Amazon Echo and Alexa: Personal Assistance for Your Home

BreakingModern — Apple, Microsoft and Google have given us semi-intelligent personal assistants with Siri, Cortana and Google Now, but Amazon surprised the tech community when it announced Amazon Echo and Alexa, its own digital helper.

I took a look at Amazon Echo, as powered by Alexa’s softspoken voice. It isn’t just another mobile fact checker, I found. It’s groundbreaking. Think of it as a personal assistant for your home.

amazon echo

Amazon Echo Design

The Amazon Echo is a sleek 9.25-inch tall black cylinder that is about three-inches in diameter.  There are seven microphones embedded in the top of the device, which is capped with an illuminated ring that glows around the edge. This acts as the volume control. The ring lights up when you call out the name “Alexa,” letting you know that she is ready to accept your voice command.

The rest of the device is a 360-degree surround speaker with impeccable sound quality.

Setting It Up

Echo is currently available on a waitlist at $99 for Amazon Prime subscribers. You set up the Echo by using your smart phone to connect it to the Internet. The Echo app on the phone also records every command or song that you play and keeps track of your to-do list and shopping list, as you tell Alexa to add items.

amazon echo

Even on first use, Alexa’s smooth voice seemed more natural and friendly than Siri’s. Just call out “Alexa” and she turns on, ready to help you. You can ask her for formal updates, like “What is the weather forecast,” or more natural questions like “Do I need an umbrella today?” or “Give me the news.” She can even tell you a corny joke.

Depending on the noise level, Alexa can hear you from across a normal-sized room. If you’re in a noisy environment, you can also use a remote control to pose your question.

Video: Introducing Amazon Echo

While the debut ad for the device is pretty corny, Alexa quickly became part of my family. While I was quite comfortable playing music from my tablet through Bluetooth speakers, that took several steps. With Alexa, I can simply ask her to play just about any song. An Amazon Prime subscription gives her the ability to play over a million songs from the Prime music catalog. You can also add your own music and create play lists that Alexa is happy to play for you. She can also access TuneIn and iHeartRadio.

You can also directly connect to the Echo via Bluetooth and stream audio to it just like you would on a typical Bluetooth speaker.

Right now Alexa cannot access your contacts or your appointments, so she is more of a novelty than a productivity tool. She is still really fun to use. Alexa is in her infancy, but she has the foundation to grow up to be an extremely useful tool. Siri is poised to be connected to Apple’s Home Kit, which will connect that software to a large variety of smart home devices. With the proper alliances Alexa and the Echo could do the same. And, if the Amazon Echo is open to outside developers, there might be a slew of growth for Amazon’s device.

In the meantime, Amazon Echo is happy to be a useful and fun part of the family.

For BMod, I’m .

Featured Image Credit: Artificial Sunrays via Wikimedia Commons

All Screenshots by Sandy Berger

Sandy Berger

Author: Sandy Berger

Based in Pinehurst, North Carolina, Sandy Berger is a veteran tech journalist and reviews editor at covering tech tips and tricks, apps, gadgets, and consumer electronics. Follow @sandyberger on Twitter, +SandyBerger on Google+, and on Facebook.

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