Imagine wanting to listen to music on your wireless speaker - it's great as you don’t have to get up, but then imagine not having to move a muscle to turn it on. Well, the only muscle you need is in your mouth. The new Echo from Amazon turns on with just the command “Alexa” (which you can change to “Echo” or “Amazon”.)
It gets better, the Echo isn’t just a wireless speaker it is basically a virtual assistant you can do all sorts with, from playing music, to finding out the weather and traffic information to setting a timer.
The blue ring at the top of the speaker will light up, ready for a command and this is where you can do everything: set alarms, play music, check the weather, read the news, check the football scores or answer factual questions.
Echo works with smart home devices such as lights, switches, thermostats and more so switching the lamp off, and turning the heating on before getting out of bed couldn’t be easier.
General knowledge questions can be answered, and the news can be read out loud to you, talk about lazy?
As well as all this, ‘skills’ can be taught to your device. These skills customise your Echo toy with capabilities that fill your needs. These don’t have to be downloaded either just enable the skills by finding it on the list and making it active, or you can ask your Echo to enable it for you. It’s a bit like smartphone apps, for example the Uber skill will order your cab for you, or you can ask the National Rail skill when the next train is.
However one flaw in this genius plan is that over in the US there are more than 3,000 skills, but here in the UK our selection is much smaller. But Amazon has said that a lot more skills are on their way to the UK, so watch this space.
The Echo features dual-band, dual-antenna WiFi for faster streaming and fewer dropped connections than standard WiFi and supports 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi networks.
The Bluetooth connectivity supports audio streaming from your mobile device to Amazon Echo and Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP) for voice control of connected mobile devices; however the hands-free voice control is not supported for Mac OS X devices.
With there being no touchscreens or keypads, the only physical controls are the two buttons are on the top. One is to turn off the microphone if you chose to keep your privacy, and the action button for waking up your Echo manually- in case you lose your voice.
The Echo comes with a power cable and a tiny instruction manual, and the first you need to download the Amazon Alexa app. Once you have familiarised yourself with things, connected to the WiFi, you are good to go, and your Echo from here can respond every time to its name.
Voice recognition is an essential part with the Echo and although people do not have a lot of faith with this technology, Amazon’s product has very good speech recognition, with seven different microphones that can just focus on your voice and block out other sounds, to the point where it can understand you over the top of music or whilst you’re in another room. And as if this wasn’t good enough after you are heard by Alexa it will reply in a normal British voice- not a robot!
The Amazon Echo costs £149.99, and the compact version, the Amazon Dot, has lower powered speakers and costs £49.99.