Amazon’s gadgets are a hit-and-miss affair. On the one hand you have the Kindle line, which has dominated the e-reader market along with the Fire HD line, which is actually a competitor in the tablet space. But then you have things like the Fire Phone, which is a flop. However a flop or two won’t deter Amazon from trying new and different things and they’ve announced something that I think will sell very well. Once people figure out what it is and what to do with it.
The Amazon Echo is a … well … let’s talk about what it looks like first. At first glance, it kinda looks like an upside down microphone. It’s a black tube/cylinder with speaker holes along the bottom half. And two buttons an a LED on the top. Also, it’s not rechargeable, so you’re going to have to deal with a power cord. So your first thought is that it’s a Bluetooth speaker, right? Well … kinda, but not really. It IS able to stream music via Bluetooth from your device, but that’s not what it is. Amazon Echo is what happens when you take something like Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana and stick it into something that you can sit on your table.
It’s a personal assistant that isn’t tied to your phone or tablet. All you have to say is “Alexa”, and it starts listening for your command (yes, that means it’s always listening to you. No, that isn’t creepy at all). Ask it the weather, it tells you the weather. Ask it what time it is, it tells you the time. No big deal? Ok, you can also tell it things like to set an alarm, set a reminder, ask it how many ounces in a cup, how to spell cornucopia, you can tell it to play a specific type of music, and so on. How? It connects to your homes Wi-Fi, so it has access to the internet. It’s also connected to your Amazon account, so if you have a music library there, it can access it along with a few streaming services. If it’s sitting across the room, you won’t have to yell at it because it uses a technology called “far-field voice recognition”, so even if it is far away (not in ANOTHER room, but across the room is OK) you can still ask it questions because, you know, it’s always listening. And it has a decent little speaker (2 inch tweeter and a two and a half inch sub-woofer), so when it does play music, it should sound just as good as a lot of the Bluetooth speakers that are currently on the market.
I know you’re asking yourself why you would want this. Well, as a person who actually uses Google Now to do things like set reminders, figure out measurements or setting timers when I cook, and find out what the weather is in Honolulu (because it’s cold in Chicago), being able to do this without having to remember where I put my phone or if my computer is on the right screen is useful to me. I can appreciate being able to say “Alexa, what time is it” without having to open my eyes when I’m trying REALLY hard not to get up in the morning. There’s also a companion app that is for both Android and iOS, so I can imagine it becoming more and more flexible as time goes on. Essentially, what I’m saying is that the Echo falls firmly into the “I don’t need this, but it’ll be really cool to have” category. No, you don’t need this. Want? Sure, why not. Sit it in the kitchen or in your bathroom and have it play music or read off news updates just by speaking to it. For $200 ($99 if you’re a Prime member), it’s riding the line of impulse purchase. And you know, Christmas is just around the corner …