Most of you know me as a paranormal podcaster, but I have a nighttime obsession that can be expensive, addictive, and occasionally dangerous (if you get your wires crossed). I am addicted to gadgets. Rarely have I found one that I enjoy more than the Amazon Echo. So much so, that I had to write a review which is something I’ve never done for a tech product.
My Echo arrived a little over a week ago and I am smitten. Think of it as your girl/guy Friday + music machine + computer from Star Trek. It is a little larger than a Pringles can of potato chips, and I am guessing once people get these in their homes, just like chips, they’ll want more than just one. You set the unit up with the Alexa mobile app which is free on the various app stores and it takes about 10 minutes to get up and running with your home wifi. I haven’t had to touch my Echo since setting it up, which is a very good thing.
Once set up, you say, “Alexa, do thus and so.” If the command is in its capabilities, “she” dutifully complies. Note, you can change the wake word to “Amazon” or “Echo” if you wish, but the default “Alexa” works for me. You really get the feeling this is a sentient being and though it is an illusion it is one which is well done. Currently, there is no capability to create your own wake word, but I bet that will happen.
My favorite thing about Echo is the ability to call out almost any song or musical artist and have their dulcet tones fill the room immediately. Echo works with Amazon Prime Music, Pandora and Spotify. I find myself using the Spotify option since I am a subscriber, and it has the best selection of the various services that play nice with Echo. Sound from the speaker is very good but I wouldn’t put it in the same category of my Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker (Blue). Still, it is very pleasant and very acceptable for casual listening.
Being a child of the era when cassettes and CDs ruled the roost, I am absolutely amazed by this capabililty. The idea that you have a celestial jukebox in your living room where you can play any song for essentially free via voice command blows my mind. Heck, I still remember 8-Tracks! How far we’ve come.
Also, Echo is a boon to radio fans. With both TuneIn and iHeartRadio on board, the Amazon robot becomes the ultimate radio. Call out a station and its call letters, and soon you will be tuning in with no fiddling of knobs like the old days of shortwave radio. Echo also can play podcasts via TuneIn, which is a very cool thing for a podcaster like me.
Still, Echo’s bag o’ tricks doesn’t end with great audio. Here are some of the built in things Alexa can do, to name a few:
- Add items to a to do list (via the Alexa mobile app)
- Add items to a grocery list (via the Alexa mobile app)
- Read you a daily news update
- Read you the weather forecast
- Give you details on a topic from Wikipedia
- Set alarms and timers
- Answer funny questions
- Order a Domino’s Pizza (with enabled “skill”)
- A lot of other stuff I am forgetting about right now
Another very cool aspect of the Echo is its extendability, it can turn your lights on and off or your thermostat up and down via third party home automation hardware. I haven’t gotten that far yet, but I fully expect my Christmas tree will be voice controlled by Alexa this holiday season.
Also, the free Alexa app has a “skills” section where you can download free apps to add to Echo’s capabilities. There is a Magic 8 Ball skill, an extremely popular flatulence skill (yes I tried it), a Blackjack skill, a Jeopardy skill, and many more. The quality of the “skills” are uneven but they are constantly growing and fun to play with.
In short, if you like music, tech and can remotely afford it, get this thing. It is amazing! I commend Amazon for constantly improving it, and that is the exciting part. Echo should only get better with time.
Being a podcaster who covers strange topics and even at times conspiracies, I know many are pondering the big brother potential of this tech. Personally, I am taking the approach of not worrying about it much. If someone for some unimaginable reason wants to spy on me, I think my smartphone that follows me around with a microphone and HD camera everywhere I go is a far better option. Amazon assures us that we are not being spied on, at this point, I believe them. Echo does recall science fiction and reminds us that we are living in an age where amazing wonders are increasingly becoming just a regular part of life.
The Dot (which allows you to use the Alexa system with your existing speakers) is only available by order ONLY by ordering from an Echo, as of this writing, which has irritated many. Luckily, you can order the Tap (which is a mobile version of the Echo) directly from Amazon HERE. If I were buying today, I’d still go with the Echo but can see at least a Dot in my future. I don’t like the Tap as much since you have to literally tap it to wake it up (I presume this is to save battery power), due to this wrinkle Tap loses some of the luster that the Echo and the Dot have in spades.
Now that I am finished writing this, I think it’s time for an adult beverage. Alexa, bring me a…oh, that’s right. She can’t do that, not yet. . .the Amazon Echo, get it, it is tech so good it is scary.
Here are Jim’s afflilate links to Amazon to buy the Echo or Tap, your purchases help Jim and the site. Please order early and often. Thanks!
Amazon Echo, Tap and Dot are trademarks of Amazon.