Your personal JARVIS (Amazon Echo Review).
The Good Stuff
- A powerful hands-free Bluetooth speaker which you can control with your voice.
- Smooth integration with smart home devices that allow you to use voice control on your smart devices.
- More than 1,500 skills available for users to enable
- With Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), software developers now can extend features and create new apps which work with Echo
- Voice training to improve the accuracy of Echo
The Not So Good Stuff
- Currently available only in US
- Can only identify locations in the US
- Not portable – always need to be plugged in
- It can receive only one command at a time
- Only good with facts while responding to an inquiry
Meet your personalized JARVIS in the form of a hands free speaker which you can control with your voice. Amazon Echo aka Alexa can literally be considered as a step-sister to Tony Stark’s (namesake from Iron Man) artificially intelligent computer JARVIS (Just a Rather Very Intelligent System). Echo connects to Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service to automate and provide pretty much anything you ask for. All you have to do is ask.
Alexa, at its heart is a smart Bluetooth speaker ready to associate with pretty much anything. Be that as it may, its genuine force lies in its brains. Alexa with it’s always listening far-field microphones, can play music and radio, provide information, news, sports scores, weather, order a pizza from Domino’s, request a ride from Uber, add items to your shopping list and can let you control your connected smart home devices without having to take out your phone and launch an application.
Alexa makes a drastic shift with the user experience and now has more than 1,500 skills available for users to enable which is literally increasing day by day. With every new skill, Alexa gets smarter, giving developers a new way to delight their consumers with a voice-enabled experiences.
|Size||9.3" x 3.3" x 3.3" (235 mm x 84 mm x 84 mm)|
|Weight||approx. 37.5 oz. (1064 grams)|
|Audio||2.5 inch woofer and 2.0 inch tweeter|
- Skills: The principle of what makes Amazon Echo valuable is the ability to understand the user’s ask and react / respond to a user’s command. Users have more than 1500 skills which they can review and enable for Alexa. The list of skills which can be delivered by Alexa is growing incrementally day by day. Some of the interesting classifications of skills include:
- Get things done: Alexa can ask Domino’s to track your order, can ask your bank account summary from Capital One or can start a 7 minute workout
- Go places: Using Alexa you can ask kayak – where you can visit for $500, ask Uber to request a ride or ask transit details through onebusaway, BART Control etc.
- Stay Informed: Through Alesxa, you can ask Fitbit how many steps you have taken, ask AUTOMATIC if you need gas, ask the NBCnews when the next debate is, ask the Daily Show for news checking for headlines, weather or sports and ask general questions with searches on search engines – Bing, Wikipedia etc.
- Make home smarter: Alexa can get paired with most of the home automation devices. As of late, Amazon Echo has additionally added the capacity to execute custom orders through IFTTT and speak with brilliant home frill like Philips Hue Bulbs and Samsung’s SmartThings equipment. Users can ask Alexa to set adequate temperatures through Honeywell, ask Vivint to lock the doors, through Wink – request to dim the living room to 20%, ask Rachio to stop watering and ask Garageio if any of the doors are open
- Be entertained: In the event if it is amusement what you’re searching for Alexa can ask ToughGuy to tell a joke, ask a pickup line, play jeopardy, can stream music from Amazon Music / Prime or read books from Audible etc.
- IFTTT and Alexa: IFTTT now lets you add trigger phrases for the Amazon Echo. You can have custom commands set based on IFTTT recipes, which is a web based service that allows users to create chain of simple conditional statements (ex. if this then that) which are triggered based on changes to other web services enabled within IFTTT.
The rundown of things you can achieve is frankly massive, but all of the Alexa commands follow the same basic setup. “Alexa, [do this thing]”
- Creating Skills: Creating an Alexa skill is very easy and quick. Developers can utilize the Smart Home Skill API within the Amazon Echo software development kit i.e. Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) to simply expand smart home capabilities for Alexa. They can also create custom skills with ASK by scheming their voice UI and basically drafting cloud hosted code which interacts with Alexa cloud-based APIs for processing consumer requests. Alexa consistently hears, understand, and resolve a user’s request, and then maps the service call to the developer’s endpoint.
- Management and Synchronization: Everything about the Alexa, including skill settings and login information, is handled through the Amazon Echo mobile app. For the most part, the Echo app is meant majorly for maintenance. It’s not something you’re expected to operate every day till if you manually want to jump to the next song in a playlist if you’re too far from Alexa. The best bet is to get into speech / voice training to make extra sure Alexa can understand you.
