Technology has moved on so much in the last few years, and who would have imagined being able to control your home appliances and gadgets by using your voice. It would have been something you would have seen in a science fiction film, and your reaction would have been ‘I so want one of those’. Well now you can with the Amazon Echo.
What is the Amazon Echo?
As the name points out the Echo was created by internet giant Amazon, and it isn’t the first time they have entered the market in making their own products to sell to consumers.
The Amazon Echo is a home assistant, which has been designed to make your life easier and more importantly, to make you and your home look super cool.
The Amazon Echo can play your music from music streaming services such as Amazon Music and Spotify, and you can listen to your favourite tracks just by asking the Amazon Echo to play a song of your choice. It comes with ‘far-field voice recognition’, which means the Amazon Echo can hear you in noisy environments; which is necessary when you consider the Amazon Echo might be playing a track at loud volumes that you requested a few minutes earlier.
How does it work?
The Amazon Echo is a wireless speaker that you connect to your home network, and the voice control system the Amazon Echo uses is Alexa.
Alexa is the name Amazon decided to call their voice assistant, and you would say the word ‘Alexa’ if you want to ask the Amazon Echo a question, or to give it a command. So to get your Amazon Echo to play your favourite One Direction song you’d just say ‘Alexa play One Direction, live while we’re young’ and the Amazon Echo would play the song for you.
You can also ask Alexa questions that it will then go and find the answers to on the internet, or perhaps you want to know what the weather will be like tomorrow. Or perhaps you suddenly realised you had ran out of butter, you can ask Alexa to add it to your shopping list.
Another reason why the Amazon Echo, which uses Alexa voice recognition, is so popular is that it can help with controlling the home. So you could ask Alexa to turn on the lights when you get home from work on a cold winter evening, or you could ask it to turn the heating on. This may not sound like too much to get excited about, but it would definitely help if you come home from work with bags of shopping, and needed to see where you were going in your home.
The Amazon Echo together with Alexa is also future proof to some extent, as there are a growing number of capabilities built into the Amazon Echo, and third party providers can also add skills to your Amazon Echo.
How does Alexa work?
The Amazon Echo with Alexa voice recognition is always waiting for a command, and it recognises a command after you’ve said the word Alexa. The Echo comes with several sensitive microphones, so it can hear you from far way, and it means you don’t have to ask the same question again.
The Amazon Echo and Alexa come with many built in functions that Alexa understands, but you can also teach Alexa new commands, and these are called ‘Skills’. Skills are accessed from the Alexa app that you use with your phone, and there are currently over 8,000 skills you can teach Alexa. If that isn’t enough, you can even teach Alexa new skills using the Alexa Skill Kit. The Alexa Skill Kit allows you to easily add new skills for Alexa to suit your needs, and you just need to have a very basic understanding of programming to do this.
Alexa does have some flaws
First of all we’ll look at the flaws of the Amazon Echo speaker itself. You need to remember that the speaker includes the technology to turn the speaker into a home assistant. So you shouldn’t expect to get amazing sound from the speaker. The sound is fine, but if you’re more interested in sound quality, and not that interested in the other features, then you can definitely get better sounding wireless speakers elsewhere at a cheaper price.
If you’re looking to purchase more than one Alexa then this can also be a problem at the moment. The Amazon Echo has been designed with extremely sensitive microphones, so you don’t have to worry about having to shout at the Amazon Echo to ask it to do something. The downside to this is if you’ve an Amazon Echo in your kitchen, and you also have one in your living room. When you use the command ‘Alexa’ both of the speakers may respond. This would be a bit annoying if this meant both speakers started to play a song and you were only using one of the rooms.
Amazon is aware of this and is looking to update the software, which will mean the Amazon Echo is aware that you have more than one speaker connected to your home. The update should mean the speaker closest to you follows the command and the other speakers do nothing. However, at present, until this update has been confirmed, you need to be aware of this if you’re considering buying more than one Amazon Echo speaker.
As with all new technology don’t expect the Amazon Echo and Alexa to be flawless, we just simply are not there yet. So on occasion don’t be surprised if the Amazon Echo doesn’t do what you had intended, so you need to be patient and accept that the technology is new.
We mentioned that Alexa is great at controlling your home devices, such as turning on your lights. You need to be aware to get this to work you would need to first install a lighting system that is capable of communicating with Alexa. Alexa is great for doing such tasks, but your home needs to be relatively wireless and connected for Alexa to shine. At present this will not be the case for most homes.
The Amazon Echo with the voice assistant Alexa is a great addition to any home, and will be perfect for anyone who likes gadgets. Alexa is a good starting point into this technology, and it’s definitely a look into the future. At the moment however, not everyone will use all the technology Alexa offers, as you already need to have your house connected. If you do already use a wireless connected lighting and heating system then Alexa will work great with these, but if you don’t then it’s unlikely you would want to make such an investment.
We like the forward thinking vision of the Amazon Echo and Alexa, and are confident it will be a great success in the future. It isn’t perfect, but it’s constantly being updated, so we expect that Digital Home Assistants are here to stay.