A couple of months ago I bought myself an Amazon echo. In case you are not familiar with the Echo, it is a smart speaker which you control with your voice. You can use it to listen to music, play games, check the weather, check the news, check sports scores, listen to audiobooks, and it can even tell you jokes.
You control the echo by talking to Alexa, the Echo’s friendly operating system. Alexa has a nice friendly voice and can answer almost any question you ask it (her). It’s easy to find Alexa quite endearing after a while, and is almost like having a friend there to talk to.
So, whenever you say the word “Alexa” a light will come on and the Echo will start listening to you. For example, you could say “Alexa, what’s the weather like?” and Alexa will tell you what the weather is like in your specified location. You can pretty much ask Alexa anything and she will tell you the answer. She will even answer silly questions like “Will you marry me?” (She politely declined in case you were wondering). Have I look at this video for an idea of what the Echo can do:
So far I have mostly used the Echo to listen to music, and for this purpose I think it is fantastic. The Echo can play songs from Amazon music, Spotify and TuneIn, so you can listen to pretty much any song you want, or radio station. You can ask Alexa to play individual songs or artists, or play music of a specific genre, or from a certain decade. For example you can say “Alexa, play music from the 90s” and she will play a selection of 90s music. I think it’s brilliant because it gives you an unlimited choice. You are not confined to what is in your iTunes library, like with the iPod.
However, you do have to be a premium subscriber on Spotify to link your account with the Echo. Likewise, you have to be an Amazon prime subscriber to listen to Amazon music. But in my opinion it is definitely worth subscribing to both because of the wide range of music that it offers you.
Music is not the only thing that the Echo is good for. Alexa also has lots of “skills” which enable it to do lots of different things, some more useful than others. For example you could play games such as “Beat the Intro” where you have to guess the song based on its intro. Or you could play interactive adventure games where you tell Alexa what choices to make. Or you can enable skills to tell you random facts, inspirational sayings, or even to order you a takeaway.
Personally I haven’t used many of the skills yet, mostly because I find it difficult to understand what Alexa is saying because of my hearing loss. It’s not because she doesn’t speak clearly; it’s because I need to lipread to understand speech, and obviously Alexa doesn’t have a face. Plus, a lot of the skills aren’t very useful.
One of the most exciting things the Echo can do is to control appliances in your home. Alexa could turn the lights on in your house for you, or adjust the thermostat, all by a voice command. You just need to buy a compatible smart plug and then you could turn on all sorts of appliances using Alexa. I love the idea of controlling appliances by voice, but I’m not sure what ones would be most useful to me yet. My carer is always around so I might as well just get them to turn lights on.
The Echo does need to be connected to Wi-Fi in order for Alexa to work. So if your Wi-Fi connection is not stable then you might find that music keeps cutting out, or it won’t respond to commands. Most of the time for me it’s not been a problem, but there have been occasions where the Echo couldn’t connect to the Wi-Fi for a long period of time. But I don’t think that was the Echo’s fault, I think it’s just because the Wi-Fi at home is a bit dodgy sometimes.
Somewhat annoyingly the Echo in the US is not only cheaper than the UK version, it also has more skills available to use. The US Echo is on sale for $149.99 (£115.95), whereas in the UK it’s on sale for a pricey £149.99. Why the difference? I have no idea, as physically it is the same product. Personally I think 150 quid is a bit too expensive. Something closer to £100 would be more reasonable I think.
Overall, I think the best thing about the Echo for me is being able to listen to a wide variety of music. I haven’t utilised everything that the Echo is capable of yet, like its skills or controlling smart appliances. But I’m sure I will in the future. The great thing is that the Echo updates automatically and new skills are being added all the time so any new functions will be automatically downloaded. It’s just unfair that it is more expensive and has fewer skills than the US version.