- Solid lightweight hardware: A 9-by-3 cylinder isn’t really as big or bulky as it sounds. Even though, there’s nothing special about the hardware by itself, but as mentioned earlier it’s the brains that matter. But it’s also sort of fun to tuck this personal assistant of yours away in a windowsill behind a curtain and have this as an invisible source of speech and sound.
- LED Ring Lights: The ring has a nice dynamic LED lights which change as per the functions. It’s orange during setup, blue when you use the ‘wake word’ and while giving Alexa a command, and white when the volume is changed. The LED Ring is also the volume ring which can be manually turned clockwise to increase the volume or counterclockwise to decrease the volume.
- All in One personal assistant: Alexa’s microphone and speaker are the key two elements which makes the device worth using. The speaker with a 2.5 inch woofer delivers more than enough sound to fill a room with a quality that handily bypasses an average Bluetooth speaker. On the other hand, Alexa has seven microphone array at the top of the device, which makes it capable of hearing a general voice at its normal tone and volume, from up to 10 feet away.
- A family device – Easy and Flexible: Alexa presents a new way to look at a lot of routine services which you do in the home. It’s more of a stationary digital assistance designed to listen when called, and something everyone if the house has access to. As soon Amazon Echo is plugged in, you’ll hear the sound of Alexa waking up. There’s no start button to execute. Basically say the trigger word (Amazon calls this feature the “wake word”), followed by what you want to happen and it will be done. As of now the only wake words you can configure are “Alexa”, “Echo” or “Amazon”.
- Bluetooth speaker: You can use Alexa as a traditional Bluetooth speaker. Alexa announces, once the devices are paired, and the speaker would then serve as a traditional Bluetooth device. It will search Amazon Music or Prime for the genre, album or artist you requested and can play TuneIn Internet radio stations, music from Pandora (free or subscriber accounts), Spotify(only subscriber accounts) and iHeartRadio (subscription required).
- Voice recognition and control activation: Alexa’s language processing system is one of the easiest to interact with. You generally don’t have to ask or command more than once. It is due to the fact that it has multiple sensitive microphones built into the product. So while voice activation the Echo is really good, it only goes so far in some instances. To that end, there’s a remote control available (which will be an additional purchase), which lets you adjust the volume or fast forward tracks or keep from shouting across the room to trigger Alexa.
- Mobile app – The layout of the mobile app is nice and simple. The apps are exactly the same on iOS and Android — but chances are you won’t need them much anyway. On the app homescreen, you generally would get a running stream of your current interactions with the device. When you add things to lists, or ask for the music to be played, it will reflect the same in the app. You also control the Alexa experience with the app which also has the ability to control playback of music, configure your connected smart home devices, creating and organizing group names for devices and actions as you are comfortable to call. At the same time the mobile app is something you’ll probably only use when adding a new device to your list after the initial setup and then after you won’t need to access it.
- Latency and Response: What’s notably striking about Alexa, is the aspect of Alexa is always in listening mode, and is quick to respond. The time to react and respond to a user’s command or inquiry is next to nil and very impressive. The depth of answer or reaction from Alexa is more impressive and much more fun than other personal assistant applications available in mobile and tablets. If you request Alexa to turn off a light or adjust the thermostat, it will do only if you have properly integrated the ability to Alexa.
- Fine Audio Quality: Echo features powerful speakers which have the ability to provide impressive sound, but it’s noted that at maximum volume bass tends to distort. Even though Alexa is crisp and clear and has a decently defined volume stack, especially at the lower end. If it is audio quality you are concerned with, you can definitely find better speakers at this price. Unfortunately, as of today, you cannot synchronize, or extend directly from Alexa to an external sound system. With its current preset volume levels, it can really do well based on the time of the day or ambient volume for things such as alarms, spoken replies and responding to a command.
- Limited sources for music: If you are expectation are high on the music front, Alexa currently has limited sources from where it can play. Alexa currently will search through the Amazon Prime Music and can play TuneIn Internet radio stations, music from Pandora, Spotify and iHeartRadio.
Additional Optional Accessories:
Echo Remote: You need to buy the remote separately for Alexa. Echo remote is an optional item that lets you turn the volume up and down without speaking and it also provides you the flexibility to speak to the Echo from another room. For example, if you’re in the Kitchen and the Echo is in another room. You suddenly realize, you need to buy more items for shopping. You can pick up the Echo remote and command “Add ‘item’ to my shopping list” instead of walking to your other room to tell the Echo.
- Works with Alexa Voice Control and it’s HomeKit enabled so you can control it using Siri on your iPhone.