Amazon Echo Review
So, what is the Amazon Echo?
Amazon’s Echo is a Wi-Fi / Bluetooth speaker with a set of inbuilt microphones that allows you to communicate with the voice-controlled digital personal assistant inside. The assistant inside of Amazon Echo is called Alexa; she was the first AI personal assistant that warranted its own dedicated device. Alexa will answer questions, listen to commands, control your smart home devices and play music via the inbuilt speakers. Alexa can integrate with third-party apps, create your shopping lists via voice control and answer questions to help solve family debates.
Amazon is constantly pushing out upgrades to Echo through third-party apps named “Skills”. The Skills add additional functionally to Echo allowing you order food, have your laundry collected or order and Uber all through Echo. Amazon has also brought out a small companion device to Echo called Echo Dot.
Setting up Echo
Although Echo is a very capable device, it can easily be set up within a few minutes with the help of the Alexa App. You can also go to Amazon.com/echosetup on the web, for a useful web app.
Once you have the app or the webpage, it's as simple as pairing your echo with home Wi-Fi Connection. The Echo has great Wi-Fi connectivity even if it quite far away from your router. Once your Echo has Wi-Fi connectivity you can start talking to your digital assistant using the wake word "Alexa". The wake word is set to "Alexa" by default, but you can change this later to "echo" or "Amazon".
When you first lift Echo out of its box it may seem a little imposing at first, but when placed in most homes the Echo blends into the environment. Echo produces a full 360-degree audio experience using a well-placed speaker system towards the bottom half of the device. Amazon’s Echo allows the audio to be heard clearly through its cleverly designed grille housing.
Echo's features are vast with new skills added to the skills library daily. These skills range from the not so useful "Random Quote" or "Daily Facts" to the very useful such as weather updates and information about the traffic delays on your daily commute. You can even order an Uber via Alexa.
Alexa allows you save some time searching via your phone or web browser, just ask Alexa and she connects to Google for searches or synchronize with your Google Calendar to allow Alexa to handle your schedule.
Echo’s Sound quality
Echo's sound quality OK but if your are buying it just for the speaker you can get better for your money. Although the sound quality is not excellent, it is transparent and detailed, there is also a bit of bass behind the sound. Its very clear and easy to understand when Echo is speaking to you. When you do turn the volume up to the max the sound does become distorted.
Echo and Amazon Services
Amazon Echo much like all Amazon devices tries to encourage you to use Amazon's Services. Amazon prefers if you use their services such as Prime Music and Audible but these defaults can be changed within Alexa settings. You're not locked in to Amazons services but some services do not currently work with Echo such as Tidal, Apple Music and Google Music. If you want to use these services you will have to connect via Bluetooth and use Echo as a speaker.
Echo does upload data to Amazon’s servers for analysis. How much exactly remains unclear. According to Amazon, Alexa streams audio “a fraction of a second” before the “wake word” and continues to stream until the request has been processed by Alexa.
Using Amazon Echo within your Smart Home
Echo is compatible with many existing consumer smart home products as well as some high-end Home Automation equipment such as Crestron and Control4. Some great products such as Phillips Hue, Nest, WeMo and Logitech Harmony can all integrate with Amazon Echo to provide a great Smart Home experience.
Amazon is taking a more open approach to home automation that for example Apple and their HomeKit program. Amazon does not force products to conform to a single standard and this allows Echo to control more devices than Apple's HomeKit.
Well, should I buy the Amazon Echo?
Personally, I have had Echo in the home since the UK release date, It controls all of the Phillips Hue lights in the house as well controlling TV's and Computers using a Logitech Harmony System. It is used for the family shopping list as well as travel updates for daily commutes. Alexa allows you check your schedule quickly and allows to add items to your to-do list you would otherwise forget.
Now that Echo in UK has IFTTT integration the possibilities with Echo are endless.