At first you may think it’s a tall thermos or a regular Bluetooth speaker— but this sleek black cylinder is so much more. Amazon Echo is a home automation controller, a cloud-connected smart device, and an electronic companion that you’ll enjoy using.
It’s about 9.25 inches high and 3.27 in circumference. You can stick it almost anywhere— on a shelf, beside the TV, on the coffee table. Near the top of the unit is the volume control, but with the included remote and voice controls for volume, you may never have to touch it. On the top side are the microphone and action buttons.
Want to know if Echo is active or not? Check the ring around the top. If it’s glowing, you are currently in control of Echo. If it’s unlit, Echo is currently dormant. In most settings, Echo responds to the direction of your voice by lighting up more intensely in that spot.
To set up the Echo, just download the app. It walks you through the easy steps. After you link Echo to your Wi-Fi, you don’t even need your phone, your tablet, or the remote in order to use it.
Now for the fun part. You get to talk to Alexa, the operating system voice of Echo. According to users and reviewers, Alexa’s smooth tones sound more human and natural than Siri’s. Generally, owners find that Alexa understands them very well and that errors are few and far between. No need to say “Alexa,” and then wait for the device to wake up; you can pose your question immediately after saying her name. “Alexa, what’s the weather?” “Alexa, how is traffic?” And she can hear you from all the way across the room.
Alexa isn’t Google or Siri, however. You can’t say “Alexa, what is a metronome?” You need to be more specific, as in “Alexa, Wikipedia metronome.” Also, Alexa can’t pull up your messages or emails, although she does have access to your Google calendar. You cannot add appointments, but you can make notes or lists using Echo’s list feature and then access that information through your Echo app.
Alexa sets alarms, pulls up audiobooks instantly, offers news, weather, traffic updates, and sports scores. She accesses your own music as well as Amazon Music, Prime Music, iHeartRadio, Pandora, TuneIn, and similar stations. The music quality is excellent, with Echo projecting sound throughout the whole room.
Interested in controlling your home’s switches and lights? If you have those connected devices, Echo works with systems like Wink, Belkin WeMo, and Philips hue to give you voice control. Imagine saying, “Alexa, turn off the kitchen light,” and watching it happen from your comfy seat on the couch.
Amazon plans to expand Echo’s features and abilities in the future. With such a strong start, it’s easy to see how Echo and similar devices could become common, much-loved staples of the modern American homes.