WHAT THE TECH: AMAZON ECHO

I want to try something different today, that fuses my love of new bits of technology, with my love of rambling on. As more technology comes across my desk, I am hoping to continue writing about it. In the meantime, it should be known that the title of this type of article is a work in progress... I just typed in the first name that came to mind. Also, there is no clear format yet for this type of post, so I am kind of rambling. I will work on formatting for future iterations of this type of post. So, shall we dive into my thoughts on Amazon's latest piece of tech, the Amazon Echo?

I'm obsessive about technology. For me, technology is constantly displaying the leaps and bounds that humanity can achieve. It never ceases to amaze me how many new innovations come out every year. Whether it be the newest video game console, or an incremental upgrade to the biggest cell phone technologies, there is always something new and shiny looming just over the horizon. Being the technophile that I am, I look at each of these new toys, and wish I had an infinite supply of money, so I could try them all. Sadly, money is not limitless, so I have to be a little picky about what I pick up.

Enter the Amazon Echo.

When I first heard about the Echo, to say I was mildly skeptical would be an understatement. I've been an avid Amazon consumer for years, eager to snatch up just about anything they placed on the table. However, my Kindle Fire had been something of a let down, something I suppose I should have expected considering it was their first foray into the tablet game. I was unable to pick up their phone, due to my current phone contract not allowing me to change my phone just then. I'm still on the fence about picking up their Fire TV (Those Gary Busey ads make me laugh every time). The Echo was something different, though. Much like a song that I can't get out of my head, it lingered in my mind, and the more I thought about it, the more the whole concept intrigued me. So, I picked it up on a whim, and had to wait over a month for it to ship.

What is Echo?

The Echo is a voice-activated speaker, that can stream music from the web, or from a Bluetooth enabled device (such as my phone). But it manages to pack a lot into it's small form. It stands less than a foot tall, and only about as large around as a fifth of Bailey's (Refer to the picture below for size comparison). The little thing can put out some good volume, despite its diminutive size. When placed properly, I can hear it anywhere in the house if it is put on the highest volume.

Size Comparison. That's Alexa in the middle, naturally.

But the Echo is more than just a simple speaker. It is a voice-activated personal assistant. It can manage a to-do list, repurchase past purchases from Amazon, tell you the weather, and even tell you traffic reports. It can also act as an alarm clock, or a cooking timer. Forget what day it is, or have no clock nearby? Ask the Echo.

Quite possibly the biggest selling points for me, was actually the voice-activation. Initially, the voice controls take a little getting used to. However, if you've played with an iPhone, and had to talk to Siri, the voice commands should be almost second nature to you. Much like when Google did the "OK, Google" thing, the Echo has a wake word. In the case of the Echo, that wake word is "Alexa". The last several days, it has not been uncommon to hear me saying "Alexa, play music" or "Alexa, I like that" randomly as I am going about my various writing/drinking/gaming activities. I've asked Alexa about the weather when I wake up, had Alexa play me some music as I went to sleep. I've been able to set the alarm from bed, and then not have to be woken up by the most jarring sounds possible.

I can not help but see a lot of potential for this device. With its connection to the house wifi, it has the potential for on the fly hot fixes and firmware updates, new features could be added on the fly. With the addition of the Echo App, this could be updated to become one of the most valuable pieces of technology in my house.

The shopping commands are one thing I have yet to try out, since I have not had a reason to reorder anything from Amazon since I picked up the Echo. However, with the Alexa wake word, I could see that being potentially dangerous, should I have too much to drink. Fortunately, it allows you to set a 4-digit PIN that you are required to say to confirm purchases, a nice safeguard against drunk purchasing.

All in all, I find this device to be a wonderful addition to my entertainment space. It isn't going to completely revolutionize your life, nor will it likely change it in any meaningful way, but it is a fun device, and is worth a look! The biggest drawback is the internet connectivity. If your house has a poor wifi connection, the Echo loses a great deal of functionality. And considering my house has an often less than reliable connection, I find the Echo going offline rather frequently.

Despite the wifi issues, I'd give the Echo a solid 4 out of 5 stars.

I'd recommend you pick one up, if you are able.