistants.  Instead, to call out, the senior would need to use a smartphone or a tablet, and the ONSCREEN app.  We’ve designed a special mode called “Easy Mode” where large buttons and text identify the people that are available to be called.  Simply opening the app and tapping on someone’s name will initiate the video call on the TV.  We believe this is easier for seniors that are comfortable with their smartphones and tablets, and can be ultimately simpler than voice commands.  However, in many cases we’ve also found that our customers prefer to use the auto-answer feature where they call their parents on a regular schedule, like Saturdays at 4pm, and then have a nice visit with their parents who would be using their big screen TV, from the comfort of their couch.


Screen Size Considerations for Senior Video Calling

Various studies have also shown that seniors always prefer a bigger screen over a smaller one, due to declining eyesight.  The Echo Show comes in several screen sizes, from 5.5 inches ($84.99 list), 8 inches ($129.99 list), 10 inches ($249.99 list), and all the way to 15.6 inches ($249.99 list).  The smaller models with their 5.5 inch screens tend to sit in a corner of the kitchen or tucked away somewhere, as they often can’t be placed as a center piece due to their small size.  The larger models have the option to be hung up on a wall and serve as a wall board, showing reminders and other information when not actively being used for a call.  Choosing the right sized Echo Show screen is a matter of preference, countertop space, and practicality.  You can consult if your aging parent what they might prefer, but if they are really keen on seeing the grandkids in the best possible way, they might prefer using the largest screen in the house.

In this case, ONSCREEN’s TV based video calling solution for seniors might be the best option, as it takes advantage of the screen that seniors are most familiar with — their TV.  There’s also no need to find a place to put it — the TV is already the centerpiece of most living rooms, with the room arrange to provide a clear view of the on-screen action.  So if your parents are looking for the biggest screen option, you will want to consider ONSCREEN.


Privacy Concerns with Echo Show and Amazon

While Amazon has not had the big privacy scandals and data breaches as some of the other big tech firms, this author has often heard the question from friends and family “Is Alexa spying on me?”  I’ve have friends swear that they talk about Italian food for dinner, and minutes later Alexa shows them a recipe for lasagna.  Whether or not there is a direct collation there, or just a big coincidence, it’s left my friends leery of Alexa and constantly wondering if Amazon is trying to figure out what next product they should try to sell you.

Alternatively, ONSCREEN has been built with the privacy and security of our customers in mind, with the goal of providing a highly secure and private experience for all involved.  Our webcam includes a privacy shutter that can easily be closed, while the Echo Show does not.  We also don’t collect data about our customers for any means other than to help provide the best video calling and communication experience for their family.  And our device’s microphones are not actively listening for a wake word, with no risk of private information leaking to some servers “in the cloud.”


Cost Comparison

At the time of this writing, Echo Show ranges in retail price from $84.99 to $249.99, with opportunities for big savings on special shopping holidays like Prime Day and Black Friday / Cyber Monday.  The best place to buy them is obviously Amazon.com, ideally with your Prime account for free shipping.

ONSCREEN however is a full service that is constantly evolving and providing more capabilities to help seniors and the entire family.  We don’t sell our hardware, but instead provide it as part of our service while a subscription is active.  Customers are able to get started for free, and try our service for 2 weeks, and after this, the subscription cost is only $14.99 per month.  Shipping our product to you is free.


In Summary

The Echo Show is a very cool piece of technology, that this technophile really enjoys, especially as part of our Amazon ecosystem of other products.  However, when it comes to providing the best video calling experience for seniors, other solutions such as the ONSCREEN Spark have been built specifically with seniors in mind, and offer a simpler, more streamlined experience.  Here’s the key points we thing you should consider:

  • Ease of Use and Simplicity
  • Screen Size
  • Security and Privacy Concerns
  • Free Trial and Pricing Model

We encourage you to make up your own mind about what’s the best product for your family by trying our 30 day trial and seeing how your family enjoys video calls on the big screen.

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