Sunday, March 15, 2015

Amazon Echo: a short review

Many of you have asked me to write a review of the Amazon Echo once I received it. "Alexa" arrived a week ago and I have been putting it through its paces.

Amazon Echo is a networked connected speaker, music player, note-taker, and information source. You can learn about its specifics here:

To use the Amazon Echo, you simply speak aloud and ask a question or give an instruction to "Alexa". The more you speak to it, the more it learns your speech patterns and preferences.

First off, it is a great speaker for playing music. Since I am an amazon Prime member, I have access to the Prime Music Library.

I simply tell Alexa to "Play an artist" and music from that artist begins playing. I can ask Alexa to turn the volume up or down, stop, or even give another instruction while the music is playing. I do live in an open-space home (a geodesic dome) so the sound reaches all over the house! You can also play stations from iHeartRadio and other playlists you have hosted on Amazon.

My favorite feature of Alexa is being able to tell her to add an item "to my shopping list" and it shows up in the Echo app on my iPhone. It seems like a silly thing to love about technology, but just be able to easily speak aloud to the Amazon Echo to create a shopping list is a beautiful thing! It also helps that the Echo is in my kitchen. I can also add items to a reminder list that shows up in the Echo iPhone app, too.

Alexa can easily set a timer alert. This is great for those times when you want to be reminded about something that is happening later in the day. And, Alexa can tell you clean, funny, jokes any time of day by simple saying, "Alexa, tell me a joke".

The Amazon Echo also provides information from weather sources, news sources, and can answer common questions found in Wikipedia articles.  If you have an Amazon Fire tablet, you are presented with more in-depth information about your question in the Echo app on that device. 

After using the sophisticated Apple Siri for the last few years, the information you can get from the Amazon Echo pales in comparison. For simple content-related questions and weather forecasts, the Echo does a good job. But any more complex questions result in a "I do not understand what your are asking" response. Amazon's site says more features are coming to the Echo and these updates will be automatically installed over the air when they are  available.

The current features on the Amazon Echo work flawlessly. Alexa understands the artist I want to play, what I need added to the shopping list, what time to set the alarm for, and more. The ability to talk over a playing song and give a new command, ask a questions, or just turn the volume up is almost magic!

You can read more about the capabilities of the Amazon Echo here.