DIY

I Finally Bought An Amazon Echo And This Is What Happened

A review of my new artificially intelligent roommate, Alexa.

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

2. When I first read about it, I didn’t think the Amazon Echo had any business in my home.

Amazon / Nicole / BuzzFeed

It’s a Bluetooth speaker that isn’t portable. Its smart software, Alexa, isn’t as comprehensive as Google Now or Siri. I already had a home audio system and a virtual assistant in my phone – did I really need another $180 gadget?

3. But when I recently looked up the Echo, it had over 20,000 five-star reviews. I became *very* intrigued.

Amazon / Nicole / BuzzFeed

Let’s just talk numbers for a minute. Out of 31,867 total reviews, nearly 21,000 reviews are five out of five stars. Because that’s INSANE, I filtered the reviews by “verified purchase,” which lowered the number of total reviews to 9,841. Of those, 8,150 (82%!!!) were positive.

4. After over a week using the Echo, my thoughts on the device have completely changed. I’m convinced that the Echo is just a taste of ~the future~ that science fiction promised us.

Hanna-Barbera Studios / Via giphy.com

The Echo can do much more today than it could a year ago, and it’s only getting better. It’s not perfect – but I find myself using my Echo every single day, which I can’t say is true of many devices I own, other than my phone or laptop.

6. The Echo is a smart speaker. It can play music (obvs), read you the news, answer questions, control connected home devices, and more.

Jeff Barron / BuzzFeed

The device’s wow factor is that everything is controlled with your voice. Begin any prompt with “Alexa…” and the Echo will light up blue, then attempt to do what you ask of her. All you need is access to Wi-Fi and the Alexa app for iOS or Android.

If your Google Calendar is linked, you can say, “Alexa, what’s on my calendar Sunday?” You can also ask, “Alexa, what’s the weather like today?” or, if you have a smart thermostat, “Alexa, lower the living room temperature.”

7. One thing that was initially confusing: Echo is the name of the device, and Alexa is the name of the software. Every time you talk to Echo, you have to say “Alexa.”

Tbh, Amazon should’ve just named it Alexa.

9. I ordered an Echo and it arrived in two days, as promised.

Bless u Prime.

10. Every morning, I plug my phone into my speakers, open the NPR app, find the morning newscast, and hit play. Echo now automates this entire process, shaving at least a minute off of my morning routine.

Being able to use my voice feels quick and natural. This is how interacting with all of devices should be. Minutes matter!!

11. On her first day as my new roommate, Alexa played NPR while I ate my breakfast.

Nicole / BuzzFeed

As I was sliding two sunny side up eggs onto my plate, I asked, “Alexa, what’s new?” and she started playing the news. I was blown away by how easy it was.

12. But there was one person who wasn’t impressed at all: my other roommate, Will.

Nicole / BuzzFeed

Will has a Moto X with an “always-on” Google Now feature. Just like Alexa, Google Now is activated by voice. He can ask Google virtually anything and uses it on a daily basis.

Google Now is incredible at answering contextual questions, which Will was hell-bent on proving that Alexa was terrible at.

13. People who are familiar “Hey Siri” or “OK Google” may get frustrated with Alexa’s limitations.

Nicole / BuzzFeed

Will asked Alexa, who combs Bing and Wikipedia for her answers, “Who is the President of India?” and she responded, “Pranab Mukherjee.” But when he said, “Alexa, how do you spell his name?,” Alexa didn’t know how to answer. He repeated, “Alexa, how do you spell that?”. Her response: “T-H-A-T.” Fail.

Pronouns are pretty tough, so he tried again. “Alexa, how do you spell the name of the President of India?” and she didn’t know that either. Will shook his head in disappointment.

Alexa also failed to tell Will that the duties of the President of India are largely ceremonial and that, more importantly, the Prime Minister of India is Narendra Modi. Sure, she’ll tell you the answer to your questions, but she won’t tell you why your questions suck.

14. !! But then !! Things started to turn around.

Nicole / BuzzFeed

15. After a few days, Will – like those 20,000 happy Echo reviewers on Amazon – began to fully experience how time-saving voice control is.

16. The Echo’s killer feature is its ability to detect the word “Alexa,” even when muttered at low volumes from across the room.

Jeff Barron / BuzzFeed

There are seven microphones built into the Echo – and they are very good. So good that every time I talk about “Alexa” in my apartment, I have to say She Who Must Not Be Named, even if I’m in another room.

Granted, I live in a very small apartment. But it’s still pretty amazing to grumble “Alexa, add ‘Tampons’ to my shopping list” from my BED.

17. The ultimate game changer was getting a smart plug, the Belkin WeMo Switch.

Nicole / BuzzFeed

My friends Lenny and Michelle, who are very convincing Echo evangelists, recommended the Wi-Fi-enabled plug. I hooked it up to my patio lights, which I previously had to plug in *with my hands* to turn them on.

18. Now I can say, “Alexa, turn on patio.”

Nicole / BuzzFeed

THIS IS THE DAMN FUTURE, PEOPLE.

19. There are dozens of other tricks on IFTTT (If This Then That) that I can’t wait to try.

IFTTT

Like, getting Alexa to ring my phone or blink my lights when a timer is going off.

