Amazon Echo Now Available to The Public
After seven months of keeping this voice-activated speaker to select participants through an invite, Amazon announced on Tuesday that the Echo is now available to anyone interested. The Echo is Amazon’s take on voice assistants like Google Now, Cortana, and Siri. Echo isn’t used in a phone (at least not yet) instead it is a speaker that stays at home.
What is Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo is a voice command device made by Amazon. It has the same function of today’s voice command software like Siri and Cortana but the difference is, it belongs in a speaker that you leave at home rather than your phone. Speak commands to the device and it can play music, control the device, answer questions, etc.
The device a combination of a speaker and a personal assistant. Measuring 9.25 inches high and 3.27 inches around, the device might be a little tall to be put in bookshelves, but a perfect conversation piece to add in the living room or the kitchen. The lower half of the echo is filled with tiny circular perforations with a gray Amazon logo at the bottom.
The top half is almost empty if only for the volume ring located at the uppermost half of the device. This ring twists left and right to control the volume by hand, but you can also issue commands to the device to raise or lower the voice, or through using the included remote.
On the top of the Echo there are two buttons: one button mutes the microphone and the other is a multi-purpose action button. There is panel lining surrounding the top of the cylinder that lights up when you are controlling the speaker. These lights sit on an array of seven microphones. One thing that is interesting about these light rings is that the cluster of lights closest to the microphone that you are talking to.
The echo comes with a remote similar to the one you get to the Amazon Fire TV. It is a small remote with a rubberized, grippy feel to it. There is also a microphone in the remote so if you are in a noisy environment, you can use the remote rather than shout to Echo.
The remote lets you control the volume and the playback on any music you are listening using the Echo companion app. It also comes with a magnetic holster that securely attaches to anything metal.
As with Echo’s audio, don’t expect it to be as great as any speakers out there at the same price. It does provide deep bass great for playing soft music but comes with a distortion at aggressive and loud music. Dialing back the volume helps reduce the distortion; however, the Echo still lacks any substantial audio presence.
On the positive side, the Echo produces high end and crisp sound with enough bass to play a music in high quality.
Just like Siri and Microsoft Cortana, Alexa is the name Amazon gave to their personal digital assistant. It doesn’t just respond to simple commands, but you can also make your own. It’s just like asking a person. Try this: “Alexa, do I need an umbrella?”. And Alexa will promptly reply like: “No rain is expected in [your area] today.” Isn’t it a genius?
Alexa continually learns and adds more functionality over time. So, the more questions you ask the more Alexa can learn about you, your speech patterns, etc. You can ask Alexa to play audiobooks from Audile.
Check your upcoming schedule in Google calendar, control devices compatible in WeMo and Philips Hue with your voice, sports updates, music, etc. All can be done without specific commands. Simply ask a question or tell Alexa what you want to do.
Alexa’s voice sounds fairly natural when responding. The voice is personable and real enough that it feels as if you are talking to a person rather than a thing.
How Alexa Works
The Echo uses on-device keyword spotting to detect the wake work, so as soon as you say Alexa, the light turns on and Echo will be ready for your commands and questions. You can also call her “Amazon”, but it would spoil the human-like interaction to the device.
Alexa runs on Amazon Web Services. Its voiced recognition capability is based on Amazon Web Services and Amazon Common Voice platform that it acquired from Polish-based specialist in voice technologies used in Kindle Fire.
Alexa works well in a good internet connection as it minimizes the processing time of the user’s request to Alexa’s reply to the user.
Now that Amazon is made available to the public, the question is will will you buy it? Echo may have upgraded its functionalities from taking simple weather updates to integrating it with your calendar and smart devices, but it still falls short of what Google Now and Siri can do.
Alexa as a personal digital assistant is quite impressive. Her voice and the way she talks is more natural compared to what other digital assistants can do.
However, the problem with Echo is that it stays in your home. It is powered through your power outlet and it doesn’t have a battery in it which means you either place it in a place where you are often or transfer it from room to room as you prefer.
As for where to put the Echo, the kitchen is the perfect location. You’ll spend a lot of time in the kitchen listening to music or audiobooks while cooking. You can also use Echo to ask for metric conversions, recipes for a certain food, etc. even when your hands are preoccupied at something.