The Amazon Echo – Out of the box and onto the network. Hello Alexa.

When Amazon first sent me email about their new Echo device, I was quite intrigued and looked over the material with great interest. It’s a wireless and hands-free device to play music and to be used as a basic research tool. It hooks into your Amazon music account to play music you already own and searches through all the free music (if you’re a Prime subscriber). It can also answer standard questions such as "what is the weather like today", "what time is it?" and "set a timer for 30 minutes". And while on the surface it seems pretty simple, it turns out to be a whole lot of fun!

Mine showed up on Friday so I spent the weekend tinkering around with it. First of all, when you open it up, it looks like you’re unwrapping a fine bottle of Scotch. I guess Amazon took some cues from Apple on how to package a device. Opening you’re new product should be an experience.

Anyway, the Echo itself looks like a black Pringles can. It took about 5 minutes to get set up and then Alexa was playing music from my account. It’s wise to use a tablet device to set up Echo so you can install the app to track what’s available in your account. I tried using my regular PC, but that didn’t seem to go so well. I just switched over to my iPad and forged ahead.

But the setup only took a minute or two and Echo was ready. The device is referred to as Alexa, so each command is preceded with the word, "Alexa". Obviously, this is the same philosophy as "Siri".

So how does it work? Well, quite well actually. But let’s take a moment to marvel at the technology we have here. It’s a wireless device that without any training can understand voice commands. I didn’t spend hours reading paragraph after paragraph to train it how to understand how I pronounce words. From the beginning it understood my voice and knew where I was located. I started off by playing some Rush from my catalog and Echo had "Clockwork Angels" playing. I then asked about the weather, the time, when the Superbowl was, who Geddy Lee was, where the Echo was made and even had it tell me a joke. Honestly, it was quite fun.

Just think, it used to be computers took up the space of an entire building and took and entire team of people to handle one machine. Now you can hold it in the palm of your hand and talk to it.

The voice is quite pleasing and sounds pretty natural. It only got tripped up a couple of times as there seems to be a difference between "who wrote" versus "who is the author of" when asking a question. I had Alexa hanging out in the kitchen while cooking, playing music and setting timers. At night, Alexa was playing music next to the computer while I played Shroud of the Avatar. I had it jump around different to songs and different albums by just talking to it. Didn’t have to take my hands off the keyboard or anything. Plus, I spoke in my natural tone, not some slow, deliberate, Capt. Kirk style voice.

Overall, Echo is pretty impressive! The design is quite nice, the software works really well and it’s very easy to use. I’m also thinking of upgrading my Music Library to the 250,000 songs tier, even though I have a fraction of that in music. But they only have 2 setting, all or nothing. It’s only $25 a year, which is very cheap in my opinion. But seriously, who has 250,000 songs?

Buy anyway, so far Echo is very impressive. It’s a good design and works well. Plus, once programmed, you can unplug it and move it anywhere around the house. It takes a few seconds to reconnect and then it’s back up and working. I’m quite pleased.

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