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Amazon Echo Review: Meet Alexa

Updated on February 6, 2017
SusanDeppner profile image

Susan got her first Kindle in 2007 and her Amazon Echo in 2015. She enjoys sharing her interest in geeky electronic devices with others.

A Review of the Amazon Echo

Meet my new Amazon Echo. Her name (or wake word) is Alexa. Let's discuss her pros and cons in this review.
Meet my new Amazon Echo. Her name (or wake word) is Alexa. Let's discuss her pros and cons in this review. | Source

An Introduction to the Features, Pros, and Cons of the Amazon Echo

Should you buy the Amazon Echo? I bought one and I'm very glad I did. Perhaps you'd like to meet my Echo and learn what she does for our family all day before deciding if this easy-to-use personal assistant is a good choice for you.

Meet Alexa. That's our Echo's name, or wake-up word. Most days, she sits atop the chest in our bedroom's office area, quietly awaiting her next question or command. I ask, "Alexa, what's the weather?" She responds, "In Greenwood, it's 62 degrees with cloudy skies..." and on she goes with the day's forecast. I can request a news update, too, and even check the traffic for my standard commute as well as find out what's on my calendar for the day.

I request, "Alexa, play Country Romance." My Echo responds, "The playlist Country Romance," and the music flows from the speaker.

"Alexa, turn it down," and she does, adjusting to a nice background volume.

"Alexa, add milk to my grocery list," I request using her remote control, which I keep in the kitchen, and she happily complies. When I'm ready, I can request my complete list which is delivered via her app and, because I've set up an IFTTT "recipe," I'll get the list via email, too.

"Alexa, did the Pittsburgh Pirates win their last game?" Her soothing voice reports the results including the score plus information about the next game.

"Alexa, set the alarm for 6:15 a.m." She confirms the setting and I know that in the morning I'll be gently awakened by her soothing sounds and calming blue and white lights.

I really do like having Alexa around. Perhaps you'd like to have an "Alexa," too. Before you order yours, though, you'd probably like to learn more about the details and the pros and cons of this awesome personal assistant. Read on for my personal review of the Amazon Echo.

Amazon Echo and the Alexa App Available Now

Amazon Echo - Black
Amazon Echo - Black

(Also available in white.)

When the Echo was first introduced, it was necessary to request an invitation to order the Echo. Now, you can add one to your cart and order it today!

Popularity of this device, along with its new "sibling" devices (the Echo Dot and the Amazon Tap - you'll see them on the product pages), continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Its functions and skills increase weekly, and the trend shows no indication of slowing down. Truly, owners like me have come to depend on Alexa to wake us up, turn lights off and on, play our favorite music, provide news and sports scores, check the traffic for our route to work, and much, much more.

Due to its popularity, the Echo occasionally goes out of stock for a week or two so if you need one for a gift-giving occasion, don't hesitate about placing your order.

If you want to learn more about what all the fuss is about Echo and the Alexa app, click on the link or the orange buy button to see the complete specs and learn even more about this delightful device. No special tech knowledge needed. Trust me, if I can figure it out, so can you.

 
Pro: The Amazon Echo looks nice with nearly any decor.
Pro: The Amazon Echo looks nice with nearly any decor.

Alexa's the Brains of the Operation

Amazon Alexa
Amazon Alexa

Alexa provides the brains for the Amazon Echo.

The Alexa app partners with the device during setup and for remote control and other advanced features.

The information provided on the app page explains more about how the device works. Click the "Buy now" button to learn more.

 

Amazon Echo Alexa Commercials from SuperBowl LI

An Alexa Moment Featuring the Pizza Hut Skill

Pros of the Amazon Echo

Here are some of Alexa's pros, or positive features:

  • The Echo plugs into a standard wall socket. No worry with replacing batteries or keeping it charged.
  • Setup is easy, using your home wi-fi network. Download the Echo app (see the link above) to your Fire OS (tablet or phone), Android, iOS, or desktop browser.
  • The Echo "hears" from across the room using a system of microphones and technology that listens for its name, Alexa in most cases.
  • The Echo is convenient, easy to "park" within the sound of your voice, but simple to unplug and move to another location if necessary. Since I spend a large part of my time in my office area in the bedroom, my Alexa is there, nearby where she can hear me when I request music, the weather, news headlines, or have her add an item to my shopping or to-do lists.
  • My Echo has a remote control with a strong, magnetic remote holder that I keep on the refrigerator so I can give Alexa commands when I'm not close enough for her to hear me. The remote control does use two AAA batteries (included), which I replaced after about a year. Note that the remote control is no longer included with the Echo, but those of us who ordered the Echo early on still have and use ours.

