The black cylinder sitting on one of my bookshelves here is our Amazon Echo. We've had it less than a week now and have been using it daily.
At this point, Echo is more potential than value, but the value is enough that I'm not unhappy with my purchase. It is useful, we do enjoy it, but it is also disappointing. It's impossible not to think "Apple would have done this better", because they absolutely would have. Google might have done it geekier, which might have made it more useful in other ways, but they'd screw it up in their own way as they always do. But neither did, so for now we have Amazon.
Let's take a look at the good and the bad as I see it.
Music on demand
This is where Alexa (that's the default "wakeup" word) does best. "Alexa, play some Queen" will find albums in your imported or purchased music and if it can't find it there, will search iHeart radio. Most of the past few days I've had it on "Classical Piano", which is nice background for working.
However, there are blemishes here. Alexa can't always find things. She cannot find "classical piano", even though it is an iHeart station. I have to select it manually from the web interface. That's no hardship.
If you interrupt with something like "Alexa, weather", or "Alexa, add flour to my shopping list", the chosen music will continue after serving your request. You can say "Alexa, stop" and "Alexa, continue" whenever you like.
By the way, the microphones are ultra sensitive. I can be in another room and Alexa will react to quite soft speech.
News and Weather
Alexa does well here, too. She can tell you current Accuweather and the forecast. The customizable "flash briefing" delivers BBC and NPR news, plus AP headlines. That's all good.
What's not good is that Alexa's voice is too low pitched for my wife to hear easily. There's no choice of voice as there is with Siri and similar things.
Shopping and To-do lists
It's very helpful to say "Alexa, add honey to my shopping list" the moment I realize it is needed. Of course she gets some words wrong now and then, but you can edit the list manually if needed and print it. Unfortunately, you can't sort or format the list. Nor can you have more than one list - you can't say "Alexa, add vinegar to my Shaw's list" and "Alexa, add apples to my Roches list".
Still, when we are ready to shop, we can cut and paste those verbal additions into our real lists and print them as we wish. As the list is stored on Amazon servers, it can be accessed from our cell phones while out in the world. That's quite useful too.
Alarm and timer
Echo has ONE alarm and one timer. You can say "Alexa, wake me up at ten thirty." "Alexa, set the alarm for ten thirty." or "Alexa, set the alarm for two hours from now." but that's it. You can't add another alarm or say "Alexa, remind me every Frday at 7:00 AM to put out the trash" as you can with Siri.
Will it get better?
Maybe. Amazon says it will, but based on what I see in Amazon Prime movies and music interfaces, I think they may not ever do it really well. They just don't seem to understand user interfaces well.
However, they do solicit feedback and who knows - maybe they'll learn something.
Shop Now - Introducing Amazon Echo
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© 2015-02-07 Anthony Lawrence