In Review: The Amazon Echo ★★★★☆
Never since the advertisements for the game Crossfire have I ever been so captivated by a commercial to the point where I became so obsessive and pining. Right on time for Christmas, the Amazon Echo ad continued to stream right alongside all the shows and videos I watched online until I decided (it decided) I needed it. Gauging my husbands response with my excitement for it, I could sense that I might have been a little too mystified with it. But to my surprise, I received it for my birthday four months later and we both couldn't have been more pleased with our family's newest addition. After a few month of having it in the house and implementing it into our home and routine to the best of our abilities, I think I've got a fair impression of the Amazon Echo at this point.
The Amazon Echo features a smooth, natural, and life-like voice that responds to yours when given the wake word. The device answers to Echo, Amazon, and Alexa. We prefer Alexa because it makes her seem more personable. There’s almost a 1,000 skills the echo can learn through the smartphone Alexa app- which is needed in order to connect devices, set her up initially, and manage your libraries and lists. It can provide the weather, news briefings, and can even set an alarm or timer. You can also control your music and audio book listening by voice.
Alexa was released initially on November 6, 2014, but had a wide release date of June 23, 2015. She goes for about $180.00 on Amazon.com and has some availability in stores like Best Buy. She comes with everything she needs in the box and is super easy to set up. Something to keep in mind- The Amazon Echo is much more catered to US users than anywhere else, so some additional set up may be necessary to get the most out of all of the available features. The Amazon Echo does have a few skins available online. They may not be be actually manufactured by the makers of the device, but have been getting great reviews so far. Just look up a few on Amazon.com.
The speakers have very good quality and volume and are multi directional so she can be placed just about anywhere and you’ll hear her just fine. She listens in 360 degrees and can pick up your voice from rather far away. They could, however, sound a bit more dynamic for some music types.
If you're already in the area, you can adjust her volume manually by simply gently twisting the top of the device clockwise or counterclockwise depending on how loud you need it. You can also give her a voice command of, "volume 3" if she's just too doggone loud.
Unfortunately she doesn’t run on batteries and the cord that supplies her power is relatively short so she’ll likely be tethered along a wall somewhere and at the mercy of a power socket. But If you find you’re too far away for her to hear you from time to time, a separate remote with volume, skip and a built in microphone can be used. It's not included and is an additional cost.
The Echo also needs constant connectivity to either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi in order to dig up information since it works from a cloud, which is why 4GB is plenty of storage. Also, due to the constant connectivity no software or firmware updates are necessary to get the latest version of the Echo. She usually retrieves information from wiki and Bing and can produce answers almost immediately.
For you paranoid conspiratorial folks, be aware that she’s constantly listening for her wake word, which means she’s always eavesdropping. You can mute her by simply pressing the button on top, and un-muting her when you'd like her to resume her normal function. You can always remove any voice recordings she may have saved by logging into your Amazon account. Do keep in mind that the questions and information she’s storing is helping her understand the world around her and provide you with more efficient and accurate information.
Along with The Amazon Echo’s capacity to provide fast facts, she’s also hilarious and insightful. I won't spoil anything, but after a few hours of playing with her and asking her silly questions - specifically about her - you'll find that she's already mastered the art of sarcasm. Alexa hasn’t been perfected yet though. She’s still unable to answer or address seemingly simple questions and commands. But it’s still a work in progress. There’s a training activity you can do with your Amazon Echo to better help her understand the way you speak.
Additionally, if you’ve got more than one Amazon account holder in your household, you can all have a profile set up on the device if it suits your needs. And if you don’t live in an ancient castle of an apartment like I do, you may even have the opportunity to implement Nest, Wi-Fi lighting and smart devices in your home with your Echo device! We use Philips hues bulbs in our regular light fixtures, just connect the router to the bridge, the bridge to your echo device, and voila! Quick and painless.
Pro Tip: Do your research on anything you’d like to connect to Alexa first to make sure it’s currently compatible with the device before wasting an entire Saturday being angry at harmless technology, as well as innocent by-standers.
One of my favorite features of the Amazon Echo is being able to share lists with your household within the app making grocery shopping and errand running a lot more efficient. As long as you’re able to access the app on your phone, you and your connected household can make changes to your shopping and to-do lists where ever you are.
The Amazon Echo is also very family friendly. There are hundreds of skills that are great for families and it will always sensor itself if it comes across an obscenity. Try it... just once...
Since the device and app are ever changing, it’s hard to really critique it as it is now. Based on what the Amazon Echo may be capable of in the future, and what it’s capable of now, I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars based on the physical limitations of the device, both speaker and placement wise.
Although these both can be remedied by purchasing the Amazon Dot or Tap, or connecting it to a Bluetooth enabled third party speaker, it’s an additional cost and effort to get it to where it probably should already be.
Beyond that, The Amazon Echo is a triumph and has not only paved the way, but set the standard for what a voice controlled personal assistant unit should and can be. The Amazon Echo truly is a great hands-free experience that just might change the way you live. This device may also be the ultimate party-er due to all of it's capabilities and it's interactive nature. After a while you may wonder what you ever did without it. I’ve made up my mind, and I’m keeping my baby.
Alexa, you’re awesome.