Is the Amazon Echo worth getting in 2016? How far as the device come since launch? And most importantly, is it worth $179.99?
Amazon’s Echo is a cool device in a lot of ways, but in an equal number of ways, it’s a device that largely feels unnecessary. Why do you need Alexa when you have Siri or Google Now? Why would you buy a largely expensive device that is stationary when you can take your smartphone anywhere? Is it worth the price? These are all entirely valid questions.
When I first heard about the Amazon Echo, I thought it was a cool device–but mostly an extraneous one. I even demoed it in a mall and was mostly largely unimpressed. At the time I thought the voice recognition was very mediocre, but looking back, I now see this was mainly due to a large amount of background noise.
In this look at the Amazon Echo device in 2016, I’m going to take a look at many valid concerns you might have about the Amazon Echo. There is some part of you that wants the device–or else you wouldn’t be reading this article, but there’s also a part of you that doesn’t.
To me personally, I don’t care if you get the Echo or not since I’m not an Amazon employee. However, I do want people who would otherwise be happy with the device to go ahead and get it to experience some of the great features.
Pros of Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo has a ton of useful integrations that you might not have heard about. You can find a bunch of these integrations which are classified as “skills.” These skills are mini-apps that you can install onto your Alexa to give it additional third party functionality–like small jeopardy games or even the ability to find your phone if you lose it around the house. My favorite one is the ability to ask Alexa to fart, and then she lets one rip.
Amazon Echo is powered by a 2.5-inch woofer and 360-degree Omni-directional audio that sounds amazingly powerful. The bass never manages to surprise me and the audio can get very loud without sounding distorted.
For such a small device, you wouldn’t expect such powerful sound resonance. Perhaps it’s due to the omnidirectional audio design that pours sound out from every angle giving Alexa the ability fill up your room with audio better than any other speaker of a similar price.
One of the beauties of using Amazon Echo as a speaker is how easy it is to get music up and running. Simply ask it to play a Spotify playlist, or just play a genre, or something that you would like, and it’ll start playing music nearly instantly. It’s great since those not familiar with setting up music or your personal libraries can easily find something they like to listen to. It’s as simple as saying “Play Taylor Swift.” It’s also brilliant since you can control the volume with your voice or even pause the music.
Amazon Echo’s voice recognition isn’t perfect. But is it better than any other vocal app out there like Siri and Google Now?
I would wager that it is. Much better, in fact. For starters, Alexa can answer a much broader range of questions and understand more prompts. I’ve also found the experience with vocal commands and responses much more intuitive. With Siri, more often than not, I say a prompt that she doesn’t know how to answer, or she has to google it. This happens far less with Alexa to a surprising degree.
Alexa in many ways, feels more like an AI that is designed to be conversed with more than other similar vocal apps out there. While Siri or Google now might be just as competitive when it comes to queries about the weather, movies nearby, or even restaurants, Alexa is more powerful about answering factual questions, and I’ve used it plenty when needing to know information.
Amazon claims that Alexa is always getting smarter as it adapts to your speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences. Whether it’s that, or the seven microphones that are always listening, I’ve found that it’s much easier to send queries and get accurate responses using my natural voice than other competitors. With Alexa, it helps to speak clearly, but more often than not I can just speak normally instead of with a stilted voice like I might have to with Siri.
One of the main advantages of Alexa is that it’s always listening feature works brilliantly. Every time I say, Alexa, it picks up instantly, and it can even hear you across the house. Over time you’ll find that this is incredibly convenient for a multitude of things. It can listen quite good–sometimes too good.
When I first saw the Amazon Echo, I thought it looked too plain–sort of like a black tube with audio holes. But when I got it, I was very surprised by how small it was. It wasn’t this tall black tube I was expecting.
When you talk to Alexa, she has a gorgeous blue sphere that glows at the top and circulates as if she is thinking. When you mute the Echo, it turns red–and keeps itself red to let you know it’s muted. I kind of wish this red would pulse a bit, since the red it glows is intense. It makes me feel like Alexa is mad for some reason that she can’t hear anything anymore.
Changing the volume with the Echo manually (instead of through vocal command) is very fun and cool. You only rotate the top of the device counter-clockwise to lower volume, and clockwise to raise it. It makes changing the volume very quick and intuitive to get it to the right volume.
The Echo gets consistent updates making it a much better product than when it shipped out. Now, it can support Audible audio playback, Kindle book audio dictation, Yelp search, movie showtimes, and Google calendar support. While I mentioned them before, the skills also do an excellent job of giving Echo more features from third party developers.
Smart Home Integration
One of the more useful things about Amazon Echo is how you can use it to control your smart home devices with your voice. You can tell Echo a variation of command your lightbulbs, heating units, or other smart devices. I love how I can tell Alexa “turn off Lamp” when I’m leaving the house.
After awhile, turning on a lamp by having to walk up to it and twist a knob just seems like SO much work. Funny how that is, eh?
Amazon Echo retails at $179.99, which feels a bit pricey. But it’s neat since Amazon lets you offset that initial cost with five monthly payments of $36 with no interest!
The Few Cons of Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo, from a hardware point, is a very strong device. Alexa as a narrator works well too, but a lot of times the skill integrations and commands can feel clunky. For example, the more specific you get with Alexa, the more likely she will mess up. Or, the more precise you want to be, the more commands you have to give in sequential order.
You can’t just say, “Play Spotify discovery playlist on Shuffle.” You have to say, “Play Spotify Discovery Playlist,” then when it starts you have to say “Shuffle” then you have to say “Skip” to get a new song. For this reason, playing very specific playlists with Spotify can be a drag, and it just works better if you are less specific towards what you want. Or if you want a particular artist, that works well too.
Some of my other complaints are with the Amazon Echo app on your smartphone. Finding useful skills has gotten better as they updated the organization, but it still resembles nothing like an actual app store. There are so many niche skills and functions that it just becomes a chore to find the good ones. For that very reason, I plan on making an article in the future with some of my favorite skills.
I would also prefer a general overhaul of the app itself, as it feels too basic and clunky.
Sometimes Mistakes Activation
While I mentioned that the Echo is very good about always hearing your voice and activating, it also is prone to activating on accident. I would say it does this about twice a day, and sometimes during movies or shows when it hears a similar trigger word like “Alexa.” This is easily solved by using the mute function during times when you want total silence.
Also, the Echo’s listening ability also becomes less useful when you turn up the volume very high. Usually, it’s very easy to control the music volume by dictating if you want it to go up or down, but if it gets loud enough, it won’t be able to hear any queries–despite some of the noise cancellation technology that it uses.
Verdict of Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo is a bit pricey at $180 for a device you don’t really need. I mean, none of use need the latest smartphone or smart bulbs, but they just make life easier like Alexa. Whether it’s setting a timer, finding out the weather, shutting off devices, or listening to music while you’re cooking (or listening to Audiobooks), the experience always just feels so cool.
While the Amazon Echo might not look it at first glance, the combined technology within the small device is quite impressive and the resulting functions equally as impressive. The device, now in 2016, has some cool features and polish that makes it a pleasure to use.