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However, in recent years, the company has expanded into the consumer electronics market, with devices like the Kindle, the Fire tablet line, and their Fire TV stick. But their latest release, the Amazon Echo, is something altogether new. An always on, always listening speaker, that is capable of responding to your voice to do everything from telling you the weather to giving you cooking directions. Already a big hit in the States, Echo is about to take the UK market by storm as well.
Why should you be dying to get one? Well, it’s a fully functioning speaker, and it’s got second to none voice recognition software. And then there are those skills, allowing Echo to do pretty much anything you ask of it, including playing music, ordering from Amazon, grabbing you a cab, and even doing your maths homework. The Echo is a unique device, and one that will be a huge hit with tecchies and non-tecchies alike.
In essence, the Amazon Echo is a black cylinder. It stands tall, the bottom half of the device aerated with speaker holes, the top half solid. The top circle of the Echo itself features only two physical buttons (mute and listen), but the ring (lit up in jaunty blue shades of neon) twists to function as a volume control. And that’s it. Simple, minimalistic, sleek and unobtrusive, exactly the way a home device should be.
Aside from its looks, the Echo features plenty of power. It’s got a full seven microphones, and far field voice recognition. It’s packed full of skills (the title Amazon has chosen that basically describes “stuff the Echo can do”), gets solid audio quality, and is equipped to control many smart home devices too.
There’s really little that we can compare the Echo too, it really is that unique. Perhaps the best comparison is having an always listening Siri, Cortana, or Android Assistant in your home waiting to answer all your questions. What is clear though, is that the Echo is convenient, easy to use, and a stunningly useful addition to any modern home.
Let’s start out with what makes up the Echo. As we mentioned above, the Echo is a straight up cylinder. It stands 235 mm tall, and 83.5 mm wide, so it’s discrete and easy to place anywhere in the home. Given that it’s a cylinder that also means that sound is omni-directional, the speakers work through 360 degrees, giving full immersive sound.
What’s even more impressive though is the full seven microphones, with noise cancellation capability and beam forming tech. That means that the Echo can hear you wherever you are in a room, even if you’re in a noisy environment or if music is playing.
The Echo connects to your home WiFi, and comes with a full six foot power cord, so plugging in should be no problem. And that’s pretty much it. Simple and elegant, just the way home devices should be made.
The Echo is fully voice controlled (though you’ll need to download the Alexa app to your phone or tablet for initial set up). You say the wake word (which is Alexa by default, but can be changed to either Echo or Amazon) and it’s listening. All you need to do now is tell it what you want.
Basic services are built in by default. This includes access to music on Amazon (particularly if you’re a Prime member) so you can play what you like. You can also order through Amazon (don’t worry, this requires a special code to stop your kids ordering on your account), build a shopping list, as well as a host of little things like setting alarms and timers, getting news updates and asking about the weather. The Echo even comes with a few Easter Eggs, so it can tell you jokes, solve equations and the like.
In terms of basic services, the Echo is already pretty handy. Instant weather and news, timers for your kitchen, and all the music you can handle (and if you’re not a Prime member, the Echo can connect to other music services, as we’ll discuss below). But the Echo is so much more than just the basics.
Aside from basic built in capabilities, you can also add Skills to your Echo. You’ll need to head into the Alexa app to do this, but once you do you’ll find that there are thousands of available options to choose from.
By adding Uber or Lyft skills you can then get the Echo to call you a ride when you need one. You can add other music services, like Spotify to expand your music options. You can control your Google calendar, get recipes from Jamie Oliver (as well as step by step cooking instructions), or add in your favourite news or sports channel to get updates. It’s impossible for us to tell you all the skills that the Echo can learn simply because the list literally grows by the day…
Whatever it is that you’re looking to do, the chances are that the Echo will be able to learn the skill you need. Yes, you’ll need to spend a little time configuring your accounts and which skills you want, but the pay off should be more than worth it!
Finally, the Echo is also capable of connecting in to your smart home appliances. It doesn’t yet support all platforms (Sonos is an omission at the moment, though the company are promising integration soon), but if you’ve got a cutting edge home, then the Echo is there to help.
The Echo will allow you to voice control your Hue, Weemo, Hive, Tado, and Netatmo devices, meaning you can switch lights on and off, adjust climate control and so much more. And for the more technically inclined, Amazon are in the process of adding support for IFTTT, meaning you can create recipes with the app in the same way as you can with IFTTT on your mobile.
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The Amazon Echo is unlike anything that we’ve seen before. It’s a fully fledged home assistant that has amazing voice recognition skills and that learns new things every day. Whether you want to cook a roast or dim your lights, all you need to do is ask your Echo to help you out. This is a grown up case of “look mum, no hands,” and the Echo’s voice skills are really second to none.
So, is there anything that we don’t like? Not really. The Echo is somewhat geared towards Amazon Prime members, in that Prime members get more music choices and better shopping options, but that’s to be expected really. It’s a tad pricey, though there’s a cheaper, smaller Echo Dot available if cost is a concern. But on the whole, we love the Echo. Yes, it’s a gadget, but have one for more than a couple of days and you’ll wonder what you ever did without one. If you’re looking to make your home high tech, then you need an Amazon Echo.
by Dan Forster, Mobile Phone Expert
Dan is our mobile phone review expert helping customers make better buying decisions. With a passion for technology and taking things apart Dan single-handedly reviews all the phones listed on the TigerMobiles.com website.