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When you think about kitting out your smart home, the first device you’ll probably be thinking about is the Amazon Echo.
It’s the flagship smart product: a virtual assistant that can also act as a hub for all your other smart devices.
For many of us, it’s the jumping off point to a total smart home.
Many people have already bought and are benefiting from the Echo — but if you’re not one of them, you’re probably wondering what all the fuss is about.
We’ve compiled this complete guide and Amazon Echo review so you can work out if it’s worth your time and money.
Let’s get right into it…
- 1 What is the Amazon Echo?
- 2 Amazon Echo Capabilities
- 3 Amazon Echo Set-Up
- 4 Amazon Echo Review
What is the Amazon Echo?
You might be fooled into thinking that the Amazon Echo is just a fancy speaker, but in fact it’s a wireless, voice activated speaker that acts like your personal secretary.
Whether you’re across the room on or out and about, simply ask Alexa (that’s Amazon’s interactive voice control program used by the Echo) to do your online shopping, call your mom, check your diary, send your girlfriend flowers, or give you a weather forecast, and your wish will be fulfilled.
What’s more, via the Amazon Echo and just the sound of your voice you can control other connected smart devices around the home, including lights, thermostats, and locks — not forgetting that it also has a 360 degree panoramic speaker and plays music, and can also wake you up with an alarm.
This clever little gadget consists of a small cylindrical speaker measures 9.25 inches high and 3.3 inches wide — a conveniently small size with a chic, minimalist design that can be easily and unobtrusively placed anywhere within the home.
It features some decent speakers with a 2.5 inch woofer and 2 inch tweeter giving it great sound quality considering its dimensions.
A glowing neon light ring on the top of the Echo let you know when it is listening, and when it is inactive — as well as providing some pleasant ambient lighting.
There is a physical volume control but it can also be used with a remote control, and an activation and mute button.
The advanced Alexa voice technology operates smoothly and intelligently, and rarely makes mistakes.
The Echo device picks up the sound of your voice using seven different tiny microphones to ensure that it interprets your commands correctly no matter where you are standing.
Furthermore the intuitive system learns with you to better understand your voice, so the more you use it, the more effective it becomes.
If you’re new to this kind of technology, you can rest assured that it is very easy to install and is very user friendly. It’s worth noting that whilst the device is active it is listening to everything you say, so be aware that although there is currently no reason to think it can be used to monitor your every move, people with a 1984-esque paranoia might want to steer clear…
Different Echo Devices
There are currently three different Amazon Echo devices on the market.
This is the original and flagship Amazon Echo and what our review will be based on.
Amazon Echo vs Echo Dot
The little brother of the Amazon Echo, the Echo Dot is much smaller (a tiny 1.3 by 3.3 inches) and takes up less space than its larger counterpart. It’s also significantly less expensive.
There is a flip side to the size of the Echo Dot however, as it doesn’t have the superior speaker power or sound quality of the Echo, nor the 360 degree sound, although this can be remedied by connecting it to more powerful external speakers – something that is not possible with the Echo.
Like the Echo, the Echo Dot features the same arrangement of seven microphones for voice recognition, so works just as well in this capacity.
That said, if you are looking to use the Echo or the Echo Dot for controlling your Smart home features, the Echo is better equipped.
The Echo Dot can also be used as an accompaniment to the Echo to increase its range by placing Dots in other rooms around the room. The Echo Dot will then intuitively chose to use the speaker that is closest to your voice, and respond to you in that location.
The tagline for the Echo Show is, “Now Alexa can show you things” — essentially, it’s the Echo with a screen.
It’s proving particularly popular in the kitchen, as you can watch recipe videos as you cook, and in the office, where you can take video calls while multitasking.
Amazon Echo Capabilities
Amazon Echo with Alexa boasts a ton of skills to help your life run more smoothly.
Here are some of our favourites…
Control your home
Whilst it may not be quite as effective as dedicated smart home hubs, Echo can nevertheless perform simple commands to control smart home devices like climate control, home entertainment devices such as televisions, lighting systems using smart bulbs, security cameras and door locks, robotic vacuum cleaners, garage doors, and sprinkler systems.
Brands that currently manufacture Echo compatible smart home gadgets include Sony, Philips Hue, Leviton, Ring, Schlage, ecobee, and many more.
Three major smart home platforms that work with Echo are Wink, SmartThings, and Insteon.
Whether you like to use Spotify, Amazon Prime Music, Pandora, or other audio from your phone, Echo can stream it directly.
The Echo can work with a wide range of calendar programs to help you get organized including Evernote, Wunderlist, and Google Calendar amongst others.
You can create tasks and to do lists, and even link your phone to Echo so it will sound an alarm to make sure you don’t miss an important event.
It’s possible to find virtually anything you want or need on Amazon, and with an Echo online shopping is even easier.
Ask Alexa what you would like to buy and it will come up with the top results that fit your request.
Skip the traditional hand held method and make phone calls straight from the Echo speaker just with the sound of your voice.
A cool, recently added feature means that you can make calls directly to other Alexa devices in other people’s homes, free of charge, and you can even leave messages.
