Editor in Chief
- Dec 30, 2010
- Reaction score
- Austin, TX
After being one of the first websites in the world to post a hands-on preview and first impressions of the Amazon Echo hands-free device, we wanted to do a follow-up to share our final thoughts after spending 10 days with it. Here's a quick breakdown review:
As an audio device, the Amazon Echo, aka Alexa (which is the command word to activate the device), is actually very good. It fills a good sized room with rich sound. It has decent clarity in the treble range without being too "tinny" and its mid-range volume is superb. The Echo actually has some decent bottom as well, although it obviously can't dish out very deep bass because of its compact size.
The best part of the audio capabilities is that you can operate it completely hands-free. This includes the volume controls, starting and stopping, shuffle, changing the music and more. You can either let it stream music that Amazon has in their collection, or you can have it stream the music you have uploaded into your Amazon cloud. You can even use the included Amazon Echo app to create custom playlists.
One of the handiest features is that you can pause the music, and it will pick right back up where you left off by simply saying, "Alexa, resume music." This works indefinitely (at least from day to day) as far as I could tell.
Finally, if Alexa plays a song you haven't heard before, and you want to know what it is, and/or purchase it, you can simply command it to tell your the artist and/or buy it instantly. Very slick!
Information Retrieval -
You would be surprised just how handy it is to have an instantly available weather-person at your beck-and-call when you are about to head out the door. Knowing the temperature at that moment and the weather forecast for the rest of the day is very useful for deciding how to dress in Texas (the weather can change rapidly around here). Of course, you can do those things with your smartphone too, but asking Alexa is even easier than grabbing your phone, pushing buttons, and swiping to get the answer.
Obviously you can ask the Echo much more than just weather questions. For the most part, the device does a very solid job of answering any question you might throw its way, although it's nowhere near as capable as Google Now for searching up information. If Alexa doesn't know the answer, she will automatically send you a Bing search on the topic to the app which comes with the device.
Overall, the database of information that the Echo pulls from isn't nearly as vast as Google Now, nor does its search algorithm handle questions nearly as adeptly. For example, you can actually ask Google Now obscure questions about Magic the Gathering collectible cards using their strange fantasy names and it has about an 80% accuracy or better. Alexa can't even understand a Magic the Gathering card reference at all yet. Amazon has a long way to go before it can "out Google" Google with the Echo.
For now, its information retrieval feels like it would be more useful in a Trivial Pursuit game than in real life, but this might change over time.
Clock & Timer -
This feature of the Amazon Echo was far more useful than I expected to be and is one of the top reasons why I am very happy with the purchase of our device. Again, having an alarm clock/timer is something we can do with multiple other devices around the house, but to be able to instantly set an alarm hands-free is more than a novelty. It's downright awesome!
Are you in the middle of baking a Pumpkin Pie? No need to stop what you are doing to set the timer on the oven... just ask Alexa to handle it. Do you keep forgetting to put the clothes from the washer into the dryer because you are doing homework or watching a movie? Don't worry, just ask Alexa to give you a reminder and she has your back. Again... this is stuff that your phone can do, but the ease of just being able to set it hands-free instantaneously while continuing what you are already doing is remarkably handy.
Shopping/To Do List -
Finally, this feature was another one I completely underestimated the usefulness of before actually trying it. The Amazon Echo app for your phone/tablet basically logs everything you do on the Echo and is setup to handle direct and instant communication with that device. Because of that, a family (or couple) can connect their shopping and to do lists in very useful ways.
The best example is that the app helps you create a custom grocery list that lets you reuse what is on the list at your leisure in future lists. Also, it's very handy to add something to your parter's shopping/to do list by simply telling Alexa to add it. You could even add it to the list while they are on their way to the store in case you remembered something you forgot earlier.
Ultimately, the Amazon Echo is a good value for the investment for those in the market for an audio device that can handle some useful smart features as well. Yes, several of its excellent utilitarian features are mirrored elsewhere in other devices, but the hands-free aspect is what makes Alexa truly shine. Overall, the Amazon Echo is a great first step toward a voice-activated, smart connected home.
Here's a link to Amazon for more info on the Amazon Echo: Amazon Echo - Official site - Request an invitation