Amazon Echo Review – Who or What is Alexa?

So what is Echo exactly and what can the Amazon Echo do?

Amazon Echo

Well, perhaps you have heard of the Amazon Echo, but still aren’t entirely sure what it is. The short answer is that it is an assistant, similar to iPhone’s Siri or Windows 10’s Cortana, but the Amazon Echo is established in your home. It provides similar services, such as playing music you have saved to one of a number of music repositories, as well as helping you manage your home.

Your initial reaction is probably one of the most common reactions we’ve seen asked about the Amazon Echo:

I already own a smartphone, and all of the highlights of the Echo are already on a device that can fit into my pocket.

Why would I get a device that is over 9-inches tall and that does pretty much the same thing as a smartphone, without working as a phone or text device?

It doesn’t even have a screen to read up on news or other information.

You have that reaction because trying to describe what the Amazon Echo does is easier to do in terms of technology you already know, but it really isn’t the most accurate description. If someone told you that there is a device that gives you a way to talk to your home to manage it, and that device also provides answers to questions, and even plays music, you probably would imagine the device is actually built into the home. And that will give you entirely the wrong idea of what you are getting with the device.

The best way to describe the Echo is to offer a short list of all of the things that it can do:

• Answers questions, including about the weather, current news, sport scores, and traffic

• Acts as an alarm or timer that you can turn off through voice commands

• Creates to-do and shopping lists

• Plays a number of different forms of entertainment such as music from one of several music repositories you already have, podcasts, and audio books

• Tells you about your planned events for the day from one of several calendars

• Integrates with smart devices in your home to help you manage different aspects of your home with your voice, including things like the temperature, garage door, sprinkler system, and lights

• It’s one of the best Amazon Bluetooth speakers on the market

The Amazon Echo is a cloud-based device that looks very similar to a cylindrical speaker. While it is relatively small, this device can be incredibly powerful, and it is constantly evolving through updates.

A Quick History

The Amazon Echo was made available on November 6, 2014 to a very limited set of shoppers – only Amazon Prime members who received an invitation could purchase the original version. In the early days, it was primarily a way of playing music without having to access your smartphone (a very handy feature when you are multi-tasking and don’t want to stop to hit buttons to access your phone assistant). With the original selling point being that it was a device for playing music from one of several different repositories, it meant you would not have to create yet another list for another device. All you had to do was hook it up. To persuade people to buy it, the original Amazon Echo was discounted for Prime members and came with the promise that much more was on the horizon.

Over the next few months, new features were added regularly, and those who had the product were able to test them out and provide feedback to Amazon on how well the additions to Echo were performing.

On June 23, 2015, Amazon Echo was authorized for release to the general public. It has grown from essentially a music player to a way to manage your life and home without having to continually access a screen to make the updates. Of course, you can still play music on it, including local radio stations, but it also has implemented many of the features that are available today, like lists and home management.

It has also been opened up so that third-parties can program new features and apps to exponentially expand the device’s capabilities. And as a bonus, Amazon Prime members get special features with Echo.

Current Plans

The possibilities for where the Echo can go are as open as they are for your smartphone and tablet. There’s really no way to predict its long-term trajectory because third-parties come up with new and inventive uses for devices all of the time. However, there is one interesting point to make about the Amazon Echo, and that is the Echo Dot. If you do not like the price tag on the Amazon Echo (see current price here), you may want to consider the Amazon Echo Dot.

It’s roughly half the price, half the size, and includes many of the features that Amazon Echo users have become accustomed to using.

Essentially the Echo Dot gives you a way of setting up the Echo in multiple rooms so that you don’t have to be in a single location to get stuff done. The primary difference is that the Dot is not as powerful when it comes to playing back songs. It is a bit quieter, and while it can hear you just fine, it isn’t going to substitute for a real music player. However, you can hook it up to a speaker, and then all bets are off on just how much you can do with it.

When you consider the costs you would incur by trying to set up a smart home as was imagined several decades ago, you were looking at thousands of dollars. With the Echo and Dot, you are looking at the cost of your WiFi (which you probably already have) and then each device you want to install in your home. There is no monthly fee, no installation charge, and no remodeling required.

The 2nd generation Dot is currently available. If you have an Amazon Echo then you can order the Echo Dot by saying “Alexa, order an Echo Dot,” and your order will be initiated.

Word of Warning

Before diving into everything you can do, you should be aware that as of the day we are writing this, the Amazon Echo is not available to those outside of the US, and it is currently only capable of understanding English. While this does limit its use in some households, it is something that Amazon is working on for a future release. This is actually quite common for major Amazon products. Amazon usually rolls major products out in phases, so they will be incorporating suggestions and fixes requested by the American audience into their global roll out.

If you live outside of the US, you should know that your Echo only operates on US time zones based on an area code. For those who live in Canada, you can certainly enter an American zip code that corresponds to your time zone, but your weather and traffic reports will be based on the American area code.

The benefits of owning Amazon Echo

It’s possible that if you’ve come to this Amazon Echo review and guide, you may already have the Echo and you don’t need a sales pitch – you need to know exactly how to make it do all of the amazing things you’ve heard it can do. Perhaps you were even talked into buying it against your better judgment or without actually knowing what it can do.

Skipping over the hype (the Echo is the way to start living science fiction now) and the plethora of positive ratings, here are the facts about the actual benefits of Amazon Echo, which in our opinion is an ingenious piece of technology.

