Alexa, is the Amazon Echo actually any good?

by | The Lowdown

Amazon are about to release the next generations of their Echo family, so now is definitely the time to make your life a whole lot smarter! Here’s the LOWDOWN, and to make things easier everything pink is a link!

First things first, after using Sonos, Bose and numerous other speaker brands I can honestly say that the Amazon Echo easily sits up there with best, it’s AWESOME!

What is it?

The Amazon Echo is a voice-controlled, wifi-connected speaker that can play music, answer questions, read you the news and weather, set timers and even control the lighting, heating and other devices in your house. Pretty cool huh?

What can it do?

If you’ve never used a voice-controlled device before (and even if you have, I’m looking at you Siri), you’ll be really impressed with the Echo. After downloading the Alexa app to your phone or tablet and running through the quick set-up, you can get started straight away!

You can ask Alexa all sorts of things, with the list growing daily. Here are just a few handy ones:

  • Play music from a host of streaming services, including Spotify, Prime, Tune in Radio, etc. *NEW FEATURE* – You can now send music straight to your Sonos speakers via Alexa too!
  • Read you the news headlines, football scores or the weather forecast.
  • Set a timer, “Alexa: time 10 minutes”, Great for when your hands are full in the kitchen and you don’t want to burn your roast!
  • Use Alexa as your alarm clock and set a regular daily wake-up call.
  • Control your heating if you have a smart thermostat like a Nest or Hive.
  • Add items to shopping lists or to-do lists, which then appear on your phone (or whatever device you have the Alexa app installed on).

It’s so easy to use, my Mom has one! When I bought one for her as a Christmas gift she was absolutely blown away by just the basics, like being able to request songs, switch to a particular radio station and turn the volume up and down. You do all this simply by saying “Alexa” followed by a command. (Although, she found it difficult – for just a moment – when she forgot the wake name was Alexa! Shouting Shelia didn’t quite have the same effect!

When you get into what are known as Skills (features added to the Alexa app), there’s a whole host of other things you can do too. I won’t list them all here as there are hundreds, you’ll have to see for yourself!

To top it all off Alexa can tell you joke to cheer you up, what a lass!

There are 3 main Echo designs to choose from.
1. ECHO
Alexa, is the Amazon Echo actually any good? 1
The new Amazon Echo is the original speaker’s replacement. It costs £89.99 and launches on 31st October.

This Echo blends in with your home’s décor better than the original Amazon Echo did. You can buy it in black fabric, grey fabric and sandstone fabric. If these fabrics don’t fit in with your home’s décor, you can opt for a black, silver or oak finish instead. At just 5.9 inches tall it’s smaller size will help it to blend in better too.

This Echo has superior sound compared to the last model, with a 2.5-inch subwoofer and dedicated tweeter. Deep lows and crisp highs will make all your music sound at it’s best.

It also has some tricks the original Echo didn’t. For one, this Amazon Echo’s upgraded microphones help it detect your voice commands more easily when you’re listening to music already. That’s something that first-generation Amazon Echo users sometimes had issues with. Another great new feature is an audio port in the back of the new Amazon Echo which lets it connect to other speakers and audio systems so that you can use them with Alexa voice commands.

2. ECHO PLUS
Alexa, is the Amazon Echo actually any good? 2
The Amazon Echo Plus looks a lot like the original Echo and comes in silver, white and black. It’s made for anyone that wants great sound and has plenty of smart home accessories they want to control.

In most ways, this Echo is just like every other. Inside the Echo Plus is a 2.5-inch subwoofer and a 0.8-inch tweeter. You can use it to fill an entire room with sound and an audio port on the back lets you turn your existing speaker system into an Amazon Echo.

However, this is the only Echo you can buy that doesn’t need to rely on Amazon’s cloud service or a hub to control your smart home accessories. It can talk to Hue light bulbs (you get one included), door locks, switches and blinds directly.

That added smart home hub functionality does come at an additional cost. The Amazon Echo Plus is £139.99 and it launches on 31st October.

If you’re planning a smart home or already have some smart home accessories you’d like to control with your voice, the Amazon Echo Plus is the best Amazon Echo you can buy, and you still get quality sound.

3. ECHO DOT
Alexa, is the Amazon Echo actually any good? 3
When you have a hallway or small room that you’d like to use Alexa in, you buy the Amazon Echo Dot. At £49.99, it’s the cheapest of all Echo devices, and it still has a lot of functionality.

You can ask Alexa questions, stream music or set reminders with the Echo Dot. It stands just 1.3-inches tall, allowing it to almost disappear in any home. It’s perfect for a bedside table! A selection of fabric cases can be added to help Echo Dot blend with the rest of your room’s décor.

It’s small size does mean you don’t get the best sound quality – because there’s no woofer. Instead, there is a 0.6 inch speaker and that’s not surprising given the form factor of the Echo Dot. It’s tiny!

On the plus side, it does have an audio jack and Bluetooth built in. So if you already have a great speaker system, getting the Echo Dot is the cheapest way to add Alexa to your home. For example, I have one connected via Bluetooth to a wireless Bose Soundlink speaker.

What’s the verdict?

Beyond playing music, there are a number of ways Alexa can help you in your daily life and with new Skills being created all the time, those are only going to increase. It’s the first time I’ve truly experienced a deeper and more satisfying relationship between tech and user. I think she likes me too 😉

With very reasonable pricing the Echo is a good investment for music fans and those who want to take the first step into voice-activated technology – or it would be the perfect gift (perhaps for Christmas) for someone else!

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