Amazon Echo Review: Better than Siri?

The Amazon Echo is a voice-powered Bluetooth speaker (Think Siri but as a standalone product that’s always listening.)

My initial feelings were speculative at best; why spend $179 on a device that does everything that Siri does? Siri’s free if you already have an iPhone.

I’ve had the Amazon Echo for two weeks, and now I get it.

Siri was released with iOS5 in 2011, but hasn’t improved much. Siri was seen as a gimmick, but, now, voice recognition software and AI are widespread. This stuff is no longer just for nerds.

Amazon created this market for a standalone device where there wasn’t one. Now, Google is entering the market with Google Home, which is set for release at the end of this year. Apple is also looking to enter the market, but its version might be built into the next generation Apple TV.

For now, Echo is the only product of its kind on the market.

I’ll review the Apple and Google competitors when they’re released, but for now, here’s my Amazon Echo Review.

Love:

  • The Echo is always out and ready. You don’t have to press buttons or take anything out of your pocket; say “Alexa” and it will begin listening to your commands.
  • Alexa’s voice recognition is unbelievable. It has an omni-directional mic; it can pick up your voice from any direction. I keep mine in the kitchen, and it can pick up my voice from the living room or office. Even when the music is loud, it does a great job. It blows Siri out of the water. Siri can’t hear, “Hey, Siri” unless you’re talking directly into your phone.
  • The sound quality of the Echo speaker is solid. It’s not Sonos level quality, but it’s on par with other Bluetooth speakers like the Jambox Mini or the Sony SRSX2.
  • The Echo is perfect if you have smart devices in your home. I have the Philips Hue lights. I can walk into the kitchen and say “Alexa, turn on the lights to 30%.” I also have the Logitech Harmony, so if I say “Alexa, trigger Apple TV,” it turns on my TV, Apple TV, and puts everything on the correct input.
  • Setting up Bluetooth with your phone is easy. There’s no playing with menus or settings. You say, “Alexa, connect to my phone with Bluetooth,” and it takes care of the rest.
  • You can ask Alexa to play any song from your Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, or TuneIn library by using your voice.
  • You can train Alexa to understand your voice better with “voice training” by reading 25 different phrases. (I didn’t do this but it seemed to understand me well.)
  • You can set up recipes with IFTTT. For example, have IFTTT keep a Google spreadsheet of the songs you listen to on Echo.
  • There’s an Alexa app store where Alexa can learn over 1,000 new skills. Developers now build on the platform and create skills using the Alexa APIs. Alexa’s capabilities have grown and will continue. There will be thousands of startups creating apps based on the Alexa platform to do more tasks.

Hate:

  • There is no battery. Most Bluetooth speakers have a battery, so you’re not always plugged into a wall.
  • No remote is included. You can buy one for an additional $30, and it lets you control Alexa regardless of distance.
  • Echo is limited to one thing when you say “Alexa.” If I was creating a shopping list, I can’t say “Alexa, add frozen pizza, chicken, and milk to my shopping list.” I would have to say each item individually.
  • Alexa doesn’t understand pronouns. For instance, when I ask “Alexa, how old is Tom Brady?” it gives his correct age, but if I come back with, “Alexa, what team does he play for?” it has no memory of what was previously talked about. Google Voice has been working to perfect follow up questions.
  • The Echo doesn’t integrate perfectly with Apple products. If you’re an Apple Music user, you can’t ask it to play music. You can play your Apple Music via Bluetooth, but it would be nice if it was integrated inside Alexa. Cool workaround: If you have all your music stored locally (iTunes), you can upload music to Amazon Music (stored in the cloud for $24.99/year) and songs will be available through Alexa (without Bluetooth).
  • You can’t have it write in your Apple Notes or iCal; it only writes inside of the Amazon Notes and Google Calendar.
  • The Echo is almost useless without WiFi. You can’t ask it any questions; the only thing you can do is use it as a Bluetooh speaker for your phone. BUT, this only works if you’ve previously connected your phone to the Echo while you had WiFi.
  • Echo is always waiting for you to say the keyword “Alexa.” This might be scary to some, but the idea that we have privacy in this day in age of technology is ridiculous. If you’re worried about this, don’t carry around a smart phone either because it has the same kind of technology. This privacy issue may be a concern for some, but it doesn’t bother me.
  • There is no auxiliary audio port. It’d be nice to have the option of plugging in non-Bluetooth devices to listen to music.
  • You have to remember the name of the specific skill when you want to use it, and it can be hard to remember all the names of the skills. (There must be a better way to do this?)
  • The Alexa app could use some work. I have to login frequently. Once I’m logged in, it should stay like that. Also, the Alexa skill search doesn’t work well. There are no categories or top charts, so it’s hard to find new skills.

What are the other Alexa Devices?

There are two other devices powered by Alexa.

Amazon Dot –  For $90, you get the brains of Alexa, but without the speaker. You connect the Dot to an existing speaker using Bluetooth or an audio cable. I considered buying this and plugging it into my Sonos Play:5 speaker.

Amazon Tap – For $130, you get a device that has all Echo’s features, but to give it commands, you have to touch it. For the Echo you just say the keyword, “Alexa,” but with the Tap, you just need to tap it. I understand buying the Dot; it’s a cheaper way to get Alexa in your house. But the Tap doesn’t make sense to me. The whole point of Alexa is to be completely hands free. Pulling out your phone and using Siri is just as easy as pushing the button on the Tap.

What are cool things I ask?

  • “Alexa, Simon says….” Alexa will repeat whatever you say after “Simon Says.” It’s a cool feature, but I don’t know when this would be helpful other than just playing around with your friends.
  • “Alexa, where’s my stuff?” Alexa will tell you where the latest packages you’ve ordered from Amazon are.
  • “Alexa, order Dominos.” You can pre-set orders and then tell her to order them.
  • “Alexa, turn on {insert room name}” I use this to turn on the lights in any of my rooms that have the Philips Hue lights.
  • “Alexa, play {insert any song/album/artist on Spotify}.”
  • “Alexa, set timer for 12 minutes.” This is awesome for doing anything kind of cooking in the kitchen.
  • “Alexa, reorder {insert any previous Amazon order}.” I used this to reorder coffee pods for my Keurig machine.

Who is this for?

If you have any smart devices in your home (i.e.  WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, Nest, and Ecobee) Echo is a must have.

If you’re in the market for a cheap ($100ish) Bluetooth speaker, Echo is a must. (If you’re getting a Bluetooth speaker, you might as well get the added Alexa functionality.)

This isn’t for you if you’re looking for premium sound quality. The sound is good for the value, but it doesn’t touch premium speakers.

My biggest conclusion: I need more smart home devices. I want everything in my home run by Alexa.

If you’re buying the Echo, you’re not just buying it today; you’re buying it because you see where this technology is going and how Alexa is getting smarter every day.

Thanks for checking out my Amazon Echo Review.

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