Amazon Echo Review...1.5 Years Later | Gadget Review
Wireless Speakers

Amazon Echo Review…1.5 Years Later

Amazon Echo Review
Read our Amazon Echo review and discover what makes this wireless speaker special.
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There is no denying the versatility of Amazon’s Echo wireless speaker. Beyond home automation functions, it can also connect via Bluetooth in the event your home’s network goes out, allowing you to play music or audio directly from your smartphone. But that’s just scratching the tip of the proverbial ice berg. Yes, I know that’s two sayings, but you’ll see what I mean when you read my Amazon Echo review, which made our best wireless speaker list.

Overview

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: At just $175 the Echo is a steal, offering versatility and power unlike any other wireless speaker.

What We Liked

  • Voice activated goodness
  • Room filling sound
  • Easy setup and connects via Bluetooth and WiFi

What We Didn’t

  • No battery
  • Smart Home integration needs work
  • Can’t hear your voice at the loudest volume

Amazon Echo Specs

Speakers2.5" Woofer & 2" Tweeter
Size9.25" x 3.27" x 3.27"
Weight37.5 oz
WiFigreen-check-mark
Bluetoothgreen-check-mark
Smarthome Compatiblegreen-check-mark
Voice Activatedgreen-check-mark
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Design

Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo includes 2 speakers and a mic for voice activated features.

The Echo is really unlike any other speaker on the market. In pictures, it looks bigger than it actually is.  It stands just over 9-inches tall with a footprint that isn’t much larger than that of a very large coffee cup.  In other words, when I opened the box, I was surprised by how small the Echo is and with that under estimated its sonic capabilities.

At the top of the Amazon Echo wireless speaker is a button to mute the Echo’s mic (aka microphone off button), and an action button that is something analogous to that of Siri; press it and the Echo is ready for your command. What is less evident is the LED light ring which is what also houses the volume control – turn it clockwise to increase volume and the LED illuminates in that direction. The LED also illuminates when you first turn it on and when Alexa (the name of the Echo speaker) is talking/listening to you.

Aesthetically the Echo leaves something to be desired. It’s a far cry from a Sonos product, such as the second generation Play:5, but it’s also far more versatile and not nearly as large. That said, it’s oomph is lacking when compared to that speaker, but the Echo is a far better investment for those looking for a single speaker and not looking to fill there house with multiple speakers, which could be done with the Echo.

Alexa App

The Echo is jammed packed with features. But accessing them, or integrating them all is another story. Fortunately, there is an Alexa app that helps. Make sure you download it to your iOS or Android device to completely setup the Echo, as it will walk you through the process of pairing the Echo to your home’s WiFi, and also show you how you can integrate other features, which I’ll get to in a minute.

The Alexa app will also continue to serve you and your Echo as time goes on. There you can not only set features, but review your recent voice requests to the Echo, such as looking up a definition to a word or what items you’ve added to your shopping list.

And yes, you can add items to your Amazon shopping list and order directly from your Echo. An example would be “order me more toilet paper”. The Echo should look in your past orders and then use your credit card on file, provided you’ve saved one. It will of course ask you if you want to complete your order to ensure you don’t inadvertently order things you don’t need. The caveat to this is that anyone could, ostensibly, order anything they want from your account, at least based on my experience. Perhaps it’s best described as the modern day version of the kid slipping something into the grocery cart when the parent isn’t looking.

Skills and Home Automation

Now, about those Skills and Smart Home. There are just too many to list. And while that might seem like a good thing, much of it seems a bit superfluous.

The former is developer driven features, such as the ability to get the air quality score of your location (fairly practical) or Stupid Musician Jokes which is exactly what it sounds like it is. However, there are more useful Skills, such as the ability to order an Uber to your Echo’s location (you’ll have to set this) or order a pizza from Dominos.

Smart Home, on the other hand, allows you to connect your Echo to, you guessed it, your Smart Home products, such as Nest, Nexia and those alike. Amazon promotes a number of these on the Echo Amazon page, but oddly enough, Wemo which is listed as one, is not available in the app.

That said, connecting your smart home products to the Echo is no simple task and is one riddled with complexity. Out of the box you can search for compatible products, such as Philips Hue, which I have. However, at best the Echo is only capable of turning all the lights on and off, not individual ones. To Echo’s credit, Apple’s Home Kit also struggles to integrate this into Siri, so as of now there doesn’t seem to be any one better solution than the other. A friend of mine invested in Samsung’s SmartThings in the hopes of cleanly integrating the Echo with his smart home products, but that too has largely been a failure.

Amazon Echo Mics

The Amazon Echo’s mic is “always listening”.

I attempted to leverage the power of a third party app called Yonomi. With Yonomi you’re supposed to setup routines which then in turn connect to the Echo. In theory you speak the routine to the Echo, it connects Yonomi and presto, the action happens. However, that’s hardly the case. I attempted to setup routines around my Sonos speakers and lights, but unfortunately to no avail. The only routine that did work was an automated nightly routine set by time, which shuts off the Hue living room lights.

So suffice to say, Amazon has some work to do when it comes to integrating third party smart home devices, as no one solution, be it Samsung’s SmartThings or a stand alone product such as the Hue, works as it should or more importaintly out of the box.

Skills, which as of this writing has over 140 in its inventory, is an interesting proposition. Most of them are largely useless, unless you have a specific need to hear Dog Trivia. Nevertheless, it’s great to see that there is a community of features that can be added with time. Finding the best, or useful ones, just maybe a challenge.

