When my Amazon Echo was delivered, I wasn’t sure what to make of this plain, black cylinder nestled in its plain, black box. But from the moment I asked it a question and the top lit up like my very own Knight Industries Two Thousand, I was hooked.
Echo answers to the name “Alexa,” which can be changed to “Amazon” to avoid confusion with any family members named Alexa. (If you have family members named Alexa and Amazon, you’re out of luck.)
Like Siri, Cortana, and other hands-free assistants, the Echo responds to voice commands. You can ask Alexa to:
- play streaming content from Amazon Prime Music, IHeart Radio, Pandora, or TuneIn
- convert measurements (“Alexa, how many teaspoons in a gallon?”)
- act as a Bluetooth speaker to stream Spotify, iTunes, audiobooks, and other content from your Bluetooth devices
- control home automation devices from WeMo, Hue, and Belkin (“Alexa, dim the bedroom lights to 50%.”)
- set timers and alarms
- read the weather, date, time, or customized traffic reports
- read sports scores and schedules
- play news briefings from your selected sources
- look up Wikipedia articles
- recite dictionary definitions (“Alexa, define dictionary.”)
- add an item to your shopping list
- send information to your phone or tablet
- buy songs on Amazon (of course)
- roll dice (“Alexa, roll d20.” “I rolled a 20-sided die and got a 15.”)
- flip a coin
- answer trivia questions (“Alexa, who directed Braveheart?”)
- tell painfully bad Dad jokes (“Knock knock? Who’s there? Kanye! Kanye who? Kanye believe I tell jokes, too?”)
You can hear a (rather poor) recording of the Echo performing its schtick here:
Voice recognition is excellent straight out of the box, even from across a noisy room. Echo required no training to recognize my commands, although I did discover “cat butter” on my shopping list when I had asked it to add cat litter. Aside from these infrequent errors, it’s quite good at understanding my mumbles, and there are training exercises on its mobile app that will allow you to improve its recognition further. There’s also a remote which can be used in very noisy environments.
The Echo’s sound quality is fantastic. The Echo has the richest, clearest sound I’ve ever heard from a device this size, with surprisingly deep bass.
Skipping over the question of whether to allow the military industrial online retailer complex another listening device in your home, I found the Echo to be a fun addition to my electronic toybox. At $200, it’s a bit pricey, but it’s a solid gadget that performs well.
Amazon continues to release new features and capabilities for the Echo and refine existing ones, and I’m confident that the feature set will catch up to its price tag in the near future.