When Apple brought about Siri as a personal assistant, there was great fanfare and rightly so. Kids could have conversations in the back seat while Mom or Dad drove. Voice interactions made information access much easier. Then came Microsoft with Cortana, who could schedule reminders and send you traffic alerts, much like a real personal assistant. Google Now has many of the same features as Cortana. Amazon might be late to the game, but Echo is a pretty amazing piece of technology that is designed to help out at home instead of when you’re on the go.
Echo is set to retail for $199, but Amazon Prime members can make their membership pay for itself with a special $99 introductory offer. It’s currently available by special invitation only. You’ll need to request an invitation directly through Amazon and if selected, you’ll get an email. Make sure to make Amazon emails safe or regularly check your spam folder.
What Makes Echo Different?
The first feature that stands out in the design of Echo is the 7 microphones that are built into it. This allows a user to speak at Echo from across the room and have the technology pick up the voice commands. You can ask Echo almost anything you want and because it is always on and always connected to the Cloud, you’ll get an instant answer. Ask about the day’s weather so you don’t have to watch the weatherman who has been giving the same report since 4am. Get recipes. Ask it the meaning of life and there’s a good chance you’ll be told “42.”
Echo is also always learning. It adapts to your speech patterns and will intuitively bring up your personal preferences. Instead of having to ask about the weather every morning as you get ready for work, it will tell you instead once you wake the system up.
You Can Stream Almost Anything You Want
If you’ve got an Amazon account, then you can stream Prime music, your purchased MP3s from Amazon, iHeartRadio, and other apps directly through Echo. It’s Bluetooth equipped so you can listen to your favorite tunes from iTunes or Spotify. The secret in the design of Echo are speakers that are downward firing instead of outward firing. This creates a genuine surround sound experience for a room so that it sounds good in a full 360 degrees of audio bliss.
For a final advantage, Echo also comes with an app that will allow you to manage a number of the personal assistant features that you’re sure to want. Set your alarms, manage your calendar, create shopping lists so you don’t forget the AAA batteries or onions at the store this week, and design music playlists that Echo will play.
It’s a simple step-by-step setup with your WiFi and Echo is ready to go in just minutes. With the awake word “Alexa,” you can then ask anything you want. It will even hear your voice if you’re playing music thanks to the active noise cancellation. The only question that remains is this: are you ready to fire Siri and hire Echo?