Sound Quality

Given the size of the Echo, at least at first look, one wouldn’t expect much. But as Amazon promises it does provide room filling sound (aka 360º omni-directional audio), albeit depending on the size of your room. My living room is 15 x 12′ and includes an adjoining connection, and it works fine. That said, you’ll never achieve the same frequency range as that of Sonos Play:3 or Play:5; the lows are much greater on the Play speakers from Sonos.

Amazon Prime and the Echo

While it’s not necessary to have an Amazon Prime account with the Echo, it does make the speaker a bit more useful, as it’s able to access music stored on the Amazon Prime Music servers. Just state a genre of music or look for a specific musician, and if available it will begin to instantly play.

Ordering Products with the Echo

I’ve only done this once, and that was to order new toilet paper. The inherent fear, at least in my experience, is that I’m going to order the wrong item. But the Echo should search through your previous orders and find a match. For non-Amazon products, or products you’d like to purchase at your local grocery store, you can add items to a shopping list which can then be accessed via the Alexa App.  Of note, there is also the Amazon Dot, which can only be ordered by Prime members with an Echo. It’s effectively an Echo without the speaker, allowing you to order products and ask Alexa questions.

Music with Alexa

As mentioned the Echo works with Prime Music. But it can also integrate with Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn and those alike. If you’re playing music via Bluetooth from your device, you can control that device by speaking to Alexa.

Amazon Echo Always Listening and Security Concerns

Alexa or the Amazon Echo is always listening, much like some Android phones and the iPhone 6s. And you’ve probably heard that this might be a security concern because someone could ostensibly hack into the microphone and listen to your conversations. Sure, all they might be able to find out are the salacious details of your relationships, but there is also a slim chance, if one could hack into it, that they could steal more vital info, such as your social security or credit card number. It may seem like an unlikelihood, but it is something we should all be wary of as our devices become increasingly “smarter”.

That all being said, the Amazon Echo, even when music is playing back, can hear your voice. Music too loud? No problem. Just say “Alexa, volume 3” and the Alexa will adjust accordingly. However, if the music is louder than a 7, it struggles, or in my case struggled, to hear my voice, forcing me to either yell very loudly (volume 7 or 8) or physically walk up (volume 9 or 10) to the speaker and turn the speaker down.

Final Thoughts: Amazon Echo Review

I’m a Sonos user through and through. I’ve got a number of their wireless speakers in my home and use them daily for both music and as an alarm clock. But despite that, I still see the benefit of the Amazon Echo, as it’s complementary to that of my Sonos system.

Sure the Echo plays music, but the Amazon Echo is so much more than that thanks to it’s Smart Home integration and Skills. Sure, the Smart Home integration is far, far from perfect and needs work, but it’s inevitable, that with time, it will improve. Though it’s not entirely on Amazon, as the variety of home products and with that the variety of wireless protocols only adds a greater level of challenges and complexity.

And if all does fail, as $175 the Echo is a much more robust than any other comparably price Bluetooth speaker on the market. Save for the fact that it lacks a battery and must be plugged in. But that’s what the Tap is for.

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5 Comments to Amazon Echo Review…1.5 Years Later

  1. Scifietronica

    Hi, Nice update. Just a couple of points of clarification regarding the Echo’s voice control capabilities:
    1. Yes, you are correct that it requires a certain amount of tinkering. I personally limit my tinkering to “out of the box” solutions, instead of programming, and I’ve had a lot of success with the home automation capability of the Echo.
    2. Lights can be controlled individually and/or can be grouped together. For example, I have a pendant light, under-counter lights, and ceiling cans in my kitchen. Echo can turn on the pendant light individually or I can ask it to turn on kitchen lights and it will turn them all on, including the pendant light. My light are all Insteon switch/dimmer, and plug-in module controlled through the Insteon Hub. Light on a dimmer or with dimming built in can be dimmed by Echo voice control too.
    3. Anything you can put on a switch or plug-in module, like a fan, coffee pot, TV, receiver, etc. can be voice controlled too. I turn my TV on and off with Echo. When I come home at night through the garage, I ask Echo to turn on the kitchen lights and the TV.
    4. Lots of devices are coming online now that work directly with the Echo without a hub or special controller. In effect, Echo is an “agnostic” hub that can control lots of stuff either through different hubs or directly if the manufacturer integrates it directly. Wemo is like that as are a number of thermostats, lights (LIFX) and other stuff.
    5. As soon as Yonomi announced compatibility with the Harmony Hub recently, I got the Hub and began setting it up to control my TV. Currently, I use Yonomi to change the channels to my 10 favorite channels. It works brilliantly. No more having to remember the 3 numbers for each channel and keying those in on my remote or scrolling through the guide. Now I just say “Turn on CBS” or whatever. I can also ask the cable box to show the program info bar. In the near future I will implement channel up and down, pause live TV, mute, turn volume up and down, etc. I also need to setup commands for Netflix and Amazon Video, but those will be complicated and time consuming. Yonomi is a game changer. I haven’t even scratched the surface of it’s capabilities.
    6. Echo is a great AI assistant too for certain things. I ask it the temperature outside and the weather, the news briefing, and to play my favorite radio station (connected to my speakers through Bluetooth connection from my Echo Dot to my receiver).
    Welcome to the 23rd Century!

    • Christen Costa

      I’ll have to try the Harmony + Yomoni integration. If I can change the channels with voice that would be cool, though I’m not sure it would be faster than the Ray remote which offers a fairly decent screen. The challenge I faced with the Echo + Hue was the name of the lights, which is a general sticking point with even HomeKit. And awesome, insightful comment BTW :).

  2. Seth

    Echo works perfectly with ISY994i and Zwave/Insteon. It is probably a little harder to set up the ISY itself but after that it integrates perfectly with the Echo.

    • Christen Costa

      What products are you controlling with it?

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