• Saturday, March 5, 2016

    Amazon Echo Review Best Voice Activated Smart Home Speaker With Futuristic Features

    Amazon Echo Review Best Voice Activated Smart Home Speaker With Futuristic Features
    Amazon Echo Review Best Voice Activated Smart Home Speaker With Futuristic Features

    More than a year after its launch, the Amazon Echo, real speaker / voice activated personal assistant still has no real competitor on the market and has not yet revealed its full potential. After a year with the intelligent speaker Echo Amazon, we discovered how it could be useful in everyday life. We talk about it all the time asking us to broadcast the morning news while preparing a coffee, listen to our latest podcasts during our gym workout, to activate a countdown when we slip a pizza in the oven or turn off the lights when we go to bed. This is the real success of this product: it works and fits into the daily routine without anyone having to change their habits to adapt to the system. Originally launched in beta at $99, the Echo is now marketed in the US for $180. It is currently not distributed in Europe.

    We leave the Echo of the box, one branch and then we hear the voice of Alexa that guides you through the installation process. This is to connect the enclosure to a home Wi-Fi network and then sync with your smartphone or tablet via Alexa application. The chamber is then ready for operation. Always listening, it activates as soon as you say "Alexa", "Amazon" or "Echo". Then we can ask what you want: listen to music, read the news, set an alarm, listen to no good joke or anything else that comes into our head.

    The Echo is equipped with 7 microphones with noise reduction that work very well even when away from the enclosure and there is background noise. She can hear us several meters away even when the TV is on.

    What can we do with Amazon Echo?

    An increasing number of things. Recently, the Echo has received an update allowing him to order an Uber, a pizza at Domino's or listen to music from Spotify (provided you have a premium membership). Just remember to add the phrase "on Spotify" after giving the song title, album or artist name. One can also use the services of Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn.

    Regarding audio quality, the enclosure is equipped with two speakers that promise "immersive" 360 degrees. Several people noticed that the bass tended to lose power or deform when the volume is at maximum. We do not exceed 60% of volume. The sound filled the room well and is particularly well hears the voices, especially when listening to a podcast or audio-book.

    If you are really committed to the sound quality, you will find the best speakers in this price level. Echo can connect to an audio system would be a good idea, but it is not possible for the moment. But do not forget that the Echo is a music speaker. Because Alexa is really handy and able to understand most of what is said to him. We can say that as a virtual assistant, it is as effective as Siri.

    The difference between the two systems is that Siri is in addition to the touchscreen interface while Alexa is really the heart of the Echo. It was therefore necessary that Amazon makes the high performance, which is the case. At the time of its launch, Alexa was able to broadcast weather forecasts, set alarms and manage shopping lists and to-do. She could of course make some purchases on Amazon if asked.

    One of the functions we use the most is reading the news. It uses the application to choose the topics, sources and Alexa is then responsible for making the selection. But the "skills" of Alexa only increase. This is in fact application is added and of which there are one hundred currently. Amazon has a development kit available to third party developers who can still expand the list of features.

    A situation that is somewhat reminiscent of the early days of the App Store. There are some well-known applications such as Yelp, Domino's or Uber, but most actually come from small developers. There is everything from useful things and other much more anecdotal. And for now, there's no navigation system categories and ranking of the best applications. From our point of view, the next priority should be to Amazon review that part and Alexa application. Nevertheless, everyone can find an application that would meet its needs. The musicians will transform the Echo in metronome to accompany, cocktail fans can ask Alexa their reading recipes and players can even get advice on titles like Minecraft or Destiny.

    Note also the increasing presence of home automation applications that control security systems (Vivint, Scout) and garage door opening (Garageio). Furthermore, the lamps connected Philips Hue and LIFX, the connected switches Belkin WeMo and thermostats in Ecobee are compatible with Echo. Ditto for home automation platforms Wink, SmartThings and Insteon. This native integration allows you to use all these systems via Alexa bypassing applications. It connects to the Echo, and they walk directly. No need to use a complex sentence like "Alexa says Philips Hue lighting the light," we simply say "Alexa, turn on the light."

    The other great advantage of Echo is that it works with anyone, regardless of the phone. If it receives guests, it is not necessary to transfer his account or to share a password. Just indicate their key phrases and they can directly solicit Alexa.

    Also note that Alexa is compatible with IFTTT platform to create specific commands. We tested it with the connected thermostat Nest that is not natively compatible with the Echo and offers no application to Alexa. Only drawback: you have to create a rule for each IFTTT voice command and must include the keyword "triggers". Example: "Alexa, triggers the Nest at 20 degrees."

    The Amazon Echo cannot do

    As we said earlier, you cannot connect Echo to an external audio system or a connected TV. But we would not be surprised that things change knowing that home automation platform Smart Things Samsung is already natively compatible with Echo. It would therefore be logical to see the system work with Samsung TV to allow changing channel or browse Netflix voice.

    Another thing, you can connect a Bluetooth phone to the Echo, but we cannot ask Alexa to call someone like this can be done with virtual assistants like Siri or Cortana. Further integration between smartphones and Echo would be welcome. It would be great to keep his mobile in the pocket and to ask Alexa to read emails, SMS ... all with a voice password system to protect access, as is already the case for purchases on Amazon.

    Last thing, Echo does not know how to program home automation scenarios as it can be done with competing platforms like Apple HomeKit. We can group devices to turn on or off at the same time, but we cannot, for example, ask a Hue bulb light up in blue and the thermostat up to 21 degrees. One can however create a lot of configurations with IFTTT chain, but it would make sense that the application Alexa original features.


    There is no real competitor to the Echo, at least not among the main rivals. Apple and Google offer their voice assistant that has home automation functions and music playback, but none has launched an equivalent product at the Echo.

    The closest competitor would HomeKit, home automation platform that Apple has built into the latest version of iOS. It allows you to use Siri to control compatible household appliances, but you have to have an iPhone or iPad. This presents a problem if you receive guests or family members who are not equipped with Apple.

    After only 15 months of existence, Echo has proven that there is a market for this type of product. Rumors announce that Amazon could launch a second product based on Alexa, smaller and cheaper, bringing the Fox code-name. Amazon then take a step ahead of the competition has not even left equivalent. Also be aware that Amazon provides third-party manufacturers Alexa motor. This means that any device equipped with microphones and speakers can receive voice controls Alexa with few lines of code. We could see some of these products at the last CES.

    At the time of connected gadgets and applications to do everything, Echo offers something different. This is not a simple but a smart home interface enclosure that is used more than anything else. It is very efficient and constantly improving. Specify besides Echo has already proved useful to elderly or disabled persons. At $180, it really is a future technology that is worthwhile. You'll see, it will surprise you and you will conquer. You may not even know you want it. But this is the case.

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