I’m a big fan of things that help me get organized, which is what attracted me to Amazon Echo in the first place. One of the coolest things I discovered recently was X.AI and have been thrilled having Amy Ingram as my personal assistant.
Amazon Echo is a device about the size of a 1-liter bottle of soda that you can sit on your desk and use to perform some basic tasks. It’s a speaker that also has a microphone with excellent voice recognition. Alexa is your guide, and all you have to do is ask her to perform any task from her list of current abilities.
The box comes with a power cord and small brochure. Very basic packaging, a la Apple.
To give you an idea of size, I lined it up alongside my full-size (non-Mini) iPad.
When I first read about Amazon Echo, most of the features didn’t sound that appealing to me, though your experience may differ. Here’s a partial list:
- Play music from your online library
- Play music from the Amazon Prime library
- Play podcasts, radio, audible books
- Control lights and other connected home products
- Set alarms
- Add things to a to-do list, check your calendar
- Check the weather
- Answer questions, a la Siri
The calendar integration was the reason I was interested. When I’m working from my desk I’m always multi-tasking. Being able to continue working while using my voice to perform another task is very appealing to me, and a natural extension of a product like X.AI that integrates with my calendar.
It’s still early, I’ve only been playing with Echo for a few days. But, I’m pleased so far with it. It’s also clear that they’ll need to add more features to make this useful for wide adoption. I have no need to organize an online music library to the speaker. I have iTunes and good enough speakers on my iMac for my listening purposes. However, Alexa, the polite woman inside Echo that helps you, has excellent voice recognition, which means the software can be trained to do many more things to pair up with the voice recognition. In early testing, I’d say Alexa hears things noticeably more accurately than Siri does.
I downloaded the Echo app from the iTunes App Store. I used that for setup and also use it a bit for a few features (to-do list, etc). You also need the app to set up the music service if you’re interested in that feature.
The only hurdle I encountered in the few days I’ve been using it was in the initial setup, and it was an easy fix. I have a prime account for my business and I have an “invited” prime account for personal use. I initially set the device up using my “invited” account since that e-mail address was also associated with my Google calendar. Turns out if you want access to Amazon Prime music for free, you need to use the main prime account to register the Echo. That was a 2-minute fix with someone on the phone. I found the phone service to be great, I was able to request a call right through the app. If you don’t have Amazon Prime, you can get a free 30-day trial here.
Alexa needs more time. Adding something to the to-do list in the Echo app is annoying to me, but having Alexa add something to an Evernote notebook (something she can’t do now but should be easy to add) would be much more valuable.
Should You Buy It Today?
If you like music, podcasts, radio, audiobooks, you should absolutely get this today. The playlists look extensive. You’ll also find Alexa can access traffic, news, weather and other pertinent info fairly easily.
If you have any of the connected home devices that are a part of Echo (you can see these on the site) then you’ll likely get plenty of value. My company has invested in a smart vent from Keen Home which will be out on shelves soon. Will, one of their co-founders, is very familiar with Echo and the work has already begun on integrating the vent with Echo. Raise and lower the temperature in your room just by asking Alexa!
If you want it for business productivity, you’ll find the calendar and to-do list integration, but not a whole lot else. I’d expect more soon.
In short, if you like experimenting with new technology it’s very stable and ready to buy now. It will make your life easier. If just for business use, you can safely wait a bit for more integration.
If you do decide to buy it, I’d appreciate you using my link as I do earn a referral credit.
I’ve had an Echo for a little while now, and it takes a little time to bed her in (I did have her in the bedroom, as it was a room without a decent speaker for music, but the wife objected and so she’s now in the hall) but once you do it’s worth it.
You may not have noticed but Echo has integration with TuneIn, Pandora, Audible and iheartradio so when you feel like something new, “Alexa, play Today’s Hits from Pandora” gets you “Playing Today’s Hits from Pandora, would you like me to add it as a station?”.
Echo will also integrate quickly with Belkin Wemo and Phillips Hue devices. Finally, and most importantly, you can link Echo up to IFTTT.com which gets you a wide range of ‘if then then that’ recipes.
I admit it’s still early days, but there’s a recipe which adds echo to-do to your evernote. I think IFTTT is a great platform for multi-vendor integration with Echo and I hope that more variables are added to the echo recipes really soon. Alexa already controls my bedside light via wemo and my hall lights via an IFTTT integrated timer. (btw after training her she understands me and my wife, but largely ignores anyone else).
There’s also an SDK and huge developer community already, with helpful test code and awesome instructions on how to develop a voice application. Yes you need to be a coder but I’m sure some enterprising programmer will build a GUI interface soon. Alexa isn’t a ‘do everything’ device, but it’s a great voice interface which could readily be integrated with KODI media centres, arduino kits with sensors and IR controllers, and a multitude of web services out there on the interwebs.
Max, thanks for the very detailed comments. I didn’t realize there was an IFTTT integration. I can certainly set up some interesting recipes. I did know about Pandora, Audible, etc. I just don’t listen to enough music to make that my main purpose for buying. If I can use IFTTT for things, I’m even more pumped about Alexa.
I have my echo set up to call my iPhone when I misplace using a ITTT recipe. I believe there are some you can add that will add things to evernote.
Matt, that’s pretty cool. I hadn’t discovered Alexa could make phone calls yet.