Amazon's Echo is a unique smart-home product with “Siri-like” capabilities.
Amazon has long been known as a favorite online retailer yet made the transition producing their own hardware with the launch of their popular Kindle eReaders. Since then, the company has expanded to cell phones, tablets, and media streaming devices. With their newest unveiling, most did not expect a product like the Echo to come out of the company run by Jeff Bezos.
You see the Echo is a unique product, and frankly there is not a standalone device on the market that suits the same purpose. Much like the “personal assistants” within modern smartphones like Siri, Cortana, or Google Now, the Echo is a voice-controlled system that can do a multitude of things ranging from playing music to setting timers to checking sports scores.
As an Amazon Prime subscriber, I was able to pre-order the Echo the day that it was announced for the $99 introductory beta deal which included the remote. After a few months of waiting, my Echo shipped and I've been using the device for since early May. Shortly after, the Echo was released to the masses and the price has jumped up to $179 per unit with a $29.99 price-tag on the remote (sold separately).
Throughout the remainder of this review, I'll give you my detailed opinions on the Echo at its current price-point and help you to better determine whether the product is for you. Keep in mind, this review is not endorsed by Amazon, and no outside influences or bias have played any part in the outcome of this evaluation.
Design & Build Quality
The Echo's design is that of a tall cylinder with a height of 9.25 inches and a width of only 3.27 inches. Due to this, the Echo doesn't take up much space on a desk, table, or shelve and is rather versatile.
There is a rubberized non-slip coating on the bottom to keep the Echo from accidentally falling over or sliding off a surface. Moving up the chassis, you'll find a small and subtle Amazon logo engraved within the casing followed by 4-5 inches of holes that run a full 360-degrees to help better emit sound from the internal audio components.
At the top, there are another set of holes covering the seven microphones hidden beneath. There is also a physical ‘microphone off' and ‘action' button here though I haven't found the need to use either of them.
A twistable knob is integrated into the edges of the top with a built-in multi-color LED component. This knob used to control the volume of the speaker as well as communicate with the user as there is no other form of visual display anywhere on the device.
Unfortunately, there is not an integrated battery, therefore, constant power is required and achieved via the included power cable that plugs into the bottom of the Echo.
The design of the optional remote closely resembles that which comes with the Amazon Fire TV stick. It offers a simplistic design with an array of buttons and a built-in microphone for issuing commands from a long distance.
The Echo and remote both have a premium feel to it with high-quality build materials and excellent execution on the buttons and knobs as they give off a pleasant, tactile response when pressed. I am glad they stuck with a matte black finish over a gloss black (like Microsoft's Xbox One) as it seems to hide dust and fingerprints better.
What Can The Echo Do?
With the Echo being such a unique product, I think it is important to clarify what it is capable of at this time. Keep in mind, there may be additional capabilities added after this review goes live so be sure to visit the Echo product page on Amazon to get the most up to date information. All features will require an active Internet connection and constant power source to carry out.
- Play music via Bluetooth like a traditional speaker system. This is the only way to currently play Spotify or Apple Music through the Echo.
- Stream content from sources like Pandora, Amazon/Prime Music, TuneIn, iHeartRadio or Audible. This is a standalone feature meaning it does not require a mobile device or computer as a source to stream from.
Smart Home Control
- Control compatible devices via voice commands including WeMo, Phillips Hue, Smart Things, Insteon, and Wink.
- Place orders on previously purchased Prime-eligible products from your Amazon order history.
- Mark or view important dates on your calendar
- What's on my calendar today?
- Set a timer, reminder or alarm
- Remind me to pick up the kids at 4:30
- Set a timer for 30 minutes
- Set an alarm for 6:30 AM
- Add items to a shopping or to-do list
- Put milk on my shopping list
- Add mow the lawn on my to-do list
- Answer general knowledge questions on-the-fly
- How far is it to New York City?
- Who was the 22nd president?
- How many ounces are in 18 lbs?
- Get real-time weather, traffic, or news
- What is the weather like today?
- What is the fastest route to Boston?
- Check sports scores or upcoming sports games
- Who do the Patriots play next?
- What was the score of the Redsox game?
- What time is the Bruins game?
Performance & Function
Since receiving my Echo unit in May, I've had it set up in my living room, the “mecca” of my household if you will. It is the place where I spend the most time (besides my office) and also centrally located so voice commands would be the most effective. Keep in mind, the default action word is “Alexa” yet you can change this if you would like to pick a different name.
I wouldn't say I use the Echo on a daily basis, but I do use it several times a week mainly for setting timers, checking weather, checking sports scores or random knowledge questions. I can easily play a specific song or an artist/genre that I'm wanting to hear as Amazon Prime Music has quite a wide selection that will stream on the fly at my request.
In terms of performance, the Echo is top-notch though there isn't anything tangible to compare it to. If I were to compare it to Siri on modern Mac and iOS devices, I would say the performance is significantly better. At least with my voice, Siri tends to mix up or misinterpret what I'm saying which is one of the reasons why I barely use Siri.
However, the Echo seems to dial into my voice perfectly with hardly any mistakes even when there is background noise such as miscellaneous TV audio. Not only is the Echo's voice recognition stellar, but the speed as to which the Echo responds back to your request or question is remarkable. The time it takes for the device to send the information to the cloud and process it seems lightning fast which may vary by your internet connection. With my 50MB/s speed, it is almost instantaneous.
While the performance factor is overwhelmingly positive, I think this is still a very innovative yet niche product. There is no doubt that it is convenient and comes in handy when I need it. I just don't see it being a necessity for most unless you love using an existing service like Siri/Cortana/Google Now and just wish it was a better experience (smarter, faster, more accurate) or you need to find a more efficient way to play music or carry out things like timers, alarms, lists, etc.
Amazon's Echo is an innovative product that is unique enough to have no tangible competition in the marketplace. The device is well built, looks great and performs incredibly well in both accuracy and speed. However, like many first iterations, the Echo suffers from pricing issues as the current retail price is just too high for such a device in its infancy.
I appreciate that Amazon has been working to update it often with new capabilities though I still view the Echo as a niche product that has yet to prove its worth enough to justify a $179 or $199 price-point (with optional remote). If you can snag a deal like I did, the Echo is a no-brainer, but I think it's everyday price needs to be more in line with the $150 mark (with remote) before I would recommend to all consumers.