21. The Echo eliminates a lot of small inconveniences.

Jeff Barron / BuzzFeed

The Echo is slowly but surely becoming a lazy person’s dream. Integration with Spotify Premium, Uber, and Domino’s Pizza were recently added with many more on the way. Echo can automate basic, repeated actions like setting a timer for cooking pasta or listening to your Discover Weekly playlist, and the time saved really adds up.

It’s true: Alexa’s capabilities are more limited than Siri’s or Google Now’s. When I strayed away from Alexa’s standard commands, I often got “I didn’t understand the question” in return. But Alexa is fantastic at what she can do and her capabilities are growing every day.

22. One of the most compelling things about Echo is that it allows me to listen to music or set alarms without having to interact with my phone screen.

Jeff Barron / BuzzFeed

The Echo makes it easier to go phone-free in the evening, which helps me wind down and sleep better.

23. The more smart home devices you have, the more useful Echo becomes.

Philips Hue / Via amazon.com

ecobee3 / Via amazon.com

 

When paired with Internet-connected devices, the Echo goes from a glorified smartphone assistant to a futuristic smart home hub. Obviously, the downside here is having to spend hundreds of dollars on even more gadgets. But if you’re an early adopter type who already owns a growing collection of smart lightbulbs and outlets, Alexa is pretty damn useful. The Echo’s powerful voice detection + home automation = a match made is gadget geek heaven.

The Echo can automatically recognize any connected home devices on your home’s Wi-Fi network. For now, Echo works directly with Belkin Wemo, Samsung SmartThings, Philips Hue, Insteon, Wink, and Ecobee thermostats, while gadgets like Nest thermostat and Logitech Harmony TV remote require IFTTT actions.

25. I love my bookshelf speakers, and I hate that I can’t connect them to Echo.

Nicole / BuzzFeed

This is the most frustrating aspect of the Echo. There is no auxiliary port to connect the Echo to any additional computer monitors, speakers, or even Wi-Fi connected audio systems like Sonos.

It would be incredible to use the Echo as an always-on, always-listening microphone and wire the audio to high-quality speakers, which brings me to my next point …

26. The speaker is fine for small spaces, but it’s not great for listening to music in larger rooms at high volumes.

Jeff Barron / BuzzFeed

In fact, it’s kind of terrible at playing loud music, period. The Echo’s bass starts to sound muddy when blasting hip hop, electronic music, or any other beat-heavy records.

This isn’t a dealbreaker for me since my apartment is small and I like that my neighbors don’t hate me. At low to medium volumes, the Echo sounds perfectly fine and projects music throughout the room nicely. The takeaway here is that it won’t deliver crisp, surround sound-quality audio, so the Echo probably isn’t a good pick for audiophiles.

27. The Echo isn’t portable. It needs to be plugged in at all times.

Jeff Barron / BuzzFeed

The Echo has a perfectly compact form factor, but it’s not actually portable. I wish I could charge it overnight and put it in the bathroom in the morning so I can listen to music while I shower.

Because of my cozy (AKA small AF) apartment, I can holla at my Echo from pretty much anywhere: the bedroom area, the bathroom, the living room, etc. I put it in the kitchen, because that’s where I spend most of my time in the evenings, cooking and Internet-ing.

But for those who live in bigger households, you have to think about where you’d need Echo most. You can’t pair two Echos, so it’s not a great complete home solution. You could get one Echo for the upstairs areas and pair upstairs smart home devices with that Echo, then do the same for downstairs areas and set up a different “wake” word for each, but that would require a lot of $$$$.

I guess you could get multiple power cords and bring the Echo with you everywhere.

28. You bizarrely can’t set the alarm to wake you up with a Spotify playlist or TuneIn station, and you can’t use the Echo as a speaker for conference calls.

Nicole / BuzzFeed

This is the Echo’s biggest oversight. You can choose from over a dozen pre-programmed sounds (including Missy Elliot or Alec Baldwin) but you can’t set the Echo to wake up to a song from the Prime Music library or Spotify. Ugh!

30. The Echo is a delightful gadget packed with potential.

Amazon

This device is the type of thing that you wouldn’t imagine is useful until you get one. If you’re deciding between the Echo (a new artificially intelligent roommate who will do your bidding!) and a Bluetooth speaker at a similar price point ($180), go for the Echo. It’s absolutely worth the price.

The Echo has incredible listening accuracy and it’s a solid speaker for small spaces. With new integrations and commands added every week, it’s only poised to get better with time. As you add to your collection of Alexa-controlled smart home tech, you’ll start to feel like you’re living in the damn future.

Having to memorize all of Alexa’s specific commands can be annoying, especially when Apple’s Siri and Android’s Google Now have become increasingly capable at understanding natural language queries like, “Remind me about this email on Monday at 9am.” Alexa seems very smart sometimes and really stupid other times, and the logic of what she does and doesn’t understand isn’t obvious.

But if you stick to what she *does* know, she’ll surprise and delight you, and eventually, become your most-used device.

One word of caution: a new Echo may be in the Amazon pipeline, but we won’t know for sure until the company releases it officially. Rumors point to a smaller, cheaper model without always-on voice recognition.

31. I want Alexa, everywhere.

I want Alexa to become Samantha from Her, so I can control everything with my voice, not just my phone and my smart home devices. I want Alexa in my TV, my car’s audio system, my computer – hell, I want Alexa in my fridge so she can tell me when my produce has gone bad. I have high hopes for the future. For now, I’ll settle for the Echo.

You can buy the Echo on Amazon for $180.

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