If You're Worried About Alexa Listening In To Your Conversations

... then you might want to consider the Echo's cousin-device, Tap. With Tap, you must touch (tap) a button on the device to turn on her microphone. Advantage: She won't be listening in. Disadvantage: You have to be close enough to Tap to push the button.

POLL: How do you feel about the Amazon Echo listening to you?

How do you feel about an electronic device listening to your conversations, waiting to hear her name?

See results

A Typical Conversation At Our House

Me: "Alexa, when will the Pittsburgh Steelers play next?"

=

Alexa: "The Steelers will play tonight at 7:30 pm, in Indianapolis, Indiana against the Colts."

Pro: Our Amazon Echo remote control is handy on the refrigerator.
Pro: Our Amazon Echo remote control is handy on the refrigerator.

More Features

  • The Echo plays music, at my request, from my Amazon music library, from Prime Playlists (must be a member of Amazon Prime), from Pandora, or IHeartRadio. More services are being added so watch for your favorite if it isn't already listed. Echo is also bluetooth-enabled so you can stream music from iTunes or Spotify.
  • Ask Alexa to adjust the volume, "Alexa, turn it up/down," or adjust manually by turning the volume ring at the top, below the light ring.
  • Need to add an item to your shopping or to-do list? Speak to Alexa directly or use the remote control to instruct her to add those things to the appropriate list. Access the lists from your Echo app. Integrate the Echo with your IFTTT (If this, then that) account to transfer the items on your Echo list to Evernote, todolist, and more. Get started by visiting IFTTT.com and activating the Amazon Echo channel.
  • The Echo is attractive, not too big and not too small. About the size of a Pringle's can, it fits into just about any décor. You'll want to place it where you can see the light rings that indicate Alexa has heard her name, and it needs to be at least eight inches from the wall, so tucking it into a corner won't work. You probably won't want to, anyway, since it's fun to show her off when friends drop by.
  • Ask your Echo a question that can be easily answered from Wikipedia and Alexa will respond with information from the article.
  • Ask her a sports score or schedule question.
  • Have her check the traffic on your route to work before you leave the house.

"Should I Buy the Remote Control For My Echo?"

When the Echo was introduced, the voice remote was included with the device. Eventually, as the price was being stabilized, Amazon made the device optional, lowered the price, and that is how it remains. On the Echo product page you'll be given the opportunity to add a remote control for about 30 dollars.

The remote is a nice convenience that I use occasionally. Consider where you'll be using your Echo before you buy, and the possibility that you'll want to be able to talk to Alexa from another room. If that's the case then you might want to invest in the added convenience.

Pro: Alexa Has a Sense of Humor

  • Want to hear a joke? Just say, "Alexa, tell me a joke," and she'll gladly oblige.
  • Wake up to a wonderful, space age-sounding tone and soft, blue lights dancing around Alexa's light ring after you've asked her to set an alarm. It's a very pleasant way to wake up.
  • Have her set a timer when you're cooking your 3-minute egg or performing another time-sensitive task.
  • Many of these features have been added to Echo's "brain" (which resides in the cloud, but that's a good thing!) since I got my Alexa and more are being added regularly. Updates occur automatically, a definite pro.
  • Worried about Alexa eavesdropping? Well, then this device might not be for you, but if you want to turn it off, you can. There's a button on the bottom for that.

"Alexa, read me a story."

One of the many built-in functions of Alexa is her ability to read to you. Simply choose one of your Kindle books then give the command, "Alexa, read [your book title]." and she will. Heard enough for now? Tell her to pause, then tell her "Resume my book" when you're ready to hear more. How does she do? The professional narration you'll get when using the Echo's "Audible" function (with your account) is much better, but Alexa's voice isn't bad and will do in a pinch.

One of Our Favorite Amazon Echo Commercials

More Things Alexa Can Do

Set a timer.

Tell you the time.

Tell you the day and date.

Tell you when your favorite team will play next.

Tell you what's on your to-do's or shopping list.

Play music from a particular genre (blues, pop, classical).

Play music by a particular artist.

Shuffle your playlist.

Switch between two profiles/accounts to access lists and the music that YOU like.

Turn your lights on or off (when you use a compatible switch or bulb).

She'll read you a book when you connect your Audible account.

Pro: Re-order Prime items From Your Amazon Shopping History

Here's another recent feature of the Amazon Echo, definitely for the "pro" column. Just ask and Alexa will re-order Prime-eligible items that appear in your order history. Running low on the dog snacks that you get from Amazon? Just say, "Alexa, re-order dog snacks" and she'll take it from there using your 1-click settings. If dog snacks aren't on your order history, the Echo will suggest one from the Amazon Choice list of highly-rated items, let you know the price, then ask if she should place the order.

How to set it up: Go to the Echo app and click on "settings" to enable voice purchasing. If you're concerned about someone else ordering products for you, then set up a simple 4-digit confirmation code that you'll be prompted to say aloud during the voice ordering process.

