Krzysztof is a lifelong future tech junkie investigating the latest stories from companies like Apple, Samsung, Google, and Amazon.
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 order or reorder items from Amazon via your 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 always arriving.
- 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. Alternatively you can buy a third party battery pack just as long as there's a great WiFi signal or you're using your phone's WiFi hotspot.
- 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 5 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.
Echo Gen 2: Final Review
After weighing the pros and cons, I give the Amazon Echo 4 out of 5 stars.
Given the product is less than five 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.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why was Alexa running, (green light circling), at 1:30 a.m.?
Answer: The green light indicates someone is either calling or dropping in on you, so I would check your calling and messaging settings.
You can either block unwanted contacts or turn off drop-in by selecting your Alexa device, scrolling down to communications, and disabling the feature.
NikkiRoxi on January 05, 2018:
You can connect your Logitech speakers to your Echo Dot via Bluetooth and get both the sound and the features from the Echo.
Don Platt on January 04, 2018:
Appreciate the reviews; Just installed echo plus (gift), three echos and a dot. The dot does have pretty good sound, but for me I like my logitech blue tooth booms! but for listening to talk radio all echos are great
Krzysztof Willman (author) from Parlin, New Jersey on October 17, 2017:
The generations that are using these products the least can definitely benefit the most if the focus was on them, particularly the Blind & Disabled as you've stated.
I hope they tap into this market as well especially now that Apple is really focusing on Health in their iPhone and Apple Watch gadgets.
For most of us these products are fun conveniences, but for Veterans and the disabled, they could be life-changing.
NikkiRoxi on October 12, 2017:
The reviews on Amazon's website vary but are mostly positive. Especially those from Friends and Family of the Blind and Disabled community. Being able to speak a command and not have to lift a finger is a blessing. I really don't think Amazon realizes it's potential in that particular market. They really should do some targeted adverts to the Blind and Disabled community highlighting the benefits it will have for them. A commercial showing a disabled Veteran using it will speak volumes. A commercial showing a family member hooking it up for a Blind person and that person's face lighting up when they realize what they can do with their voice will sell a bunch of devices and it will even persuade those who do not have any disabilities what these devices are capable of. Even though I already had the Echo when I was reading the reviews, those particular reviews from a family member of a disabled person touched my heart the most.
Krzysztof Willman (author) from Parlin, New Jersey on February 13, 2016:
I completely understand why some like yourself would hold off on buying one. It's at least a year or two away from becoming mainstream and is still a novelty. They've added a lot of new features that I have to update in a couple hubs that make it more enticing but I see your concerns. The privacy issue is a bit scary but I don't think it's a huge detriment to personal safety. I'm more trusting however so maybe I don't fear things like I probably should. Thank you so much for your read and I response. Much appreciated
Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on February 08, 2016:
I've been thinking about buying the Echo, but thanks to your pros and cons I decided to hold off for now. Since Echo is still a work in progress, with the constant software updates via the Cloud, I realize that there is more room for improvement.
You also made it clear that it is best used when integrated with other things around the house, such as light dimmers.
Besides everything you talked about, there is one other concern I had. Since it is always listening for you to wake it up, I wonder how much security one has. It's possible that everything being said in one's home can be overheard by technicians who have access via the Cloud. That's scary!
Krzysztof Willman (author) from Parlin, New Jersey on February 03, 2016:
Several improvements have already been made since I got mine in September and there's always something added on every week with an abundance of skills apps that are great if you don't have Wemo, Smartthings, Insteon, or Philips Hue. I strongly want people to purchase one and try it out for themselves because at the very least it is a nice Bluetooth speaker. I also heard great things about car integration with the Alexa voice assistant, which would only give the Echo and Alexa more depth and power. The benefits for the handicapped and disabled are huge as you've alluded to so I'm glad things worked out.
Terry Adams on February 02, 2016:
Last weekend we gave an Echo to a blind friend of ours. It was a challenge because his iphone is quite difficult to enter keystrokes, so I called the customer assistance line. Rebecca was very patient, worked through the difficulty and we got him talking to Alexa that evening. Today I received a glowing email praising the device and my dogged determination to get it operational. The speakers are great, no feedback, quality sound. It would be helpful if items could be added to the shopping list without having to go through the introduction for every item. Also, since she is connected by wifi, our cable/telephone/tv is all connected to the cable, Alexa should be able to place a telephone call, but I can't figure out how to do that. We have one since May, 2015, and would encourage readers to buy one. Improvements are being added constantly so what you get now is being upgraded continually. No subscription fees, no add ons except the remote control which you don't really need.
Krzysztof Willman (author) from Parlin, New Jersey on September 15, 2015:
I've read a ton of Amazon reviews on this product and the majority are favorable. The biggest issues that I've read are sort of what you've stated regarding gadgets like this. It was either that or they received a faulty device with wi-fi problems. I think people expect too much out of these devices sometimes like it is the year 2100. Our technology still has a long way to go to be 100 powerful and accurate, but it's a good product for what it is and recently it came out. Thank you for your feedback.
Audrey Selig from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on September 14, 2015:
The Amazon Echo sounds disappointing. I have Amazon Prime, and I love it, but I am tired of gadgets like Siri that don't do what they are supposed to do and misinterpret what you say. You have reviewed this device well. I would like to know what the reviewers on Amazon said, but then you have to rewrite what they said. Thanks for sharing this information. Blessings, Audrey