Walter Shillington writes about products he is familiar with. His articles focus on healthcare, electronics, watches, and household items.
Last time I flew home, my sister drew me aside and asked what I thought of the Echo Dot. I shrugged. I’ve heard of this device but had never been interested enough to take a close look.
She fired up her laptop, brought up the Amazon website, and browsed to a description of the Echo Dot. It appeared to be somewhat useful. The device could answer questions, provide reminders, read books aloud, and play music.
Its ability to play music caught my eye. I spend an hour in the kitchen, each morning, reading the latest spy thriller and sucking back coffee. A little background music would be appreciated but, unfortunately, all the local stations play a combination of country music, loud commercials, and cheesy jokes. If I purchased an Echo Dot, I would have access to the Amazon music stations provided as part of my Amazon Prime subscription. I could play what I liked, and it would be commercial-free.
But the Echo Dot’s 1.6-inch speaker would not fare well in comparison to the stereo output of my retro-styled kitchen radio. I nudged my sister aside—I can be rude—and checked to see what other Amazon devices were available.
According to its description, the Echo Smart Speaker was a step up from the Dot. This device is equipped with a 2.5-inch woofer and a 0.6-inch tweeter. I also noted that Amazon would, for an additional seven dollars, throw in one of their fancy Smart Plugs.
We were both sold. My sister picked up a pair of Echo Dots, and I spent about the same amount on an Echo Smart Speaker. Then, because I’m prone to impulsive purchases, I ordered a 100W subwoofer to go with it.
Description of Amazon Echo
The Echo Smart Speaker is a can-shaped device, weighing in at 29.3 ounces. It has a diameter of 3.43 inches and is 5.86 inches tall. This speaker is covered by either charcoal, heather gray or sandstone colored fabric and is powered by an adaptor plugged into an AC source.
The Echo is a mini-computer that maintains a connection to the internet via wi-fi. The primary input to this device is the spoken word, and it normally responds vocally through its speaker.
The Echo works in conjunction with a cloud-based service called Alexa. Alexa is Amazon’s version of a virtual personal assistant. It can answer questions, provide reminders, turn on the connected equipment, and play music. You can even utilize it to make and answer phone calls if you provide the device with your cell phone’s number.
Developers can design instruction, which allows the Echo to access specific sources or control other devices. These skills can be added easily to an individual Echo’s speaker.
Amazon Smart Plug
The Smart Plug is a wi-fi enabled switch that fits between an AC outlet and the plug of a device that you wish to turn on and off remotely. The Smart Plug weighs 3.44 ounces. Its dimensions are 3.15 by 1.5 by 1.4 inches. This switch proved easy to install and can be used to turn on a device by saying “Alexa, turn on first plug.”
Most of my devices either do not need a smart plug or would work better without one. I eventually fitted my new switch to a lamp in the dining room. It worked well but wasn’t noticeably more convenient than walking over to the light and turning it on manually.
The Echo Sub delivers down-firing, 100W deep bass sound through a 6-inch woofer. It is 8 inches tall with a diameter of 8.3 inches. This device is powered by AC and connects to either an Echo or Echo Plus via Bluetooth.
The subwoofer is simple to set up and use—connect it to a power source, open the Alexa app, and pair the two speakers together.
I was impressed by this device. Although the Echo delivers good sound, it was enhanced noticeably by the rich bass produced by the subwoofer. The Echo Sub, however, is quite expensive. Unless you are using your Echo device as your primary source of music, you might find a better use for your money.
Echo Smart Speaker Specifications
- Weight: 830 grams (29.3 ounces)
- Size: 87 x 149 millimeters (3.5 x 5.9 inches)
- Speakers: 83.5-millimeter (2.5 inch) woofer and 16-millimeter (0.6 inch) tweeter
- Wi-Fi: Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks.
- Bluetooth: Full support for streaming audio to the Echo and for voice control of mobile devices.
- Primary input: An array of seven microphones
- Manual controls: Action, microphone on/off, and volume
- Auxiliary connection: 3.5mm audio output
- Power: Standard wall outlet
- Setup requirements: Wi-Fi connection and compatible control device (Fire OS, Android, iOS, or web portal)
Voice Command Response
Although I tend to mumble, Alexa can follow my speech without difficulty. If I address the Echo in a normal voice from across the room, the device will immediately respond to my command. When the fan and air-conditioner are on, I must increase the level of my voice slightly. If I am playing hard rock at maximum volume and have cranked up the bass, I am required to shout.
The speed of the user’s internet will affect Alexa’s response time. I am fortunate enough to be connected to a hi-speed fiber-optic network, and interaction with Alexa is much like a conversation with someone sitting across the kitchen table.
The Echo can utilize subscription services such as Amazon Music, Apple Music, Pandora, SiriusXM, and Spotify Premium. At present, I am using music provided by Amazon Prime, TuneIn, and several jazz stations. I may eventually subscribe to a premium service.
A command like “Alexa, play 1960’s rock.” will find the appropriate music station. Other commands such as “Alexa, pause.”, “Alexa, stop.”, “Alexa, skip to next song.”, or “Alexa, increase volume.”, provide an easy method of controlling your Echo.
These key phrases do not necessarily need to be exact. For example, “Alexa, increase volume.” and “Alexa, bring up the sound.” will both result in the same action.
As expected, questions such as “Alexa, what time is it?”, “ Alexa, will it rain today?”, and “Alexa, what is the news?” result in current and logical answers.
I asked Alexa what the Blue Jays score was. Sadly, they were losing to Tampa Bay, 6 to 4. The next afternoon—I thought they were playing a day game—I asked again. Alexa responded with “The Blue Jays are playing Tampa Bay at 8:00 this evening. Do you want me to remind you?” I did. At 8:00, the blue ring atop my echo began to flash, and Alexa reminded me to watch the game.
Since Alexa is a cloud-based service and my Echo is connected to the internet, it can answer most logical questions. It will even make a decent and often accurate attempt to answer the more obscure inquiries. Sometimes, however, as in the case of my mournful, “Alexa, why is my cat so fat?” it will fail.
I found it easy to instruct Alexa to remind me to take my pill at 8:00 PM daily. Also, commands such as “Alexa, remind me to take out the garbage at six.”, and “Alexa, remind me to check the oven in 12 minutes.” achieved the desired results.
Amazon and other developers are continually designing new skills. I, for example, use the Ecovac Deebot skill, which allows me to start my robotic vacuum and return it to its dock using voice commands. You can review and add new skills, using the Alexa application on your cell phone.
The Echo Smart Speaker is a well built and extremely useful device. Its underlying service; Alexa, is far more advanced than I had imagined. It almost always understands my intentions when I provide a command or ask a question. I am especially impressed by the quality of sound when playing music. The Echo Smart Speaker is highly recommended.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Walter Shillington