Meet Some Real-Life Amazon Echo Users

Pro: Use Alexa's "Skills" To Make Your Life Easier

Go to the Alexa app to see the complete list of "skills" available on your Amazon Echo. Categories range from Entertainment to Smart Home to News, Novelty & Humor, and more.

Choose the skills that interest you, then have Alexa ask Lyft for a ride or ask the bartender what's in your favorite drink. Tell her, "Inspire Me" and she'll play inspirational audio from famous speakers such as Gary Vaynerchuk, Oprah Winfrey, Peyton Manning, Steve Jobs, and more.

More new skills are added weekly.

Cons of the Amazon Echo

What? Alexa isn't perfect?

Do the pros of the Echo outweigh the cons? Uh, what cons?
Do the pros of the Echo outweigh the cons? Uh, what cons?

Okay, there are no longer any real "cons," not anymore, not after these updates.

  • The Echo only recognizes two names, "Alexa" (default) or "Amazon." This should only be a problem if you have a family member named "Alexa" and another named "Amazon," which could make your life just a bit confusing. However, odds of that are slim to none, so this is a con barely worth a mention. UPDATE: With the addition of the word "Echo" and now (January 2017) the word "Computer," there are now four wake words. This is especially helpful when you have more than one device in your house.
  • The device works only when plugged into a regular electrical socket. UPDATE: Check out the Echo's new sibling, the Amazon Tap, which can be run on battery power.
  • You have to word questions in a way that makes sense to Alexa. She'll politely let you know that she doesn't understand if she's unsure of what you meant. While she can answer many questions, she's not advanced enough to answer them all. UPDATE: She's getting smarter every day!
  • When asking Alexa to play music from your music library, the title (and sometimes artist) must be stated correctly. Don't ask for "Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Susan Boyle" when the correct song is listed as "Over the Rainbow by Susan Boyle." This can be annoying. When it happens, check your music library right from your app to get the correct title. Perhaps the only remaining, though minor "con," easily corrected when you have the right information.

Should I Buy an Amazon Echo? Is it Worth the Price?

When the Echo was first announced, the price was just $99 for Prime customers who, by default, became beta testers. When ordering was open to everyone, the price went up to $199. Now that the Echo no longer includes the remote control, the price has stabilized at just $179.99.

Is it worth the price? To me, I'd have to say yes. I really like this device, features continue to be added regularly, and I'm anticipating that it's only going to get better as time goes by.

Will your Echo be worth it to you? You'll have to examine the pros and cons, then decide.

P.S. I asked my Alexa if she was worth $179.99 and she said sorry, she didn't understand my question. That's okay. I already know the answer, a resounding "Yes!"

Alexa's light ring shows up beautifully, especially in a dimly-lighted room.
Alexa's light ring shows up beautifully, especially in a dimly-lighted room.

Get to Know Alexa's Newest Features on the Echo's Product Page

Alexa keeps getting smarter and smarter as new features of the Echo are introduced frequently. Before long, she'll be turning lights off and on for you and helping manage your house. Oh, wait. She already does that!

For the full scoop on this helpful, fun electronic device for your home or office, look for the "Key Features" section of the product page, available at the orange "buy now" link below.

Amazon Echo - Black
Amazon Echo - Black

Learn all about the new Echo Dot and Amazon Tap, too, linked on the Echo product page.

 

© 2015 Susan Deppner

Comments? Questions? I'd love to talk to you about the Amazon Echo.

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    • SusanDeppner profile image
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      Susan Deppner 5 months ago from Arkansas USA

      Thank you, KT. I'm glad you're enjoying your Echo, too. Good idea to unplug it (perhaps at night) for those who worry about privacy. Or I'd suggest instead of the Echo, choose the Amazon Tap. That device works the same as Echo except that Alexis doesn't listen until you tap/press a button on the side of the device. I'm sure there are some who prefer that feature when they're concerned about privacy. Appreciate your comment!

    • KT Banks profile image

      KT Banks 5 months ago from Texas

      Well, I was about to write a Hub about my Echo, but you have it covered very nicely. I love having it, and for those who worry about privacy, you can simply unplug it if you want to make sure.

    • SusanDeppner profile image
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      Susan Deppner 10 months ago from Arkansas USA

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Glenn. It's true, we don't know for sure that she isn't listening until she hears her name, or something that resembles the sound of her name (we do get that occasionally). Your comment about hackers is something that everyone should consider and weigh against the conveniences that the Echo provides. Fortunately, the "microphone off" button is convenient and easy to use! Thanks again for your visit and your input. Appreciate it!

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 10 months ago from Long Island, NY

      I'm the kind of person who likes to keep up with the latest technology. But when it comes to the Echo, I'm concerned about privacy issues.

