The Amazon Echo smart speaker ($179.99) has been widely available in the US market for a little over a year now, and in that short span of time, the impact it has had on the "Internet of Things" has been substantial.
The Echo uses voice recognition technology to automate everything from playing music to reading the news to setting alarms to controlling other smart devices. The Echo can serve as a sort of smart home "hub" that you can use to control everything in a very user-friendly way.
The device itself is 9.25 inches tall with a radius about the same size as a soup can, so it can be placed virtually anywhere as long as it's near a power outlet. The matte black exterior finish is modern but not gauche, so it's likely that it will fit with any decor.
Simple Setup for Seamless Integration
Setting up the Echo is a simple process: First plug it into a power source, then download the Echo app to your smart device - or access it via the desktop web app - Echo's light ring will turn orange and the device will greet you.
All you have to do then is follow the instructions in the app to connect to your home's WiFi, and you should be all set.
Although Amazon markets the Echo as a "smart speaker", the speaker function is not the most impressive feature of the device. While the sound is respectable for its size, the speaker's range, quality, and overall clarity of audio are not as refined as other high fidelity speaker options on the market. As such, Amazon's plan to introduce Sonos integration in the very near future is welcome news to true audiophiles in the audience.
At the heart of the Echo is its voice recognition technology, which allows you to talk to it by using either the wake word "Alexa" or "Echo". The number of commands that the Echo will respond to is an ever growing. Check out our article on some of our favorite commands to get you started..
Take Control with Just Your Voice
The voice recognition technology is pretty sound.
The Echo can respond to your voice commands even when background noise - like a TV or air conditioner - is competing with you. However, take care not to place your device near a source of ambient noise. The television or stereo can sometimes wake the Echo accidentally.
The Amazon Echo also pairs automatically with your Amazon Prime account for a more seamless shopping experience. You can tell the device to buy items using specific voice commands. So, for example, if you want to order paper towels, you would say: "Alexa, order more paper towels."
Provided you are a Prime account holder and the item is Prime eligible, Echo will queue it up for delivery. This feature does require some experimentation with phrasing to work properly, so keep that in mind.
Integration with other Smart Tech
Most of the interactions you will have with the Echo will be with your voice, so the app will only be necessary if you want to add integration with another device or service.
Some account linking may be required if you're trying to pair a device - like a Nest thermostat - to your Echo, but overall the skills are very user-friendly.
Bottom line: The Amazon Echo is an intuitive and user-friendly smart home device. The list of third-party integrations it offers is large and still growing, and the voice recognition technology is impressive. The speaker may be a little weak if you're thinking of using this as a home audio solution, but its ability to pair with other speakers should solve this problem. Overall, it's a handy addition to any smart home.