What You Need To Know About Amazon Echo

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Amazon’s not-quite-new hybrid wireless device has been made available to the market at large. The Echo, a speaker/home assistant/voice-activated automation hub device, was initially only available to Amazon prime members for a “beta test” discount of $99. Starting July 14th, Amazon Echo is available to all for the much less pithy price of $179.99. But is this device worth the dive? Here are the features of Amazon Echo that you need to know about to determine whether it is a “must have” or a “can miss”.

Meet Alexa

Alexa is Amazon’s Siri equivalent.  A female voice (unable to be changed at this present time), she is your key to Echo’s voice-activated features.  Her voice is described as less robotic than Siri’s and unassumingly pleasant.  Alexa begins to listen when she hears her name (and a volume ring located on top of the 9.25″ canister speaker will light up to indicate this).  Alexa seems to be fairly good at listening and most users report no problems with her understanding their commands.  The only hitch is that the commands cannot always be worded in a grammatically correct way; for instance asking Alexa to look up information on Wikipedia means saying: “Alexa, Wikipedia: Computer” instead of saying “Alexa, what is a computer?”  Still, Alexa has proven to be getting better over the period of her beta test; and since Amazon has opened Echo to third-party developers she should be getting much smarter much faster.

Echo’s Current Features

While Alexa learns new tricks every day, her current roster is rather impressive.  She plays music, and can be asked to run the basic gamut of abilities that a music player will need.  Voice commands like “repeat,” “stop”and “play” are standard for her repertoire.  She integrates completely with Amazon Prime Music, Pandora, Audible, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio, and has some limited integration with Spotify and iTunes.

She can tell you your schedule via Google calendar plugin, but she can’t yet add appointments.  She can also add items to a proprietary to-do list, but does not yet know how to remove items from this list.

She can tell you the weather or the traffic expected for your commute once you acquaint her with the places you most frequently visit via Amazon’s Echo app.

When paired with Philips Hue or Belkin WeMo devices, she can control compatible devices within your home.  She isn’t yet compatible with all Hue or WeMo products, so ensure that you look into each separately before assuming she knows how to deal with them.

The Drawbacks

While the Echo is definitely sized for portability, it does not have its own portable battery and must be plugged in when powered on.  Because of this, the device generally remains stationary which could limit its functionality.

Limited interaction with Spotify and iTunes mean that users who prefer these music systems can only use their most basic functionality and will not have access to things like artist look-up when using them.

As a speaker, the Echo falls short of the mark.  Bass tones are nearly impossible to hear on the device without distortion.  While music without heavy bass tends to be perfectly fine, the device doesn’t compare to other speakers in its price range purely based on sound quality.

Summing it Up

Despite a few drawbacks, we’re excited to see where Alexa goes in the next year or so.  Look for some really astounding features; if not directly from Amazon, then from third-party resources who know how to make home automation work for them.

Danielle R