Many of us would have already heard of Amazon’s latest gadget, the Amazon Echo, described as one of the most geeky and revolutionary home appliance. But what exactly is the Amazon Echo, and what can it do? In this review, we will focus on the goods and the bads of this device, what it can do and what it cannot, and share our take on whether you should get one for your home.
What is the Amazon Echo?
In a nutshell, the Amazon Echo is essentially a hands-free speaker you control with your voice. The Echo connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather, and more – instantly. It kind of feels and works like the iphone Siri, but with a few handy quirks and advantages such as app integration with Amazon Music, Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. Plus, the Echo can read out the daily news for you or fetch the traffic report, which are pretty handy features before heading out for work.
The best part about the Echo is that it is constantly evolving and being updated – so you can definitely expect more from it as time goes by. For instance, Echo’s latest integration with Uber allows you to order a ride from your home to the office without ever having to lift a finger. It’s pretty cool to note that Amazon is constantly searching for newer platforms to integrate with the Echo, and deliver more functionality at home.
As geeky as it is, the Echo doubles as some kind of mini household artificial intelligence. It can switch on house lamps before getting out of bed, turning on the fan or space heater, or diming the lights from the couch to watch a movie – all controlled with your voice. It works well with devices such as lights, switches, thermostats, and more from WeMo, Philips Hue, SmartThings, Insteon, ecobee, and Wink. To top it off, the Echo apparently has a sense of humor, with the ability to tell jokes.
“All you have to do is ask”, says Amazon.
Amazon Echo Technical Specifications (Pros & Cons below)
|Size||9.25″ x 3.27″ x 3.27″ (235 mm x 83.5 mm x 83.5 mm)|
|Weight||26.9 oz. (1045 grams)
Actual size and weight may vary by manufacturing process
|Wi-Fi Connectivity||Dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi (MIMO) for faster streaming and fewer dropped connections than standard Wi-Fi. Supports 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi networks. Does not support connecting to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) Wi-Fi networks.|
|Bluetooth Connectivity||Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) support for audio streaming from your mobile device to Amazon Echo and Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP) for voice control of connected mobile devices. Hands-free voice control is not supported for Mac OS X devices.|
|Audio||2.5 inch woofer and 2.0 inch tweeter|
|System Requirements||Amazon Echo comes ready to connect to your home Wi-Fi. The Alexa App is compatible with Fire OS, Android, and iOS devices and also accessible via your web browser.|
|Warranty and Service||1-year limited warranty and service included. Optional 1-year, 2-year, and 3-year extended warranty available for U.S. customers sold separately.|
|Included in the Box||Amazon Echo, power adapter/cable (6 ft.), and quick start guide|
The Pros – What you can do with Amazon Echo
+The Echo is essentially an intelligent bluetooth speaker, filling the room with immersive, 360 omni-directional audio. The speaker does sound great with music and gets pretty loud. That said, this is really not where the Echo really shines and you should opt for a higher grade audiophile speaker if your sole purpose is to play music indoors
+ Answers questions, reads audiobooks and the news, reports traffic and weather, gives info on local businesses, provides sports scores and schedules, all using the Alexa Voice Service
+ Ability to control lights, switches, and thermostats
+ Constantly getting smarter and adding new features and skills – over 100 have been added since launch, including ordering Domino pizzas and booking Uber services
+ Hears you from across the room with far-field voice recognition, even while music is playing
+ Allows hands-free convenience with voice control
+ Plays all your music from Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn
+ The Echo comes with the optional remote control to control the volume or speak commands. It works well from a good distance at 20-30 ft. You can get the remote control here.
+ Great tool for handicapped persons, such as making doctor appointments, telling the time, inputting schedules, making phone calls and fetching the weather report
+ Voice training feature allows the Echo to easily recognise different voices specific to each of your family members. The voice recognition system is unbelievably quick, accurate, and responsive.
+ The Bluetooth pairing is flawless – just say “Alexa pair Bluetooth”, and you’ll be connected in 30 seconds
+ The Echo finds and plays your favorite music, although you might have to set up your playlists with some extra configuration
+ Shopping list function allows you to add stuff to your shopping list on the go
+ The Echo allows you to start and stop timers and alarms. Simply say “Alexa set alarm for 7:30 am” or “Alexa set a timer for 15 minutes”. This function is particularly useful when cooking in the kitchen when you have to juggle the kids at the time same time.
+ You can pause, stop, skip and start music with your voice and it works really well. You can also control the volume with your voice
+ The Echo is very good at factual questions, such as “How heavy is one teaspoon of sugar?”, or “How much does an elephant weigh”, and it will deliver the answer in seconds. It can also do the math.
+ The Echo tells jokes, although some of them aren’t very good
+ No monthly costs or subscription costs
The Cons – What you cannot do with Amazon Echo
– Compared with Siri on the iPhone, the Echo does not have any display to show visual images (such as maps, or web search). You have to rely completely on its audio outputs.
– The Echo only speaks one language – English
– The Echo is not portable and you have to keep it plugged in at all times. It doesn’t have batteries, which means you cannot take it outside of your home. The moment you unplug it from the wall it turns off.
– The Echo can only answer factual questions – basically the stuff that you can find on the heading of a Wikipedia page or with Google answers. It cannot answer questions such as “What is a suitable substitute for chicken?” or “How can I train my dog to be smarter?”
– Might need to spend money on wall switches, bulbs, smoke detectors, cameras to automate your home with Amazon Echo
– The Echo is unable to respond to complicated commands or form an opinion; Alexa is far cry from the perfect personal assistant
– Unable to do multiple tasks at a time without repeating its name “Alexa”. You cannot have multiple instructions in a single sentence.
– The sound performance of the Echo is good but not impressive
– Audio from Amazon Echo can’t be sent to multiple Bluetooth speakers or headphones
The Amazon Echo is a handy home assistant that excels at performing basic and often mundane functions, such as fetching weather reports, preparing shopping lists, answering basic factual questions, streaming audio music or booking pizza or a cab. However, we felt that most of these tasks can already be done easily on the phone without the need for the Amazon Echo. The fact that the Echo can also turn on the lights or heaters in the house is also something of a novelty, but in truth this might come with additional costing to automate your home. Furthermore, such functions are not exactly essential except for impressing your guests, or unless there is a real conscious need for it. Also, the Echo is not a portable device and needs to be constantly plugged in with a wireless internet connection to operate.
That said, where the Echo really shines is its ability to help folks with physical disabilities operate tasks that would normally be inconvenient or difficult, such as making phone calls, booking appointments, fetching the news or weather report, or even the time. The voice recognition technology is superbly designed and highly accurate, allowing you to control the Echo solely by using your voice. The Echo software is also constantly being upgraded to work with multiple platforms – over time, we should expect that Alexa to be able to perform more complicated and challenging tasks.
Amazon has proven they are committed to the Echo by frequently pushing free updates to it so it will definitely become more useful as time goes on. You can expect more integration with app platforms (the latest with Uber) and ordering services. The latest integration with Domino pizza ordering services is a nice added touch.
Sure, the Echo might have some quirks and negatives, but at the end of the day, the Echo strives to be better – and for those who need the added functionality (or novelty) in their home, the Echo will definitely come as a handy option. At the time of writing, the Amazon Echo is selling at a very good price, so don’t forget to check it out!