First and foremost the Amazon Echo is a Bluetooth speaker but it also acts as a home automation hub and a voice controlled personal assistant. The Echo is a matte black cylinder measuring 9.25 inches high and 3.27 inches around and is designed to fit in just about anywhere in your home. The Echo can play your favorite playlists from Pandora or a selection from Amazon Prime Music just by being asked. Since its launch in 2014 its functions have increased and the unit has become one of Amazon’s biggest hardware hits. Though not perfect it continues to improve and most users are enjoying a happy union with Alexa.
Plug in the Echo, download and open the Amazon Alexa app and follow the prompts to get started. First thing to do is set the “Wake” word. The Echo lies dormant until it hears this word when it knows to get ready for action. A bit like a dog who seems sound asleep until he hears the word “walkies.” The primary wake up word is set as Alexa – tricky if someone else in your household has this name. Alternatively you can choose Echo or Amazon but they don’t seem quite as personal. As yet you can’t name the unit yourself but I am sure in time you will be able to. A blue light around the top of the speaker glows blue to confirm that Alexa is alert and ready for your command. You can also choose an optional “I am awake” sound – though that seems a bit unnecessary.
Each command starts with the wake word – Alexa, what time is it? Alexa, what is the weather forecast for tomorrow? Alexa, what is the meaning of life? She may have difficulty with that one but so would anyone. Alexa is learning all the time, so the more you use her, the better she becomes at interpreting what you are saying. The more information you input into the app, the more questions Alexa is able to answer. For example, once you link the Echo to your calendar, Alexa can keep track of your appointments and events. Input your address and she can give you local information about businesses or restaurants. If you enter a frequently visited address into the app, such as your office, you can ask for a traffic update as you head out the door. That’s useful although if you live near LA you may hear the same thing every day – the 405 is blocked at x. At bedtime, say Night Night and Alexa can turn off your lights and music. That’s cool.
I am not a big Siri user. I just feel a bit odd talking to my phone or my watch for that matter. Because you are talking to Alexa from a distance, and in your home rather than in public, it somehow seems more comfortable and natural. She is in the room with you rather than in your hand or on your wrist. Although the voice is not quite as sensual as Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha in the movie Her, Alexa is quite pleasant. It uses far field technology so it can hear you anywhere in the room without having to yell. I do like the fact that you can add to a shopping list while you are cooking in the kitchen – Alexa, add butter to the shopping list.
WHAT’S THE SPEAKER LIKE?
If you were shopping purely for a Bluetooth speaker, you probably wouldn’t choose the Echo. Many users find the sound quality a little uneven. The bass lacks depth and the sound distorts as you approach maximum volume though the top end is crisp. But Alexa is getting smarter all the time and her other attributes more than compensate for a few speaker deficiencies.
The Amazon Echo is practical and simple to use and syncs easily with many other smart home devices making it one of the leading products in the smart home connected market. It also has the potential to get better and better which is exciting and it really does feel like have a personal robot computer in your home.