While we’re sadly a long ways away from talking to our house like the Starship Enterprise, Amazon’s Echo is bringing us a step closer. “Alexa” can give you the weather, read the news, and play music on command, but there are some big areas where it lacks.
- The Echo does a great job of hearing my voice, even if I’m fairly far away from it. She (er, it?) can even pick out my voice over the TV.
- Echo’s voice is pleasant and very easy to understand.
- Fairly good music quality, however it’s not as good as my JBL Flip 2.
- Connects to iHeart radio and TuneIn. It can also play news from NPR.
- Answers a surprisingly large range of questions. “When did Green Day form?” “Why is the sky blue?” “How old is Cindy Crawford?” “Really?!”
- I like how I can yell “Alexa, stop!” as I’m running out the door to stop the music (and so my neighbors can suspect that I’m being domestically abused).
- For music, the bass is there, but it is lacking.
- No smartphone integration: Echo cannot read emails, send texts, or make an appointment on your phone’s calendar. The lists and reminders that Alexa creates are only available in the Amazon Echo app. Update 5/4/2015: Amazon now has a channel in IFTTT that brings some integration for now. For example, I can have Alexa add items to my iPhone’s built-in Reminders list thanks to the IFTTT channel.
No traffic reports. As of 3/13/2015, traffic reports are now supported No sport schedules(but she can give scores). As of 3/13/2015, Alexa can now tell you when your favorite team plays next.
- No movie show times.
No integration with Pandora. As of 4/2/2015, Pandora is now supported (thanks, ViennaMike!).
Amazon promises improvements over time, and I’m hoping to see some integration with Gmail and Google Calendar. Alexa won’t be replacing Siri just yet, but Alexa is still useful, if not for the music capabilities alone.
If you’re a Prime member, you can also access Amazon’s Prime Music service through the Echo, as well as the music you have purchased on the Amazon MP3 Music service. Accessing iHeart Radio’s custom stations is tricky (Echo asks to create stations for artists I already have custom stations for), but as far as I can tell, the custom stations play ad-free at this time (please don’t change this, Amazon!). Being able to hear the news in the morning is also very handy.
You’re probably understandably concerned about the Echo transmitting your voice to the cloud. Amazon states that the Echo only starts uploading your voice when you say the “wake word” (Alexa). The Echo is able to detect the wake word locally (without the cloud). There is also a mute button available for times when you’re concerned that your conversation may be going straight to the NSA.
Overall, the Echo is a useful device and I can’t wait to see what functionality Amazon brings in the future.
UPDATE (12/17/2014): The official iOS app is now available in the App Store. The web-app (echo.amazon.com) now redirects to the official app.
UPDATE (3/13/2015): Amazon has been busy! The Echo now supports sport schedules and traffic.
[icon name=icon-arrow-right] Check out the Amazon Echo on (you guessed it) Amazon
[icon name=icon-arrow-right] Already have an Echo? Check out some tips and tricks.