I recently decided to buy a year’s subscription to Amazon Prime. It was discounted by £20 and as I’ve been purchasing more and more from Amazon of late, it made sense to take advantage of the deal. So, I spent £59 and became a Prime customer. The first thing I did after receiving the confirmation email that I was now one of the “chosen”, was to buy the Amazon Echo. I’ve had my eye on these so-called smart speakers for a while. I was toying with the idea of buying the Google Home but it doesn’t become available in the UK until after Christmas. The Amazon echo has the advantage of being a tried and tested product that has been around since June 2015 in the US. As I’ve now bought into the Amazon ecosystem it made sense to go with their product and utilise its respective resources fully.
After a week and a half of using the Amazon Echo I am broadly in agreement with most of the reviews that I’ve read. The speaker itself is robust and of a sound quality that I find more than acceptable. Despite being a Prime customer I opted to try Amazon Music for a month, thus expanding the library of music available from two million tracks to forty million. The reason for this is that my significant other and I have broad and eclectic music taste and simply wanted more choice. Playing individual songs, specific albums and bespoke playlists is quick and easy. In a nutshell, the ease of access and use that the Echo affords means that music is now a regular feature in our household again.
The Echo is also easy to move about the house, connecting effortlessly to your Wi-Fi. Bluetooth connectivity means that it can easily pair with phones, tablets or even desktop PC. This flexibility means that family members do not have to fight over using the Echo, nor inflict differing musical preferences upon each other. The voice recognition software is sufficiently sophisticated and usually understands the various requests our household makes. There are times when Alexa struggles to understand languages other than English but then again it may down to my poor pronunciation. As for Alexa, her neutral UK English accent is pleasant and far from irritating. She has also been programmed to be suitably apologetic when request fails and has a sense of humour. Try asking “Open the pod bay doors, HAL”.
Echo users can customise news, weather and travel services as well use practical apps such as timers and alarms. It should be noted that a lot of the apps and functionality that are currently available in the US are not at the disposal of UK customers. However, I’m sure this will change over time. In fact, I see the Amazon Echo as a provisional incarnation of the sort of automated convenience we’ve seen in science fiction movies and literature for years. A decade from now this sort of technology will be standard in most new build homes. At present, it offers a degree of convenience and novelty. It’s fair to say that the Echo is also a cunning marketing tool, as you gain greater functionality the more Amazon services you buy into. The Echo could also be a prime example (no pun intended) of the emerging digital divide we are seeing in contemporary society.
Overall, I’m happy with the Amazon Echo and Alexa. So far, the only disappointment I’ve suffered was after trying to use the device as a surrogate sound bar for the TV. I purchased a Bluetooth adaptor and managed to output audio from both the television, IPTV and Blu-ray player via the Echo. Sadly, due to the inherent nature of Bluetooth, there was sufficient latency for the sound to be just a fraction out of sync with the visuals. It was too noticeable to be viable so I ceased using the device in this fashion. However, this specific con did not outweigh any of the aforementioned pros. I remain confident that over the next six months I shall find more useful ways to utilise the Amazon echo. Certainly, if I can address Alexa as “computer” in a Star Trek fashion, my user satisfaction would increase even further.