Everyone is buzzing about the Amazon Echo, the wireless speaker and voice-powered personal assistant all in one, because Amazon recently made the Echo available to anyone who wants to pay $179.99 for the device. Tech-savvy bloggers and those searching for the next big thing have noted that Alexa, the artificially intelligent personal assistant housed in the tiny speaker, is like “Siri on steroids” because of her potential to act as a control hub for your home and your media. But does Alexa really provide enough convenience and assistance to warrant purchasing the Echo? Let’s look at the details to find out.
Echo is about the height of a toaster and can be placed anywhere with WiFi access. After you set it up with your smartphone, you can control almost everything that Echo does with your voice — which is its major appeal. However, so far, the uses for Echo are limited. You can ask Alexa to tell you the weather, add items to your shopping list, reorder items you buy frequently on Amazon, offer reminders about upcoming calendar appointments, set a timer, or answer basic search queries.
Alexa can play music, though her primary source is Amazon Prime Music, which has a very limited selection. But Alexa can connect to your phone, like any other Bluetooth speaker, to enable you to play music from apps like Spotify. Darrell Etherington reports for TechCrunch that it’s Alexa’s smart home abilities that make the case for a voice-powered home — even though those capabilities are fairly limited so far. Out of the box, Echo lets you control WeMo-enabled smart switches and Philips Hue lights.