Amazon Echo (2nd Gen) Review
The Amazon Echo is a breakthrough voice control device that promises to make your life much, much easier. It's a cylindrical smart speaker with a voice assistant named Alexa.
As soon as you plug the device in (with the included external adapter), it starts up in less than a minute and welcomes you with a friendly hello. The device is activated with the default wake word, Alexa. This can be changed within the Alexa app to Echo, Amazon, or Computer. The wake word has to be said before any command is given.
The main setup lies within the Alexa app on your iOS or Android device. From there, you can set your location, link your Prime Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Spotify Premium accounts, and set up other nifty features like your calendars, smart home devices, and numerous third party services.
I've had the product since early September 2015, and I'll happily explain the best features and the disadvantages it has.
Hopefully, by the end of this review, you'll have a good idea of whether the device is useful enough to purchase on your next Amazon shopping spree.
The Best Attributes
- As a 360° speaker, it's sturdy and can fill a small room with great sound. I usually don't go beyond volume 7 (it goes from 1-11) because the audio begins to get scratchy and diluted after that point.
- It can replace your alarm and kitchen timers as well as enhance multitasking capabilities. You can even ask Alexa how much time is left on the timer or cancel timers and alarms if necessary.
- The voice recognition software is very good, and you don't have to speak slowly for Alexa to understand you. It has an audio range of 10-15 feet, though it serves best when located in the focal point of your home (kitchen, living room).
- You can integrate Alexa with compatible smart home devices such as Nest, WeMo, Wink, SmartThings, Insteon, and Philips Hue products. You could then have voice activation for lighting, temperature control, and more.
- You can turn on a specific light or multiple lights through group setup on the Alexa app as well as group multiple Echo's together for multi-room audio.
- The Echo can answer questions, tell you the weather, provide flash briefings (news updates), give traffic information, customized sports scores/updates, and add items on your to-do and shopping lists.
- None of those features are mind-blowing, but it's nice to get quick updates without surfing channels or checking your phone.
- Finally, you can play your favorite playlists and radio stations on linked music accounts, have it read your audio books from Audible or Kindle, and even re-order items previously purchased on Amazon from your Prime account.
- And best of all, the Amazon Echo is family friendly!
For more amusing uses, check out this list of Alexa easter eggs.
The Biggest Problems
- The biggest problem is that Alexa is not as intelligent as its main competitor, the Google Assistant, however; new upgrades in intelligence and memory are coming soon.
- She can't answer difficult questions that go beyond looking up a Wikipedia article. You'll be hearing her say "Sorry" or "Hmm, I don't know" a lot. She may even ignore what you say entirely.
- The device sometimes mishears what you say, so you'll have to repeat yourself (occasionally multiple times) before she understands.
- The voice recognition is pretty good and has gotten much better with 2nd generation products, but it's not top notch yet. Thankfully, there's a setting for voice training in the app. This is helpful for those with strong accents or dialects that have communication issues.
- The Echo requires an adapter to work since it doesn't have a rechargeable battery or wireless charging. This greatly limits its portability. The Amazon Tap is a good alternative if there's a great WiFi signal or if you're using your phone's WiFi hot-spot.
- The speaker has improved tremendously since Gen 1 but it still doesn't compare to higher quality Bluetooth speakers such as Sonos or even Apple's HomePod. She's better suited for smaller homes or apartments when it comes to sound quality although multi-device playback has made up for it.
- The technology remains limited, although it's improving due to weekly software upgrades through the Cloud in Amazon's ecosystem.
- There's a lot more that needs to be improved, but be mindful that the device has only been around for less than 4 years.
How Useful Is It?
Now that I've broken down the pros and cons of the device, I'd like to address the elephant in the room. How useful is the Echo and is it worth buying?
Personally, I enjoy purchasing gadgets because I love technology and find them fascinating, so I do think it's worth buying.
However, I would rate its usefulness a seven on a scale of 10 without the additional smart home components and an eight with them included. I highly recommend integrating the Echo with other smart devices because that's where the product performs best.
I've found that using Alexa with my Hue lights and WeMo switches have been the most productive because of convenience.
This is definitely a cool looking product and does provide tidbits of useful information, but it's not advanced enough where you can't live without it (for now).
This gadget has definitely started a trend though, and I guarantee the usefulness will improve gradually.
After weighing the pros and cons, I give the Amazon Echo 4 out of 5 stars.
Given the product is less than four years old (initial soft launch was in November 2014), I'm already impressed with what Alexa can do. I didn't even mention things like easter eggs, skills, and the IFFT recipes it's capable of.
The easter eggs are fun phrases you can say (jokes, pop culture references) and IFFT recipes are things you can create on the IF app for Alexa.
For example, you can make her locate your phone or have her email/print your shopping list.
All of those fun tools, the list of pros, and future updates make this a fantastic product.
Despite my cons, I'd definitely recommend this device if you're a tech lover and don't mind the steep price. Ultimately, I think it's a blast.
Alexa may seem a bit gimmicky but I'm a happily satisfied customer. I can't wait to see what the future holds for the Echo.