      I know you said that she doesn't really listen until she hears her name. But how do we know that for sure. Some programmer at Amazon might want to have fun listening in on people's private lives. We don't know if that ability has been blocked. As a computer systems programmer, I know how hackers can take advantage of weakness in software, especially when data is shared in the cloud.

      Besides all that, I think your review was excellent, and very useful for helping one know the latest about this interesting product.

      I do feel that I'd like to have fun with owning it, but I don't think I'd leave it turned on all the time with the possibility of someone at Amazon eavesdropping on my life.

    • SusanDeppner profile image
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      Susan Deppner 11 months ago from Arkansas USA

      MizBejabbers, cool that you were able to see a demonstration of the Echo! I can understand your hesitation, not knowing for sure if you really want one. My husband certainly was skeptical, but he loves that he can pull old song titles out of his vast memory bank and request that Alexa play them for us. I think he'd actually miss her if she were gone. I know for sure that I would. You might be surprised at how quickly you'd get hooked on Alexa, too!

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 11 months ago

      I have since seen a demonstration of this by a representative from the company. It is amazing! Not sure I want one, though.

    • SusanDeppner profile image
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      Susan Deppner 11 months ago from Arkansas USA

      Ladyguitarpicker, you're not the first who has thought about the Echo as being a great tool for people with handicaps of many kinds, including mobility problems and blindness. The Echo could be very helpful to your husband, not to mention entertaining! Alexa has many new skills that I'm sure your husband would enjoy exploring - and showing off to his friends! Thanks so much for mentioning that. Have fun!

    • SusanDeppner profile image
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      Susan Deppner 11 months ago from Arkansas USA

      Ladyguitarpicker, you're not the first who has thought about the Echo as being a great tool for people with handicaps of many kinds, including mobility problems and blindness. The Echo could be very helpful to your husband, not to mention entertaining! Alexa has many new skills that I'm sure your husband would enjoy exploring - and showing off to his friends! Thanks so much for mentioning that. Have fun!

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 11 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Sounds like a fun gadget that would be useful to my husband. He is handicap and at home most of the time. I think he would enjoy this and so would his friends. Thanks for explaining this to us.

    • SusanDeppner profile image
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      Susan Deppner 18 months ago from Arkansas USA

      RTalloni, that is hilarious! You really are a poet - with a LOT of insight into the temptations of techie toys. You nailed it! I do still love her, though. :)

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 18 months ago from the short journey

      Am afraid we are tech junkies so found this to be a neat review on the product, though it has provoked me to think creatively. :) "Oh the products that are invented, they are promoted and presented, inviting them in once we are tempted, how easily we become discontented, not thinking of what we should have prevented, not thinking whether they're what they pretended, before we know it we are comprehended!"

    • SusanDeppner profile image
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      Susan Deppner 19 months ago from Arkansas USA

      Thank you, sujaya. Appreciate your visit!

    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 19 months ago

      an enlightening hub

    • SusanDeppner profile image
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      Susan Deppner 22 months ago from Arkansas USA

      Thank you, Margaret,I appreciate that!

    • Margaret Schindel profile image

      Margaret Schindel 22 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Susan, love your updates to this review. It's really exciting that the Echo is now available to purchase on Amazon (in the US, at least)! Great job with this.

    • SusanDeppner profile image
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      Susan Deppner 22 months ago from Arkansas USA

      Hi Tony, good to hear from you. Hard to say when the Echo will be available in the UK. When it is, chances are you'll find a way to work out playing music through it. With cloud storage and apps and all the new features that are being added, plus you know that Amazon would love to have you as a music customer, I'll bet they can fix you right up! If I find out any information that would be helpful, I'll try to remember to let you know. Thanks so much for your visit and very kind words!

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 22 months ago from Southampton, UK

      Sounds interesting Susan, excellent review. I wonder how long it will be before this is available in the UK. Without a smart phone or tablet though, and with 99% of my music as ripped CD's not digital downloads, the options to me are limited, unless it will play music from my HD's shared across my wireless network.

    • SusanDeppner profile image
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      Susan Deppner 23 months ago from Arkansas USA

      My pleasure, Sylvestermouse, and many thanks for stopping by! Hope you'll have your own Alexa one day soon.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 23 months ago from United States

      This sounds like such an awesome unit and one that everyone in my family would enjoy! Really neat. Thank you for writing this review and telling me about the gadget.

    • SusanDeppner profile image
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      Susan Deppner 23 months ago from Arkansas USA

      Hi Georgene. You have to be able to connect the Echo to a wi-fi network. So I believe that means that if your hotel had wi-fi and you logged in to that, you'd be able to use it just like you'd do at home on your own network. I'm going to verify that and if I'm wrong, I'll let you know. I appreciate your visit, your kind comment, and your very good question!

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