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Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Review: Amazon Echo (2nd Generation)

We returned our first Echo because the technology just wasn't there yet, instead opting for an Echo dot. But Xiaoqin wanted a speaker in the dining area, and the dot just wasn't any good if you didn't hook it up to a pair of real speakers, so we ended up with a second generation Echo during the holiday sales.

The Amazon Echo is a triumph of product management over engineering. The voice recognition and search isn't nearly as good as Google's. Yet despite me having uploaded my entire music collection to Google Music, we ended up with an Amazon Echo. There were several reasons for this:

  • At the time when we bought the product, not only did Google Home not support Audible audio books, it didn't support audio books of any kind without you having to pair your phone to the speaker and treat it like a Bluetooth speaker. Google now supports audio books, but of course, my entire audio book collection is on Audible, and Google's prices are abysmal compared to Audible's frequent sales and 2-for-1 deals.
  • None of the Google Home products have an audio output jack, which would enable you to plug your Google Home product into a decent set of speaker systems and use the nice speakers you paid for. This is a huge product management issue: if you read Steve Yegge's rant about Google's lack of innovation carefully, you'll realize that Yegge isn't complaining about Google's actual lack of technical leadership, but it's inability to actually listen to customers and make something they want. Hence, Google has built expensive phones that can't keep up with their competition and smart speakers that work well only if you think that smart speakers are only good for doing voice search.
  • Amazon Echo's priced much better than Google Home. Not only is Amazon now reaping economies of scale in the smart speaker market, they're also much more used to the low margins found in consumer electronics, so the Amazon Echo will remain the price leader for some time to come.
The speaker's sound quality is as good as you can expect from a single cylindrical tube. You're not getting high quality sound, but if you bought this for sound quality you don't have high expectations anyway. It's loud enough that I can set a timer from the kitchen and hear the response from the dining room, which is good enough.

Bowen has learned to talk to the Echo. In particular, he learned very quickly that if he got Alex to play the Paw Patrol Theme Song, his brother would be engaged with the speaker and not bother him, then he could get out his tablet and watch Paw Patrol without his brother fighting for it. I haven't hooked up any smart home devices to the Echo yet, and I don't expect to. We don't use it for huge amounts, but for what we use it for, it works well enough that we held on to it past the return period.

I'm still not sure I'd recommend it for anyone, but it's yet another example of Amazon executing very well despite having less great technology than the competition. Consider me impressed.
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