Should you get Amazon Echo?

Photo Credit: GeekLife

Amazon Echo launched in a campaign that went pretty much unnoticed by the public at large. While most people were wondering if the newest Kindles or the Fire Phone would finally revolutionize the tech industry, the little smart home device flew under the radar. Then, almost all of the sudden, the Echo has come into the public conscious as people have raved about its features.

As the tech has been adopted by those who love cutting-edge products, they’ve helped spread the word that it could be a really great thing to own. At the same time, Amazon has stepped up its advertising for Echo, including airing commercials with famous celebrities in starring roles.

Naturally, anyone who knows pretty much nothing about the Echo wonders if it’s even worth spending the money on. To answer that question, you need to understand what the Echo is all about, then weigh how it would impact your daily life.

Quite a few people are still confused about what Amazon Echo is, even with those snappy commercials. Basically, it’s a fairly small cylinder-shaped speaker with a microphone and a voice recognition system. The AI that comes preloaded is called Alexa, kind of like Siri for the iOS or Cortana for Windows.

With the setup, owners can ask Alexa all sorts of questions, like what the weather is like, when a certain movie is showing locally or even when the War of 1812 started. You don’t have to touch the device before speaking. In fact, you don’t even necessarily have to be in the same room, depending on the size of your house, thanks to Amazon’s clever use of far-field voice recognition. Don’t try doing that with your iPhone, because it’s impossible. The feature is absolutely necessary, considering the Echo needs to be plugged into an electrical outlet and so is pretty much stationary.

You’re probably thinking that you have a smartphone that lets you Google all sorts of things. While that’s certainly true, Amazon Echo is just more practical for using while you’re actually doing things around the house, not just sitting on the couch watching TV. You can ask the questions while cooking, working out, fixing something, or doing anything with your hands full. The device makes accessing information at any time incredibly easy, so you actually get more done.

Since Echo is a speaker, it also can play music, eliminating the need for a home stereo. The speaker plays in 360 degrees and the sound quality rivals some of the nicer setups on the market today. In other words, Amazon didn’t cut any corners making the Echo, and the result is superb. Just plop it on your desk or a table, and let it fill the room with whatever your heart desires.

Echo can stream music through the Amazon Prime Music service, or using Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn, iHeartRadio and more. You can do this by telling Alexa to connect to an Android device running the music service of your choice, which is incredibly easy to set up. If you want to skip a song, play a specific artist or start a playlist you created or have subscribed to, all it takes is telling Alexa what to do.

If you’re into audiobooks, Echo can read those out loud as well. Then you can do things around the house while keeping up with your latest read. The device can also read the news to you, filling you in on whatever’s going on in the world so you’re in the loop.

You might have heard of Amazon Echo being called a smart home device. That’s an accurate description, but it goes far beyond other smart home hardware, making it incredibly useful. Echo has the ability to control some other smart devices like door locks, lights, slow cookers, thermostats, etc. Amazon is constantly looking to expand how many other connected items Echo plays well with, plus you can use a IFTT workaround to connect Echo to even more smart home devices. This allows homeowners to merely speak and control things around the house, which is fun and also practical in ways you might not realize until you have the tech in your hands.

You might be apprehensive because Alexa seems so smart, the tech might be difficult to set up and use. To be quite frank, you don’t have to be a genius to set it up. When you receive the Echo, all you need to do is plug it into an outlet. Then, you download the Echo app on an Android device, and it walks you through the setup process. You even designate the word you say to “wake” Alexa, so she knows when you’re speaking to her and not someone else. Even people who aren’t that tech savvy can get Echo up and running in less than an hour.

Alexa can work as a personal assistant, without employing a stranger to sit in your house, awaiting your every request. You can set up alarms and reminders for different tasks, which is great if you’re really busy. For example, if you always forget what night you need to take out the garbage, tell Alexa to remind you each week, and you’ll never miss it again. If you run out of something in the kitchen, Alexa can add that item to your shopping list or even order it from Amazon for delivery.

A growing number of non-Amazon products and services are available through Echo. You can order food for delivery from Domino’s. If you need, you can order an Uber ride just by speaking.

Amazon is always working on new abilities for the Echo, making it more useful all the time. It says that since the device launched, over 100 new skills and features have been added. You don’t have to buy an updated version of the device to enjoy these, because they automatically download and install. That’s great, since Alexa becomes even more useful around the house each time Amazon does this.

So the bottom line is the question of if the Amazon Echo is a good buy or a waste of money. Right now, the device costs a mere $179, which is far less than a modern smartphone. Know that you must have an Amazon Prime account to use Echo, so that will set you back a little more. While you can pay for a year of the service up front, Amazon is now letting people pay by the month. If you don’t have a Prime account, which just about everyone seems to these days, and you don’t want to get one, many of the Echo features won’t be available and the device quite frankly won’t be all that useful. That could seriously limit any benefits you’d enjoy from the tech.

If you love Amazon Prime and playing the latest and greatest technologies, you should get this device in a heartbeat. Even though you can’t take Echo along with you when you’re out and about, it’s such a useful thing when you’re around the house that for the price it’s a steal. After having it for a week or two, you’ll seriously be wondering how you ever functioned without Alexa. So go ahead, try out the Echo and see how your daily life changes for the better.

 

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