Echo and Alexa use the TuneIn service to access your favorite radio stations, and give you up to date headlines and news reports collated from channels such as NPR and ESPN.
Ask Alexa to read you a bedtime story with the Audiobook feature that allows it to read audiobooks available on Audible, or alternatively it can read to you aloud direct from your own Kindle device.
If you need to burn some calories Alexa has a seven minute workout skill to keep you honed and toned.
It can also connect with your FitBit so you can check in on your daily status and get all the stats you need to know.
Fancy catching a movie? Check out the latest films and show times at your nearest cinemas by asking Alexa.
If you’re feeling romantic, or if you want to send some flowers for a special occasion,
Echo is teamed up with 1-800-FLOWERS who will sort out a bouquet for you and have it sent on its way with the minimum of hassle.
Check your bank balance and the ins and outs of your account anytime with Amazon Echo.
Are you a Jeopardy fan?
One of Echo’s capabilities that is just for fun, you can ask Alexa to play the game with you and ask you questions in a wide range of subjects.
There are also a host of other games you can play with Alexa, including spelling and word games, adventure games, Bingo, and Blackjack.
Need some help to unwind?
Alexa features an array of relaxing sounds to calm you down and even send you to sleep.
An added advantage is that you can ask it to set a timer to wake you up just in case you doze off.
If you’ve got your hands full cooking up a storm in the kitchen, simply shout out to Alexa to start a kitchen timer to help you out so you can stay hands free.
Alexa also has a range of cooking skills on hand if you need some culinary advice.
Feeling hungry but not feeling up to cooking?
With the Amazon Echo all you have to do is ask and your favorite take out will be delivered to your door.
Echo is teamed up with Just Eat which operates in 20 cities in the US. To use this function you will need to have already registered and previously ordered with your chosen restaurant
Order an Uber or Lyft from home in seconds via your Echo just by asking Alexa to organize a ride.
You can even choose your car preference and Alexa will keep you up to date on the progress of your taxi.
Alexa’s intelligent connected car widget keeps tabs on your car’s location, gas levels, mileage and any engine problems – all at a distance.
Amazon Echo Set-Up
You can get your Amazon Echo up and running in just a few easy steps.
Firstly you’ll need to choose where to place the device – a central location is best – and plug it in using the provided power adapter. The next step is to download the Alexa app from Google Play, the Apple Store or the Amazon Appstore.
Now it’s time to turn on the Echo.
When it’s ready for setup it will display an orange light, then it’s just a question of following the installation instructions on the Alexa app to connect your Echo to a WiFI network and your Echo is ready to go.
Amazon Echo Review
Amazing Audio Reach
The Echo follows your voice around the room – you can actually watch it listening to you – so you can give it commands whenever you want, without having to keep going back to the device. Super convenient!
Great Voice Recognition
Compared to other voice recognition devices, the Echo comes out on top — even with background noise or when listening from further away.
That means no frustration repetition to get what you want, when you want it.
On Demand Music and Information
The ability to ask Alexa whatever you want from wherever you are means that there’s no need to stop what you’re doing to waste time searching on the internet or browsing through your track list, you just ask and the device will do the hard work for you.
What’s more the quality of information provided is accurate and of good quality.
Entertaining for Singles and Kids
If your kid is of the curious variety, Alexa will happily keep answering his or her questions without getting exasperated.
For those living alone, the Echo with Alexa means that if you’re feeling lonely you’ve got someone to talk to and while away the wee hours.
And check out this video of it being a great friend to your pets:
More ‘Me’ Time
Thanks to an impressive set of skills such as diary management, timers and alarms, Echo really can help you organize your life and keep track of things to minimize stress.
Plus if you’re rushed off your feet it can tell you everything you need to know whilst you’re busy with another task.
Impressive New Features
As the Echo becomes more and more popular, many more exciting new features, games, and skills are constantly being added. There are now over 3,000 different ways to use the Echo and that’s growing fast every day.
As a smart device, it’s cool to know that Alexa is always learning and becoming a better, more relevant product with each passing day.
Excellent Value for Money
Considering all the things that the Echo can do — in addition to being a pretty awesome little sound system — we think the price is more than reasonable.
And if you’re on a budget, you can opt for the significantly cheaper Echo Dot instead.
Amazon Alexa is currently only available in the English language, and whilst voice recognition is good it can sometimes have trouble understanding English spoken with a foreign accent.
The Echo has no battery and needs to be connected to the mains at all times in order to function.
This means it’s not portable and in the case of a power outage is unable to continue working.
There’s no doubt that Amazon Echo with Alexa is a spectacularly handy device to have around the home.
While it is, of course, possible to complete most tasks that the Echo offers to perform for you in other ways (via your smartphone or internet), it is fun and informative and can make life easier with the minimum of effort.
It has something to please everyone, no matter what age, and an added bonus is that it can be a very useful tool for older people or those with disabilities who have more limited mobility.
As there are always new and exciting upgrades and skills being added, the Amazon Echo is constantly changing and improving too, so overall we think it’s a great buy.
We certainly love the ones we have in our smart home!
Have you got the Amazon Echo yet?