Is the New Amazon Echo Worth the Hype?

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When Amazon announced its Bluetooth speaker and virtual home assistant, Echo, last year it instantly peaked the interest of gadget geeks everywhere.

It has been labeled as the next big thing in smart home technology and for everything it can do, the price isn’t too bad. Amazon Echo is available to everyone for $199, or if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber you can get it for just $99. Pre-ordered shipments are just now starting to ship out, and if you want one you better sign up to join the waiting list.

What is Amazon Echo?

The Echo is a 9.25″ tall black cylinder that can access the cloud. It includes a speaker and microphone and is a voice activated assistant that will respond to you. Just ask it anything (within speaker/mic range) and it will respond. Echo is essentially Siri or Cortana for your home.

Once you have it setup, there is not need for on switches or remotes because Echo is always on, it does however go to sleep and you need to address it before it will respond by either saying Amazon or Alex (pick one word only) as your wake up word. The nice thing however is that is you don’t want it to respond to every accidental command you can mute the microphone.

What Comes With It?

Besides the basic computer components Echo contains some nice sound equipment. A 2″ tweeter, a 2.5″ subwoofer and a reflex port that is supposed to enhance the sound quality of the subwoofer. There is also an array or seven microphones along the top of the housing to allow it to pick up your voice from anywhere in the room.

Echo comes with a remote that allows you to adjust volume when you are out of range. The remote itself contains a mic, allowing you to voice control Echo through it when you are too far from the unit itself. The really nice thing about the remote is that it is magnetic so you can put it somewhere convenient like the fridge.

What Can the Amazon Echo Do?

Amazon Echo does have some nice features.

The sound pick up on the unit is fantastic, even in a noisy room it can accurately pick up your voice.

You can use it to give you the weather, do unit conversion, act as timer or even give you the news, all by simply asking it a question. It also has full access to your Amazon Prime music list so it can play music while answering your questions. Because Echo is connected to Amazon, you can even shop on Amazon by speaking to Echo.

Amazon Echo has a remote app that lets you do everything it does, through your phone. My problem with this however is that your phone can already do it all. The only nice functionality I see with the app is that you can control the music Echo plays. You can also have echo create a virtual shopping list for you that you can access when you are at the store, yet another feature you could easily do with the standard apps on your smart phone.

What Can’t It Do?

Being a first generation unit there is a lot that it can’t do and it’s lack of abilities makes me wonder if they should have held out on the release for a while.

When we were first introduced to the concept of Amazon Echo we were told that you could program it to work with any wake up word that you chose, unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case, it will only wake to ‘Amazon’ or ‘Alexa.’ I don’t even understand why they have the keyword ‘Alexa’ as that isn’t even the name of the unit, you would have thought they would use Echo.

Even thought Echo technically has an expansive vocabulary there is still a lot that it doesn’t know and that is primarily because it doesn’t have access to a lot of things. Echo doesn’t Google or Bing because it doesn’t have access to those search engines, in fact as far as searches go it doesn’t have access to much except possibly Wikipedia and Amazons own database. Before Echo can truly match the functionality of Siri or Cortana it needs to be able to access a wider range of information.

As a virtual home assistant and the next step in smart home technology you would think it could work with your smart appliances or at least your smart thermostat, but it can’t. You can’t connect it with any of your home tech. It would be nice if it would at least work with your Nest thermostat so you could instantly adjust your home temperature from your sofa without even reaching for your cell phone.

Amazon Echo is a fun toy with a lot of potential if it is developed right, but at this point it is just an expensive toy with good speakers. Everything Echo does, your smart phone can do better and it is more portable.

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