Is Amazon's Echo device worth your money? Read our full review to find out.
Technology: App / Software
Earlier this year, I was looking for a decent Bluetooth speaker that we could use in our kitchen. I just wanted something with decent sound quality so we could play music without using the speakers on our Nexus 5 phones.
In the early stages of my research I stumbled onto Amazon Echo which wasn't yet released. The price to pre-order one was only $99 USD for Amazon Prime members. The specs on it made it sound like a good Bluetooth speaker. But it was supposedly much more than a speaker too. Basically, it was to be Amazon's answer to Apple's Siri. A voice activated personal assistant of sorts.
All of that for $99? Why not! Of course, today an Amazon Echo will cost you $179. Is it worth $179 or even $99?
What Do You GetYour money buys you the actual Echo device itself, a power pack to power it, a small remote control, and a holder for that remote. There is also an Android or iOS app you can use as well. The app lets you set it up on your network, configure settings and accounts, and let's you train the voice recognition.
Setup is quite easy. Plug it in, install the app, and it does most of the hard work for you.
Amazon Echo or Amazon Alexa?To talk to Echo you use the word "Alexa". You can change that if you wish but Echo's name is Alexa. Why didn't they just call it Amazon Alexa? Maybe so it wouldn't be confused with alexa.com which is a website ranking company and also owned by Amazon. Clearly the name was inspired by alexa.com.
You can use the remote to talk to Alexa if you're far away but it's basically worthless. Put it in a drawer and forget about it. I saw worthless because Alexa is pretty good at hearing you, even from far away. The echo device has 7 microphones built in and can hear you from any direction. We did find that moving it a few inches away from a wall helps.
Just say something like, "Alexa, what's the weather today?" and she'll respond in her female voice and tell you.
What Can Alexa Do?Quite a bit but not a lot. She's great at answering simple questions, solving math problems, reading the weather or news, and playing music. If you're questions are complex you'll likely not get an answer.
She's a good assistant in the kitchen when you want to convert units of measure or set a timer. She's good at helping the kids with their math homework, but can also do it for them so watch out! She's great at playing music. She can even give you a traffic update.
Alexa will even tell you jokes, all of which are terrible unless you're a kid in which case they're all awesome. As with all things like Alexa and Siri, you can't help but want to dig deeper. Sure, the developers knew you'd do this and occasionally you get a funny reply but it's all novelty and ends fast.
What About Music?You can pair the Echo with your phone and play music as with any Bluetooth speaker. But you can also, without using your phone, stream a variety of music to the Echo over WiFi.
Sound quality? It's there! It's not a high end stereo system but the quality is surprisingly good even at a slightly high volume level. Go too loud and it breaks down just like any other tiny speaker. All things considered, I'd say sound quality is very good.
If you're an Amazon Prime member, and you should be, it will play all of the Prime songs. This works well, but the Prime Music options are pretty small compared to other options out there. If Prime Music ever becomes a real library of music this will be a killer feature of Echo.
The good news is that it will also work with Pandora, songs in your Amazon Music Library, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio. It all works very well.
Amazon Has Become Self AwareAlexa isn't judgement day but it's close. Why? Because Alexa can and will let you order stuff from Amazon using only your voice. That's right, tell Alexa to buy those Goji Berries (see Health Benefits Of Goji Berries) now and she'll do it. The good news is that you can turn off the buying feature in the app.
Obviously, this is only the start. Did you think Amazon put this cool device in your house without an ulterior motive? They're going to make it easier to buy stuff using Echo. This is good as it can make re-ordering from Amazon faster. It's bad because it will become so easy that you'll stop price checking.
If it ever gets hacked or we ever find out somebody is recording our conversation 24/7 it will be judgement day for sure!
Voice RecognitionThe voice recognition on Alexa is pretty good. Train her with the app and it gets better. A lot of it depends on the noise level in the room she's in. Even in a quiet room she's not always very good and at times it gets incredibly frustrating. If you want her to play a specific song it doesn't always pan out as you'd want. Do we blame that on her software or the crazy song and band names that are out there today? I said "how are the children" not "flour the children"...can you hear me now? Good!
ConclusionAmazon Echo is an amazing device. At $99 it was a no-brainer, at $179 it's still neat and works well as a Bluetooth speaker. I think it's still a good value at that price even if it's still largely a novelty item. I also think it will improve over time and it's value to me will increase.
For example, it works with IFTTT.com, some connected home devices, Google calendar, and can even now give you WNBA scores (as if anyone was asking for that). Over time this list will grow and it will do more things and become more useful.
If you're in the market for a Bluetooth speaker or a way to play music then I would suggest Amazon Echo to you. If you're not, I don't know that all the other features alone are enough to justify the price, yet.
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