Ama­zon Echo Re­view

iPhone Life Magazine - - Contents -

How does Ama­zon's as­sis­tant stack up to the com­pe­ti­tion?

Ibought the Ama­zon Echo (start­ing at $49.99) when it was first in­tro­duced in 2014. Although I was skep­ti­cal at first, Ama­zon of­fered a spe­cial dis­count for Ama­zon Prime mem­bers, so I took a chance. Now I can't live with­out it. In fact, while I have one of the higher-end mod­els, I bought a cou­ple of the Echo Dot mod­els when they were around $40 dur­ing Black Fri­day. At that price, it made sense to put one in ev­ery room. And since the Echo and Echo Dot are sold in ei­ther black or white, I fig­ured they would blend in with any of my home's fur­nish­ings.


So what does the Ama­zon Echo do, ex­actly? Sim­i­lar to Siri, Ama­zon Echo uses speech recog­ni­tion to per­form a range of tasks, lis­ten­ing for a wake word or trig­ger com­mand in or­der to kick into ac­tion. By de­fault, the Ama­zon Echo's wake word is “Alexa” but that can be changed to “Ama­zon” or “Echo” if you so choose. You can even use the word “com­puter” in place of Alexa, which should ap­peal to Star Trek fans. That's im­por­tant be­cause many times my Echo will wake up to a TV show if some­one says some­thing that sounds like Alexa, such as “I'll ask a ques­tion,” so it's nice to have this op­tion.

Sam­ple com­mands in­clude “Alexa, tell me the news,” or “Alexa, what's the weather re­port?” The Alexa ser­vice con­nects with your Ama­zon Prime ac­count if you have one, so it can play Ama­zon Prime Music. If you don't have an Ama­zon Prime ac­count, you can sub­scribe to Ama­zon's Echo Music ser­vice for $3.99/month, but Prime is a bet­ter deal be­cause it in­cludes movies, orig­i­nal TV shows, free two-day ship­ping, and more. And, to the com­pany's credit, Ama­zon also works with Spo­tify, Pan­dora, and iHeartRa­dio, so you don't have to use Ama­zon prod­ucts ex­clu­sively. In fact, Ama­zon has opened up its Alexa ser­vice to other man­u­fac­tur­ers, so com­pa­nies are adding Alexa ca­pa­bil­i­ties to speak­ers and other de­vices. This is a smart move, as it gets the Ama­zon Alexa plat­form into more price points and form fac­tors than Ama­zon might be able to do on its own. Given the com­pe­ti­tion is Google and Ap­ple, Ama­zon needs all the help it can get.


Google Home is an im­pres­sive al­ter­na­tive to the Ama­zon Echo, but it starts at more than $100. Ap­ple is also ru­mored to have a sim­i­lar prod­uct in the works based on Siri, per­haps as part of a fu­ture Ap­ple TV box, but who knows when that ru­mored de­vice will ship. Given Ap­ple's pric­ing ten­den­cies, it is un­likely that its de­vice would cost as lit­tle as the Echo Dot. Still, HomeKit in­te­gra­tion from an Ap­ple-branded prod­uct would be a com­pelling ad­van­tage.

How­ever, Alexa has a head start over Google and Ap­ple, and its soft­ware con­tin­ues to get bet­ter ev­ery sin­gle day as new Alexa skills are added. Ama­zon sends out email news­let­ters with new trivia games, news re­ports, and other voice-ac­ti­vated apps that users can add by voice com­mand or by us­ing the free Alexa app for iOS or An­droid. For ex­am­ple, Alexa can or­der a pizza from Domi­nos or a driver from Uber.


Of the two Echo de­vices, I highly rec­om­mend the Echo Dot, as it is an af­ford­able way to get started with the Alexa ex­pe­ri­ence. One of the ways Ama­zon cut costs with the Dot was by us­ing a lower-qual­ity speaker. That's fine for talk­ing back and forth with Alexa, but if you want to lis­ten to music, you might want to con­nect an ex­ter­nal speaker, ei­ther us­ing an au­dio ca­ble or Blue­tooth. Still, at $50, there is plenty of room to add a nice speaker and still pay less than the high­erend Ama­zon Echo.

There is one more model that sup­ports Alexa, namely the Ama­zon Tap ($129.99.) Un­like the Echo mod­els, the Tap re­quires that users tap a but­ton to ac­ti­vate Alexa. How­ever, the Ama­zon Tap of­fers a bat­tery op­tion so users can take it on the go. Of course, the Alexa ser­vice re­quires a Wi-Fi con­nec­tion, so it's not as mo­bile as it could be if a cel­lu­lar SIM were an op­tion.

The best part, to me, is its home-au­to­ma­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties. I can con­trol lights and other ap­pli­ances that in­te­grate with Wink, WeMo, Philips Hue, Sam­sung SmartThings, In­steon, Nest, and other smart de­vices. I can even tell Alexa to con­trol the TV, as it links to my Log­itech Harmony Re­mote sys­tem. This re­ally im­presses my friends and fam­ily, and is great when you can't find the re­mote.


Ama­zon Echo is the per­fect tool for help­ing you get started on your smart home. If the Ama­zon Echo is too pricy for you, the Echo Dot is a great, more af­ford­able al­ter­na­tive.

Todd Bern­hard is founder of No Tie Soft­ware, an app de­vel­op­ment com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in ring­tones and sound ef­fects in­clud­ing Au­toRing­tone. Bern­hard has owned an Ap­ple New­ton, a Mo­torola Marco, an HP 95LX, a Com­paq iPaq, a Palm Treo, and a Nokia e62. In ad­di­tion to writ­ing for iPhone Life, Mr. Bern­hard has writ­ten for its le­gacy pub­li­ca­tions, Pock­etPC Mag­a­zine and The HP Palm­top Pa­per.

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