This is the Amazon Echo. It’s a rather unusual device and surprisingly one of the first of its kind. It’s a speaker with a rather intelligent voice assistant formerly named Alexa. She’s always on, she’s always connected, and she’s always ready to give you information and carry out tasks.
From a hardware standpoint, the Amazon Echo consists of this black cylinder. It’s made of plastic but the build quality is pretty darn good. The bottom portion has holes for the speaker while the top half is just a matted smooth plastic. On the very bottom of the device, we have a port to power the Echo. And then up top, we have a mute button, there’s an action button and there’s a light ring that goes around the top and a 7-microphone array. Inside and out of view, we have a reflex port, a 2.5-inch woofer, and a 2-inch tweeter to give you those crispy high notes and that deep, smooth bass.
In terms of sound quality, I found that the Amazon Echo actually delivers a very solid sound quality. It’s very rich, it’s certainly not tinny and with the 360-degree speaker, you can actually fill up a room quite nicely. With that said, the Echo doesn’t have the absolute best sound quality but for the price, it’s really not too bad at all. I actually really enjoyed listening to smooth jazz through the Echo.
But the Amazon Echo is much more than a speaker. It includes a powerful voice assistant, kind of like Google Now but from Amazon and with less search results; if that makes sense. The voice assistant is named Alexa, like I mentioned earlier, and you can ask her all sorts of questions. You can tell her to play music from Prime Music or you can tell her to play music from Pandora. You can even ask for sports scores, traffic updates, and you can ask her to control certain WiMo and Philips new devices with your voice.
In addition to that, she’s a personality similar to Siri and Cortana and can give you personal replies more so than Google Now. She’s not terribly talkative. She works in conjunction with the Amazon Echo app, which is compatible with iOS, Android, and Fire OS devices. From the app, you can control all aspects of the device, you can view To-Do Lists and Shopping Lists, Timers, Alarms, you can control music playback through Prime, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn. You can even enable voice purchasing and one-click payment methods, which is kind of cool but it also makes me a little bit nervous with this especially with other people using this device so I disabled it.
I will note that a lot of the things in the app and in the settings can be accessed and changed using your voice. You can also customize the news sources for Echo. And I found that the news and flash briefing to actually be very useful as it plays the audio for the news sources you selected and it doesn’t just read out the news in a robotic voice.
In addition to the app, you have this remote, which can control the Echo and is pretty straightforward. The coolest thing about this remote is that it has a microphone built-in to it so you can make voice commands directly from the remote so if you’re too far away from the Echo, you can just use the remote.
But the Amazon Echo is designed to be placed in the middle of your room so that it will be conveniently able to give you information. And that’s exactly how I used it throughout the past couple of weeks. I used the Echo to answer all sorts of questions I had and I needed an answer to. And for the most part, it was able to deliver the information I needed.
I used Echo to impress my house guests who were truly impressed with how advanced it is or how advanced Alexa is. Everybody was super impressed with her and rightly so. She was able to pick up my commands 95% of the time when I was using her and at pretty far distances, if I may add. I will note that my house and my living room area is very open and it’s connected to my kitchen. So if you guys have a very similar setup or a lot of open space, then Echo is going to work better for you.
This is a first generation device and like many things in life, if you expect too much or have too high standards, you're probably not going to like the Echo. First of all, she’s not necessary and she’s not perfect. I actually found myself wishing she could control my TV. I also wished she relied on non-Amazon web services like Google to further improve her sources of information because a lot of seemingly simple information-based questions, she just couldn’t answer; which could be really frustrating.
With that said, the Echo costs $200 but you can get her even cheaper for $150 if you have a Prime membership. I was even lucky enough to score her for $100, when she was first available to pre-order. And for that price, I think she is worth it. For a current price of $150-$200, I think she’s a tiny bit overpriced as she could still be greatly improved upon in terms of her voice functionality. Some quality is surprisingly good. For a Bluetooth speaker this caliber, you’re going to probably pay a similar price without all the bells and whistles that Echo features so I think you probably could justify the price from that aspect. Keep in mind that there’s no auxiliary port so you’ll have to rely on Prime music and the compatible apps or you can stream music via Bluetooth from your smartphone or your tablet.
Alexa is just the icing on the cake. So this futuristic Bluetooth speaker since she is based on the Cloud, her functionality will continue to improve. While the Echo, once again, is far from necessary and isn’t perfect, I have actively enjoyed using the Echo. And while I think she’s not quite ready for primetime, she’s still pretty darn impressive and if you’re on the fence about purchasing the Echo, either take advantage of the Prime discount or wait a little bit longer until she becomes more compatible with more apps and services that you’d actually use and enjoy. For example, in the past few months, she received an update with Pandora support, traffic updates, and the ability to control some of your Smart appliances so her functionality is always expanding.