Voice Activated

The device is entirely voice activated. When you are in the kitchen cooking and can’t remember what time an event is, all you have to do is turn to the device and ask, “Alexa, what is on my calendar for tonight?” She will provide you the date, time, location, anything that you have on the calendar. You won’t need to clean your hands and dig her out of your pocket before getting the details. If you are getting ready to leave the house, drop by the room where Alexa resides and ask her about traffic. That way you can plan around any unexpected traffic, construction, or issues between your home and final destination.

No Seriously, Voice Activated

With smartphones, you usually have to speak very slowly and repeat your question several times to get an acceptable answer. While Alexa (the voice activated assistant on Amazon Echo) does have her limitations, she can hear you from well across the room. As long as you say “Alexa” (or “Amazon”) first to let her know you need something from her, she is going to give you a response. Because the device is bigger, there are multiple microphones in it, and that means your assistant has very good hearing. If you speak loudly enough, she can hear you even when you are in another room nearby.

Compatibility

The Amazon Echo is compatible with a number of different apps and devices:

• iOS app

• Android app

• Web browser interface

• A growing number of other third-party products

SmartHome DB is actually tracking all of the different products that are currently compatible with the Echo. Check out their detailed list for more information so you can start setting up your home with your device.

No Additional Charges

One annoying thing people have become accustomed to is purchasing a device and then having to repeatedly pay for that device to be useful. That is not the case for the Echo. Once you own it, the only cost is to your power bill to keep the device working, just like a lamp or your refrigerator.

Also, you don’t need any other hardware. If your home does not have any smart features right now, that is perfectly fine. You can still set up Echo to work with the services you do have and use, including your television and linking it to your mobile devices. Since it is Wi-Fi ready, all you have to do is add it to the network to start making life a little easier. In time if you add Amazon Echo compatible smart devices to your home, you can easily add them without incurring any additional ongoing fees.

A Lot of Power in a Little Frame

The Echo is actually really small for as powerful as it is. That means you can set it up pretty much anywhere in your home without it consuming a lot of space. Also, you don’t have to do any remodeling to maximize its use. You can always add the Echo Dot to your home so that you can activate Alexa from anywhere, but the cost is minimal.

Time Saver

Alexa allows you to do everything that your mobile assistants can do and you don’t have to have your hands free. To ask Siri to add something to a list, you always have to find your phone first, then hold the button to access her. Alexa is just a word away from doing what you need.

This means you and your family can go back to eating meals without the distraction of your smart devices to distract you.

Mobile Friendly

Alexa does not intend to replace your mobile devices either. She doesn’t have a screen, so her abilities are limited. However, you can integrate her with your mobile device by installing the Alexa app.

An Inspiration to Numerous Other Technologies

As the Amazon Echo grows in popularity, a lot of companies are looking for ways to incorporate their technology into the Alexa pantheon. Just like with the release of the iPod, Echo seems to be signaling a change to the way people think about technology. When the iPod evolved into the iPhone, technology took a significant leap forward. The Echo has been inspiring very similar advances in the short time it has been available. Companies are not just looking to find a way into the market, they are starting to think about the future and how their product can be better incorporated into the home, and that is having positive effects on the market and your home’s security.

IFTTT

IFTTT stands for If This Then That, which is basically programming language that sets up conditions. For example, if you tell Alexa to add dish detergent to your list, she will add to the list you specified in your IFTTT set up. If you use Evernote, she will add dish detergent to your Evernote grocery list, so now the list on your phone just needs to sync up and it will include everything you asked Alexa to add.

The real treat with IFTT is when you have smart features in your home. You can tell Alexa to trigger the AC to turn on when the house reaches a certain temperature, to run the sprinklers for a specific duration, or turn off the television. Based on the apps you have connected to her, she will know exactly what to access and how to respond to your voice activated requests.

This is perhaps the coolest, most beneficial aspect of the entire device, so an entire section (Commands and Capabilities) is dedicated to helping you understand how it works and how to set it up for maximum efficiency.

A Semi-Open System

Just as smartphones allowed outside developers to create apps for users, the Amazon Echo has opened their skills (an app equivalent) to development from outsiders. Like the early days of Apple app development, there is a regulated process behind the release of each skill, but once it has been vetted, users can make the most of the third-parties’ skills. As of February 2017, more than 400 third-parties have been added to the Echo skills, and there is still plenty of room to exponentially increase those skills since we are still in the early days of this new technology.

How to get started with Amazon Echo

For something as powerful as the Echo is, the device is incredibly easy to set up. The system itself comes with a great set of instructions, but it never hurts to get another perspective from a neutral source.

WARNING: Before getting in too deep, remember that as of the writing of this Amazon Echo review and guide, the device was only intended for an American audience. If you live outside of the United States, some of the reports (such as weather and traffic) will be incorrect since you will have to enter an American zip code. This also means your alarms will need to be set based on how far off your actual time zone is from the American time zone you enter during the set up process.

When you open the little black box, you will see three main components:

• The Echo

• A power brick

• A remote control (buried under these are a couple of batteries, so you won’t have to go pick up any, and a remote cradle)

The assembly process takes less than five minutes. Plug the power brick into the Echo and the wall, and insert the batteries into the remote. And the system is ready to go.

If you are reading this and you haven’t already bought the Echo yet, hopefully our Amazon Echo review and the guide we’ve created will convince you. We’ve listed so many reasons why you should buy Amazon Echo as well as giving you an in-depth look at how it functions. It’s an absolutely incredible device to own and well worth the purchase.

We hope that we’ve helped you to better understand why so many people love Amazon Echo and that you’ll pick up this bestselling smart device now.

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Jennifer tries to cover as many topics as I can and offer my readers the chance to find out useful and interesting things as often as possible. I consider writing to be my strongest skill. When she isn't busy being a Corporate Event Planner she is spending time with her family.