Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Amazon Echo: A very quick review, thoughts

I'm an early adopter of tech and in turn have been interested and purchasing various home automation related devices.  I currently have Philips Hue bulbs throughout the man-cave and also a few Wemo devices and of course am an Amazon Prime member.

I pre-ordered and bought my Amazon Echo in the first wave of invites/orders.  From the get go I was going into my purchase with my early adopter expectations put in place (ie over priced while under delivering but are mandatory for the product sect to grow).  The initial features included only weather updates, news updates, limited music streaming from pandora and iheartradio and basic knowledge retrieval (ie what is 2 plus 2, how many ounces in a pound, etc).  No contact or calendar integrations or home automation controlling either.

Two days later, I received my Echo... I mean.. I was introduced to Alexa (you can change the trigger word from "Amazon" to "Alexa").  After the very quick and easy setup using the Echo android app, I tried my first command and I must admit that I did feel like I was in a Star Trek movie talking to the computer.  You can get weather updates, new updates/flash briefings based on NPR or BBC and also had Alexa read the headlines.  NPR news is a playback of the actual NPR news whereas BBC is just alexa reading the rss headlines (or so it seems).

You can control and playback music from Amazon Music, iHeartRadio and TuneIn.  You can also pair your Echo to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth and playback music from it to your Echo and control it if the app supports Bluetooth Playback Controls (most do btw, I run Ambify on my iPhone 6 Plus and send the audio to my Echo and have my Hue bulbs moving to the music = instant impromptu dance party).  The Amazon Music integration is of course the best and lets you do a "Alexa, play some music" and Echo will play a random playlist based on your previous listening history (again on the Amazon Music service).

Voice recognition is pretty good in most situations but anytime there is a lot of background noise or people talking; Echo does have a hard time recognizing what you said.  This is where the included remote with microphone comes in handy.  You can control music playback, volume and speak into it's built-in mic.  Physical controls on the Echo include: Power, Mute and volume control by twisting top.

As a speaker it does a pretty good job.  Bass is very lacking but mids and highs are pretty crisp.  Volume level is good too and can be turned up pretty loud.   So let's just quick recap with a Pro/Cons and Conclusion:

-Almost Star Trek like, good looking device and love the idea behind it
-Weather and News updates are very useful
-Music control for Amazon Music is excellent
-Good sound quality
-Potential for this device is very high as development expands

-For the price, not worth it to most people
-Lack of contact/calendar integration or commands
-Lack of any third party integration, mainly Google
-No traffic reports abilities or home automation controlling (ie can't turn off/on lights or other cool things)
-Low bass when playing music

I love the idea behind the Echo.  For what it can do, the Echo does it very well for a first-gen type of device.  It's very good at giving you weather updates and news updates on the fly and play some random music when you want.  Having an Amazon Prime membership is really required to fully take advantage of current options.   However the lack of any calendar or email integration or the ability to tie in other accounts to access said info takes a point away from it's usefulness.  This is a beta product in retail form but the beta part mainly refers to the software behind it.  Amazon is currently working on a dev kit for developers and loves getting feedback on what you want to see.  So for most people this device is probably a wait for it to develop situation, however for the gadget geek it's worth it.

Plus the future updates to Echo should only make it even better.  Now how long will it be until I can turn off my lights with Echo? Hopefully soon!