Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Review: Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo was just announced for general availability today, so it's appropriate for me to write a review for our device, which we tested for 2 weeks before somewhat reluctantly packing it up to return to Amazon.

My friend Steve Grimm raved about how it was the closest thing to a Star Trek computer experience that he'd ever had, and to some extent I agree. For me, queries like "What's today's weather" worked perfectly, as did, "Play some music", "Turn it up", "Turn it down", etc. It works way better than Google's voice query (yes, those 7 microphones actually make a huge difference). However, voice recognition didn't work so great for my wife (thick Chinese accent), and surprisingly, it didn't work for Bowen either, who enunciates correctly. This might or might not be a feature, as I can imagine you might not want your child controlling the music. But of course, if it had worked, it would have been huge, since I could off-load all the annoying toddler questions like "Why is the sky blue" to Echo.  (And yes, I tried it and Echo does have a scientifically correct and credible answer)

 I'm well aware that there's a training app you can store, but the payoff wasn't enough for my wife to even bother, and of course, a training app for a 3-year old is worthless.

In any case, other than the occasional query, it mostly got used as a music device. Amazon Prime music is rather comprehensive, but of course, it wasn't complete. You can upload 200 songs up to it, but of course, that's not nearly enough. I wasn't going to pay for online storage of music when my file server is more than adequate, as is Google music.

Ultimately, if music storage was unlimited (e.g., via integration with Google Music), or if it did a better job of voice recognition sans training, I might have kept the device, especially since we paid $99 for it due to being Prime pre-order customers. For a full $180, I'd want it to do quite a bit more.

Nevertheless, if you're not opposed to paying for music storage, or if the device works for your entire household, then it's a very nice speaker system, and decent value for money. It might take Amazon a couple of generations, but I suspect that a device like this will eventually find its way into our home.

And of course, if it takes off, both Google and Apple will have similar devices out. Which I hope it does. I do look forward to the day when interacting via mouse and keyboard would be considered "quaint."
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