Amazon Echo is surprisingly handy

I set up my (or rather my wife’s) Amazon Echo last night. I have a hard time not calling the Amazon “Alexa,” because that’s how you address it. You say “Alexa play some rock music” and it does so.

The Echo is a black cylinder that listens for commands and questions and sometimes does what you say. You can ask it about the weather or news, and it will tell you. You can have it read audio books to you. I think I even read it can be a speaker for your phone, but I haven’t tried that yet. It can play music from Amazon Prime or from music you’ve bought through Amazon. It also plays Internet radio stations from IHeartRadio and others. It can remind you of things and add things to lists (shopping and To Do are the defaults).

All these things can be done by your phone, of course, and with Siri (and presumably Cortana and Google Now), you can even use your voice to command many of them. But Echo seems more suited for people that are not as technologically inclined. I’d say Echo’s audience is the over-30 or even over-40 crowd, because anyone younger than that has their phone surgically grafted to their hand and doesn’t need Echo. For those that don’t want to spend time hunting for apps on a tiny screen or choosing playlists, Echo is great!

Last night, my wife was enthralled having it play music from one of her favorite bands (I won’t name it so I don’t shame her 8-). Even though we have CDs and MP3s from that band and she could access them from her iPhone, she never has. Now Echo makes it easy, and she was thrilled. She beamed that I had brought music back into the house, even though we have a fancy surround sound system with many ways of playing music (that she never uses because it’s too complicated).

Echo isn’t perfect. If you ask it a questions that it doesn’t understand, it simply doesn’t respond. At least Siri has the guts to says she didn’t understand something. I asked “Alexa what audiobooks can I play?” Since I have a few Audible audiobooks, and Audible is an Amazon company, this seemed like a reasonable question for Echo to be able to answer, but it listened to the question (as seen by the ring of blue lights as you speak and it listens), then didn’t bother responding. That’s disappointing.

Overall, though, Echo seems really great, particularly for people that don’t want to get music and answers via their phones. I got an early bird deal that made Echo $100, but now it is $200 (or $150 for Prime members), which I think is a little much. You really need Amazon Prime, too, because of the access to the music library, so it is an expensive gadget. But it is a nifty one.

Comments are closed.