Me and My Amazon Echo

What is Amazon Echo?

Amazon Echo is a hands-free speaker you control with your voice. Echo connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather and more. Prime members can also ask Alexa to order eligible products they've ordered before and many Prime products. All you have to do is ask.

Echo has seven microphones and beam-forming technology so it can hear you from across the room—even in noisy environments or while playing music. Echo is also an expertly tuned speaker that can fill any room with 360° immersive sound. When you want to use Echo, just say the wake word “Alexa” and Echo responds. If you have more than one Echo or Echo Dot, Alexa responds intelligently from the device you're closest to with ESP (Echo Spatial Perception). Learn more about ESP

I recently obtained an Amazon Echo; So what can it do?

Quick access to information from the internet

  • Stream music from Amazon, Amazon Music
  • Calendar
  • To-Do list
  • Shopping list
  • Smart Home

Setting up Amazon Echo was very easy; after unpacking, I placed the Echo on the side table and then plugged it in; after a few seconds Alexa (The voice of Amazon Echo) announced the setup process and told me how to proceed.; This included connecting my iPhone to the Amazon Echo's Wifi SSID, then entering my own Wifi SSID's password.

Once the Echo was connected to my network Alexa was ready for instruction.

The whole process took about 4 minutes.

Intenet Searches:

This is great for finding out about weather, train and traffic times; I've even asked it how to boil an egg and learnt that you can poke a pinhole in one end to stop it cracking (who knew, you learn something every day, even when it comes to Quantitive Easing).

Calendar:

I was quite surprised that it could (if I wanted it to) access my iCloud Calendar as well as my Gmail Calendar, I had it in my head that it would only be Gmail if not its own Amazon Calender. Asking Alexa to add something to the calendar is quite easy, you ask "Alexa, add a new event to the calendar", and the Echo will take you through the process asking particular questions such as Where and when, and within seconds it appears in my calendar on my phone.

Shopping List:

This is very useful, I can be in the kitchen finding out what I could possibly make for dinner finding out that I either don't have or running low of something, and all I have to do is shout through to the living room "Alexa, Add X-Product to my shopping list.", and the Echo confirms the addition. The same works for taking items off to.

The shopping list is visible as a Tick-List via the Alex App

To-Do List:

So far I haven't had the need to use the To-Do list, I think that's because I use "Google Keep"

 

Music:

Now, this was the frustrating part; by default, Echo won't stream music, it will only play samples and keep informing you that you can start a 30 day trial of Amazon Music. The Echo won't link to iTunes.

I then looked into Amazon Music and got sidetracked by Amazon Prime; which comes with TV, 2 million songs and Fast Delivery from the Amazon website; So with that said I signed up for a 30 day trial of Amazon Prime; and yes, I could stream music via the Echo; until some random song my other half requested and was hit with the "here's a sample from......"; "Hang-On a minute" I said thinking it should just find it and play it, well, no.

Turns out:

  • "Amazon Prime" comes with 2 million songs
  • "Amazon Music" comes with 40 million song

Who decides what those 2 out of 40 million songs are? I might ask Alexa that one.

So, if I want the complete 40 million songs, I have to pay an extra £7.99 (for Amazon Prime users) or £9.99; so there is a potential dent in the bank account for both services., because now I'm addicted to Amazon Prime TV.

TuneIn as an Internet Radio player with Echo is very good, so far it has played everything I've asked it for, but then I've only tried:

  • Radio X
  • Radio One
  • Radio Gibraltar

But my understanding is it plays a shed load of other channels. Just ask "Alexa, open Tunein", and the Echo will then ask what you want to play, then just day the channel.

Skills:

Now, this is where the Echo gets interesting, by adding additional skills via the App, the Echo can be programmed with new knowledge (quite like the Matrix films), and you can play games, get it to control things and more.

Smart Home:

Now this will be the fun part; I have now purchased my first external set of devices for the Amazon Echo to control (Philips Hue White & Colour Ambiance B22 Starter Kit); I'll post more on that at a later date.

Update: 27-09-2017

Amazon Introduces a New Member of the Echo Family: Echo Spot

Stylish, compact Echo with a screen is perfect for anywhere in the house—place it on your nightstand, desk, kitchen counter, or side table so Alexa can show you news, weather, smart home camera feeds, video calls, Alexa skills, and more

Via: http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=2303267

 

Update: Amazon is Introducing Echo Plus – With built-in smart home hub

Amazon Echo Plus set to be released 31/10/2017

  • Echo Plus connects to Alexa-a cloud-based voice service-to play music, make calls, set alarms and timers, ask questions, check traffic and weather, and more. Plus, with the built-in hub you can directly set up and control compatible smart home devices.
  • Alexa can control smart lights, thermostats, switches, door locks and more. Directly set up compatible devices from Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Hive and others without the need for a separate hub. Just ask Alexa to discover your connected devices.
  • Just ask for a song, artist or genre from Amazon Music, Spotify, TuneIn and more. With multi-room music, you can play music on Echo devices in different rooms, available for Amazon Music, TuneIn and Spotify (coming soon); Bluetooth not supported. Echo can also play audiobooks, radio stations, news briefings and more.
  • Call or message anyone hands-free who also has an Echo device or the Alexa App. Also, quickly connect to other Echo devices in your home using just your voice.
  • Improved speakers with Dolby processing deliver crisp vocals and extended bass to fill the room with immersive, 360° audio.
  • With seven microphones, beam-forming technology and noise cancellation, Echo Plus hears you from any direction-even while music is playing.
  • Alexa is always getting smarter and adding new features and skills. Just ask Alexa to control compatible smart devices, request an Uber, order a pizza, and more.

Via: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B075RLRGB5/ref=fs_son

Update: 07-10-2017

Amazon recently released an update that allows any Amazon Echo device to voice call another from your mobile contacts list. Calls are routed through the internet in a very similar eco system as iMessage or WhatsApp.

Once you have updated your phones app, you are able to see who in your phone contact list has an Amazon Echo device. Thankfully you can block those people from calling you, however there doesn't appear to be any way to just add the people you want to call or be called by, you can only block at this stage, so there is certainly room for improvement. This of course does mean that the Alexa app has to synchronise your contacts.

My only concern at the moment is that your Echo device can be called even when you're not there from people in your phone contact list; which means anyone in your household can answer the call, just like a regular house hold phone. In my view, it would be better for the echo device to only accept incoming calls providing I was home.

Amazon Echo

£149.99
Amazon Echo
9

Cost

7.0/10

Setup Time

10.0/10

Voice Recognition

9.0/10

Sound Quality

10.0/10

Pros

  • Allows hands-free convenience with voice control
  • Controls lights, switches, thermostats and more with compatible connected devices from WeMo, Philips Hue, Hive, Netatmo, Nest, tado° and others
  • Plays all your music from Amazon Music, Spotify, TuneIn and more using just your voice
  • Answers questions, reads audiobooks, reports news, traffic and weather, gives info on local businesses, provides sports scores and schedules, and more using the Alexa Voice Service
  • Always getting smarter - Alexa updates through the cloud automatically and is continually learning, adding new features and skills

Cons

  • Requires Amazon Prime for 2 Million Songs
  • Requires Amazon Music for 40 Million songs
  • No External speaker port

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