Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ryan Reviews the #AmazonEcho / #Alexa

I've temporarily hijacked my dog Kate's blog to review what seems to be the latest electronic gadget in the market today: The Amazon Echo, a speaker-microphone device that connects to the Internet (as approved my Amazon, at least), with a Siri-like voice-operated assistant named Alexa.

On Tuesday, I received an email invitation to order the Echo on Tuesday at the "special" price of $99. I received the product yesterday, Wednesday. There's no graphic user interface on the Echo, but the setup was simple. There's a webpage on Amazon that will guide you through the process. Basically, use your computer/tablet/smartphone to log into the Echo's built-in, non-Internet Wi-Fi network to tell the Echo to log into your home's actual Internet-ready Wi-Fi network. (It makes sense when you actually do this.)

What does the Echo do? You can command Alexa to play music from your Amazon cloud library, or from Amazon's Prime library, if you're a Prime member. (As of this writing, only invited Prime members have access to purchase Echo, so we all have access to the Prime music library.) You can ask the Echo about the weather, and you can have Alexa read the first paragraph of any given Wikipedia article. There's an app available for Android and Amazon Fire smartphones/tablets so you can interface with Alexa when it comes to making lists and conducting Internet searches. There is no Apple iOS app yet, but you can access the Echo through your Apple device's Internet browser. You can also access the Echo through your computer's Internet browser. In any case, the whole thing sounds like the future!

Check out my Instagram video below, which I think was the second-posted user video of an Echo, under the hashtag #amazonecho:

As far as nitpick-y negatives: The Echo itself must be plugged into a wall to work. I wish there was at least a small rechargeable battery in the device -- a three-hour battery would have been perfect. At one point yesterday, Alexa stopped replying to my questions and commands, which required me to unplug the Echo, so that it could reboot. Hopefully that won't happen too often.

To tie this in with my dog Kate, I wish that Alexa could interpret dog barks, and maybe also baby babbles. But that's asking for way too much, I suppose.

Bottom line, the Echo is loads of fun at $99. You can pretend that Alexa is J.A.R.V.I.S., and that you are Iron Man ... or something to that effect. If you have a large non-Prime Amazon cloud music library, then it's a match made in -- if not heaven, then -- the cloud. Having Prime membership music on top of your purchased cloud music is icing on top of -- if not the cake, then -- the cloud. However, at the listed retail price of $199, I personally probably would not purchase an Echo. I just don't know how to justify the extra $100, unless you are some sort of futuristic Jack Tripper dude-bot and need two fem-bot roommates, Siri and Alexa.

The Echo is fantastic, and hopefully Alexa won't go HAL 9000 on everyone. Siri hasn't (yet), so there's hope for all of us.

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