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Amazon Echo

*This is a product received by Amazon for the intent of a review*

Amazon’s latest piece of technology, the Amazon Echo, is a step towards artificial intelligence. Sure, it comes in a case that looks like an enlarged Monster can but deep down it has technology waiting to be unleashed. However, Amazon doesn’t quite make the most of its opportunity despite plenty of optimistic reasons to.

Alexa, the artificial intelligence for the Echo, powers on the device with the simple call of her name. Her response usually is received with a glowing light radiating around a ring at the top of the cylinder. This light usually points towards the person calling her name, eager for their question to be answered.

Alexa is programmed to hunt(har har har) down information from multiple databases, working as a mediator between Pandora, iHeartRadio, Yelp, Wikipedia, Traffic Reports and NPR News. When asked a question, generally speaking, her response is fluid and surprisingly quick. This leads to one of her most impressive features, the ability to hear her name called out over most noises, even those that are generally quite loud.

Controlling the Echo wireless can be as easy as downloading an app
Controlling the Echo wireless can be as easy as downloading an app

The Echo’s set-up is generally simple and easy to understand. Installing it is as simple as a few minutes from your day and plugging it into whatever outlet you want the Echo to be housed in. Changing outlets does not require a restart of the process, but rather a few seconds before she is full operational.

As with most Amazon products, the Echo is built relatively thick. Amazon loves to use a rubber residue that adds a gel like texture to its products. This works well on the Amazon Fire tablets and very well here. The casing for the Echo is extremely solid, housed by rather large speakers. The case’s sturdiness feels like it could withstand a few drops before being rendered useless. (note: don’t try to find out if this would work).

The Echo has an interesting, dare I say, revolutionary way of setting up it speakers. A tweeter lines the bottom, matched by an even bigger sub-woofer that channels into a reflex port at the top. This is all modified by a ring around the top that controls the volume. Somehow, this is all stuffed in with Bluetooth connection and WIFI (MIMO).

Speaking of speakers,  a lot of the web has complained about the quality of the speakers. Generally speaking, they are quite loud. They provide enough oompf and never require a maximum volume setting to hear music or Alexa’s response. The bass for the most part is on point, providing clarity and never washing out music. Alexa’s voice sounds even better, nearly crystal clear from almost anywhere in a room. Sure, you can find better quality speakers on the market that sound more clear but for the most part, the Amazon Echo acts the part of a premium bluetooth speaker.

The Echo can also work as a list maker, an alarm clock and even, no surprise here, an online shopper (see Amazon’s store). You want the Echo to order you the latest season of your favorite show? She will rattle off the price and order it for you. Yes, being lazy just got even lazier. Of course, the entire Amazon shopping network is made better by being an Amazon Prime member. So, don’t be idiotic and buy the Echo without that.

Beautifully simplistic.
Beautifully simplistic.

Unfortunately, in a product that has such a stand out nature, when it goes wrong, it becomes more evident than most. While incredibly smart, the Echo does not always execute as she should. Some questions, unless posed in a certain way, she will not understand and therefore not answer. Quite a few questions will trump her, leaving a frustrating, “I thought you were smart?” look on your face. Sometimes it requires a few reiterations of the same question until she can finally get it.

What might even be more puzzling is the lack of Fandango, Movies.com or RottenTomatoes support. Looking up movie times or even buying movie tickets on the go would have been huge but unfortunately is completely absent. If you want to find movie times or what is coming out this weekend, better look at your smartphone. However, Amazon’s network, powered by the cloud, always has the ability to teach the Echo new information. The possibility of new content is always there.

VERDICT

The Amazon Echo is not a bad product. As with everything that Amazon sets out to do (primarily innovate) the idea is there but usually the execution is muddled (see Amazon Fire Phone). Echo is pretty smart, tells a quirky joke or two, reads a novel and can order things online. That all is pretty cool but these tidbits squeeze the Echo into a niche market. A niche market of, “Do we really need this?” or “Does this make my life that much better?”. Those questions are a challenge the Echo will face until its inevitable, much more revolutionary successor.

7/10

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