Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Amazon Echo - Our Review

Can you believe it's a month since Christmas?!

January has flown by and we are excited to get to Saturday and board our plane to Oz.

As a month has passed I thought it was a good time to write a review post on one of our Christmas gifts in case you have birthdays or celebrations coming up.

The main present we received the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Dot. Have you heard of them?

I'll be the first to admit that I was not convinced that this was a 'must have' gift but over the past month I may be slowly coming around to the idea of having an AI (artificial intelligence) product in our home. 

For a start I was convinced this was a gateway to spending more money, and in some ways it is. If you have the funds you can purchase lights that can be controlled by the Amazon Echo/Dot, you can purchase heating devices that can be controlled by the Amazon Echo/Dot. You can even set up the ability to purchase products at your request. The easiest way to spend ever. 

As it stands we haven't set any of those up so I can't confirm how well it works. 

What I can confirm is that the tasks it advertises work really well.....if you ask it in the right way. And a weekly email telling you how to ask the Amazon Echo/Dot for certain things helps. Plus there are tons of YouTube clips with tips.

We frequently ask Amazon Echo/Dot for the weather, the time, cooking conversions, to set an alarm or a timer and to play music. We have asked for currency conversions, maths equations, for jokes, for definitions and facts and when friends are around they spend ages asking all kinds of things. We have played rainforest sounds to relax us and asked for travel updates or news headlines.

This provides both opportunity and challenge. We have learnt things we wouldn't have necessarily bothered to Google. We have also learnt how to ask questions in different ways - a skill I'm sure will come in handy. It can be frustrating though, if you don't get the pronunciation right or ask the question in the right way then you can be there for a good 10 minutes. Entertaining after a drink, frustrating when it's a fairly simple question. 

We also like the fact you can get it to add items to a shopping list, or a to-do list - much easier than finding a scrap of paper to make a note. 

There is also room for improvement in the fact that it is very clearly an American product. It has no clue about sport unless it is American or a Premier League Football team. It way it pronounces things is not always accurate - it very clearly reads words phonetically, which doesn't always work with place names in the UK. I'm sure over time these things can be rectified though and you do get used to it.

One thing that is impressive is that the App that you install actually asks for your feedback - true testament to that fact that this product will only improve. The App also gives a transcript of everything asked so it can be pretty funny to read through after a session of asking it questions. We have even tried to pronounce things in the way it picked it up to see if that helps. 

I'm sure we have only scratched the surface of the capabilities but so far it has been fun having the addition. 

You can name the device as well - I believe you get the choice of 'Echo', 'Amazon' or 'Alexa' - we went with 'Alexa'. It is fair to say that Bisbee is still confused as to who Alexa is and I have no idea who the neighbours think we are talking to :)

We are yet to get to grips with the 'Skills' additions - there are around 3000 capabilities, including exercise classes or ordering takeaway through JustEat, a taxi from Uber. It can read you audiobooks, read your tweets, tell you what movies are on near by - it appears endless. 

Here's some commands to try if you do have one:

The main question we get asked is what the difference is between the Dot and the Echo (other than the size). We haven't actually found many differences, in fact the main difference is the quality of the speaker is significantly better on the Echo. 

Both are super easy to set up, both have to remain plugged into mains (which I'm not personally a fan of), both have good voice recognition- although on that note both will react to you whenever they think you have said the 'Alexa' command and start asking you how it can help or that it didn't understand the question - which freaked us out a bit initially. 

The other thing is to remember in the real world there is no Alexa / Amazon Echo/Dot and that a 'please and thank you' after a request goes a long way. Alexa doesn't require it but if you do thank the device will respond. It also responds if you say good morning and good night to it. Strange but weirdly comforting. 

One thing we have managed to avoid is a fail like this:

So far we know at least 2 people who have got an EchoDot since playing with ours - are you tempted? Do you have one? What are your thoughts?


  1. I've been wondering if the echo was a good product or not. :) Thanks for the info!

  2. Hi! We got an Echo Dot for Christmas, a surprise gift from my folks. We use it for news briefings and weather updates, as well as the occasional wikipedia fact check. My 7-year-old has uncovered a fun response. For some reason, he felt it necessary to share with Alexa that he . . . ahem . . . passed gas. She offered a pretty funny response. If you're curious, and don't mind telling an inanimate object about bodily functions see what she says. :)

  3. Definitely tempted to get an Echo, especially after reading your review! I'd say thank you, but don't think my wallet would agree (right now, anyway *grin*). Hope you had an amazing trip to Australia!


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