The Amazon Echo is a great gadget to have. Smarthome devices are everywhere and now into mid 2016 there are plenty of gadgets to turn your home into the ultimate smarthome. Renting an apartment there aren’t many options for smarthome integration. There are a few things that I can add to make the apartment a bit more connected without having to drill through walls and replace gadgets.
I have a few smart light bulbs, wifi outlet plugs, and motion sensors. But something to make the home feel more advanced is the Amazon Echo. While I am a little late to getting one, the Amazon Echo is still relevant due to the new features it gains every couple of months.
What is the Amazon Echo?
Amazon Echo is a connected bluetooth speaker. It’s a black cylinder-shaped speaker with a blue led around the border. The bottom has a speaker grille look. The Echo goes by the name Alexa (you can change it to Amazon)) and she’s ready to help you in the connected home, and to get you information you need. Anything from getting weather, playing music, or turning on/ off lights.
It has to be plugged in at all times (it’s not wireless). The Echo has a proprietary charger that connects to the bottom of the speaker. It has a remote that you can speak into also (as a separate accessory). The speaker has two buttons on the top. One is a mute function, so Alexa won’t answer your voice commands, and the other is a microphone wake button. As soon as you press it, Alexa is listening. The setup takes a couple of steps since you have to connect it over Wifi (instead of bluetooth pairing). But it’s easy enough. You know Alexa is listening when the border lights up blue. When she is thinking and talking the rim lights up blue and green.
I admit that I am not one to usually talk to my gadgets, especially outdoors. But indoors is another thing. I guess I am more comfortable sort of talking to myself in my own home. You will catch me saying “Ok, Google” more often, when it comes to recipes, weather, and game schedules. With Alexa, it’s even easier. She stays plugged in and is always listening.
What I like about Alexa is the simplicity. Using the Echo makes me want to do things that I never really did; such as creating shopping lists and reminders. Keeping me efficient is a great thing. Echo gets points for that. For those that have Samsung SmartThings, the Echo works with that as well.
Sometimes you get so used to her that when she doesn’t answer it’s a bit frustrating. I do wish we could change the command name to something else that is not Amazon or Alexa, but that’s just a minor problem. The Echo is more about getting answers and stuff done over the quality of the speaker (even though I think the speaker quality is loud enough for my small apartment). Depending on the skills you’re using, you may need to change the vocabulary you use to activate the Echo. Sometimes the commands have to be precise for you to get an answer. Unfortunately you can’t connect / pair the Echo to other speakers (there’s no auxiliary jack either) for better sound and more coverage.
The Echo has come a long way since it’s release. It does a lot more things now. These are some of my favorite skills, or features that I find most useful on the Amazon Echo (besides the obvious news broadcasting, weather and sports information she provides):
IFTTT: IFTTT is always useful. You can create recipes with Alexa and your smart bulbs to get proper lighting when needed / wanted.
Setting Alarms / Timers: One of the simplest tasks I know. But it’s one of the features I use the most, when trying to be efficient and setting alarms for others in the house.
Uber: I usually take the train (AKA my silver limo), so I’d usually hail an Uber when outdoors. But if you use Uber religiously, Alexa can assist you in getting an Uber
Playing Music: Alexa could always play music from your Amazon Prime library (you can upload your iTunes library to it). If you’re streaming songs from Amazon Prime It also streams Spotify now. Probably the feature I used the most. If you’re into Audible, Alexa handles that too.
Pricing and Availability
The Amazon Echo is available on Amazon at a reduced price now of $180 on Amazon.com. I think it’s well worth the price. If you have a connected home with smart locks, motion sensors, smart bulbs, etc you will benefit from the Echo even more.
Alexa is something that you need to experience to love it. When you tailor her to you and she helps you be more efficient, you learn to depend on Alexa. As of May 2016, Alexa can handle over 700 commands. Using the Echo app you can add them to your device to use the commands AKA skills that best help you. I love that even if I don’t have a house, I can get a dose of smarthome tech in my apartment. If you enjoy the always-on technology and smarthome assist, the Echo (or the Dot / Tap) is a great if not a must-have device to add to your smarthome list.