Wondering about the Amazon Echo? So were we so we picked one up and here’s what we think.
This review unit was bought at our local Best Buy. My choices were the Amazon Echo, Amazon Tap, and the Amazon Dot. Confused at the differences, the only thing the salesman knew was that the tap required you to tap it before you speak. It turns out that the Echo is much taller and has an integrated speaker. The Dot does not have the speaker, so it has to be connected to a Bluetooth speaker. If you lack an external Bluetooth speaker or don’t want the hassle, the difference is about $100. The Dot is about the size of a hockey puck.
Unboxing was simple. Without looking before we opened it (that’s our superpower), we peeled off the wrong end. When I tipped it over to slide it out, we then spotted the obvious seal with an arrow highlighting the sticker you need to remove making it easy to open the entire top and remove the Echo, manual and power supply. The plastic is easily removed from the Echo and power supply. Now you just plug it in underneath where there’s a cutout to hide it. We expected a pleasant unboxing and weren’t disappointed.
Once plugged in, if you do nothing, it will talk to let you know it’s ready to setup and to use the manual. We don’t usually read the manual, but we did in this case because it was simple and to the point. It’s a fold-out style and small. A cheat sheet includes some suggested commands to try out. The manual also explains the colors, what they mean, the volume ring, and how to shut off the microphone.
The Alexa App
On the last page of the manual, it is recommended (read required) that you download the Alexa app.
On the first use of the app I was given the option to customize Alexa, my Fire Stick, and for some reason, somebody thought they’d put the weather in the app. OK… The setup allows you to get everything running with your new Echo. You have to agree to terms to continue, and then you can connect to your Wi-Fi. In my case, I didn’t get the orange ring to start setup, so I clicked on “don’t see the orange light ring” and followed the instructions to hold the action button for 5 seconds and clicked continue. Continue gave me the option mentioned above or “quit setup.” Who designed this? So, we started over only to have the app lock up. On the third try it setup quickly by selecting the Amazon Wi-Fi, then returning to the Alexa app to finish. Here we got another error about not setting up properly (Yay) with no explanation why, or what didn’t work correctly. In a recurring theme, on the third try, it finally told me it couldn’t connect to my Wi-Fi network. We repeatedly selected the same network other devices are using with repeated errors. At this point, we figured we would “forget this network” and reconnect it. That’s when we got a new error “unable to forget network.” On the next attempt, we were greeted with “Could not scan Wi-Fi networks.” Adding to the aggravation, the app appears to be slow and freeze up occasionally. Many of the error messages tell you to go to help, but there’s no link to said help. On the next attempt, following a phone restart, Alexa said it couldn’t connect yet the app said we were connected, and we were! The app now ends at an introduction video, and like everything else in this app, there’s nowhere to go here but close the app and restart it unless you go to the end of the video.
At this point, you can choose a display name, access to contacts, and notifications. You then have to verify your phone number with a verification code. The app is so bad that we almost believe a Google programmer infiltrated Amazon to screw up the Alexa app. At this point, the 1.5 rating we found on the app store is pretty accurate.
As you can see, the app takes up a lot of space in this review because it’s that bad. An hour later, with a lot of frustration, 10% less battery, and a warm phone, we wanted to return it and call a psychiatrist.
Right away, it’s so much fun to use. You can say almost anything and get a response. Weather, news, phone calls, messages, you name it. There are some fun things to try as well including “Alexa, I am your father,” “Alexa, use the force,” “Alexa, open the pod bay doors,” “Alexa, who you gonna call,” “Alexa, are you Skynet,” and hundreds of known (so far) silly commands. Volume can be changed by turning the top portion left or right for down or up.
To get started with music, we asked Alexa to play some Kid Rock, and she responded by shuffling Kid Rock songs. We’re not audiophiles, but man, this thing sounds great and has plenty of volume for any room unless you have a mansion, of course. The highs are high, the lows are low, and the bass shook our office desk. Echo supports many music services including IHeartRadio, Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, Google Play Music, and more. You can shop on Amazon with Echo, control voice-controlled alarms, timers, shopping and even your Google Calendar. Many controllable smart home brands can also be controlled including Nest, Philips Hue, Belkin Wemo, SmartThings, Insteon, and Wink.
You can use Alexa to communicate with others that also have an Alexa device, but we’d love to interface with our phone to make calls, send messages, etc.
Amazon Echo is a lot of fun, but the app initially ruins the experience. We can’t believe we waited this long to try it out. Be sure to do a search for “funny Alexa commands.”
The Amazon Echo is available in both black and white and the Echo Dot is also available in black or white.