Amazon Echo Review: Meet Alexa
A Review of the Amazon Echo
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
Alexa's the Brains of the Operation
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?
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."
- 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?
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!"
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.
© 2015 Susan Deppner