As busy as we all are these days, having an inanimate voice-controlled personal assistant that is as responsive, as intuitive and as powerful as the computer on board the starship Enterprise would be a welcome addition to our daily lives. So far, all the voice activated assistants are mediocre at best, leaving many of us with a mechanical, disjointed user-experience that feels much like talking to robot. Even Siri with her attempted vocal elegance and forced feminine wiles leaves us with a feeling of a flat, one-sided conversation. When we had chance to review the Amazon Echo and spend a day with virtual assistant Alexa, a new contender in this very unique technology space, we weren’t too optimistic about it being in any different than the others, but we were pleasantly surprised at what we found.
Talking with Alexa — the voice of the Amazon Echo virtual assistant and stylish black Bluetooth speaker — proved to be quite a comfortable exchange. Her fluid, almost-human touch made simple dialogue seem nearly natural. Listening to music via the Bluetooth speaker was a breeze with multiple cloud services on tap on command, most notably Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon Prime Music. The sound quality is pretty solid for a device in this class, but more on that later.
Alexa also supports a whole host of features and commands she can respond to, including adding products to your Amazon shopping list on the fly, providing full weather reports, and the ability to control WeMo home automation devices (Internet of Things devices that control interior lighting and set alarms on command). The element that surprised us the most was the accuracy and responsiveness of Alexa’s voice recognition system. It’s amazing. The Echo has 360 degree microphone reception, giving Alexa the ability to hear vocal commands from almost anywhere in the same room.
What We Didn’t Like about the Echo
Though we were pleasantly surprised in our brief one day encounter with the Echo, there were a few things we didn’t like. First off, the Amazon Echo cannot be purchased outright at any time. It is currently gated and available by invitation-only. Most users are looking for a purchase that’s more instantly-gratifying, not one they may forget they wanted. Secondly, the speaker on the Echo was very susceptible to distortion when nearing max volumes. Truthfully, if it’s well-made, distortion on a device so new should not be the case.
How to Get the Amazon Echo
You can currently request an invite for the opportunity to purchase the Echo from Amazon here. Alternatively, if you just can’t wait to get your hands on one, you can order one off of Ebay for close to retail price.
Final Impressions on the Echo
Overall, we have to give Amazon serious kudos for creating such an elegant, easy-to-use, voice-activated assistant. With decent sound quality to playback music and a highly accurate speech engine that can be used to answer simple questions, set reminders, and control home functions, Alexa is our current reality’s answer to the Star Trek computer-capabilities of science fiction. We won’t classify this as a must-have device, but it is a nice addition that would be welcome in the office or home, especially where there is a need for home automation devices. The Echo is rather exclusive right now being invitation-only, but if the urge to own this geeky gadget wins over patience and the need to purchase tech on the cheap, the Echo may be just the ticket.
Have you had the chance to use the Amazon Echo? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this Geeky Gadget!