Amazon Echo, Black (previous generation)
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- Plays all your music from Amazon Music, Spotify, TuneIn and more using just your voice
- Fills the room with immersive, 360º omni-directional audio. Play music simultaneously across multiple Echo devices with multi-room music (Available for Amazon Music and TuneIn. Bluetooth not supported)
- Call or message anyone hands-free who also has an Echo device or the Alexa App. Also, quickly connect to other Echo devices in your home using just your voice
- Allows hands-free convenience with voice control
- Hears you from across the room with far-field voice recognition, even in noisy environments or while playing music
- Answers questions, reads audiobooks, reports news, traffic and weather, gives info on local businesses, provides sports scores and schedules, and more using the Alexa Voice Service
- Controls lights, switches, thermostats and more with compatible connected devices from WeMo, Philips Hue, Hive, Netatmo, Nest, tado° and others
- Always getting smarter - Alexa updates through the cloud automatically and is continually learning, adding new features and skills
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Amazon Echo is a hands-free speaker you control with your voice. Echo connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, make calls, send and receive messages, provide information, news, sports scores, weather and more. Prime members can also ask Alexa to order eligible products they've ordered before and many Prime products. All you have to do is ask.
Echo has seven microphones and beam-forming technology so it can hear you from across the room—even in noisy environments or while playing music. Echo is also an expertly tuned speaker that can fill any room with 360° immersive sound. When you want to use Echo, just say the wake word “Alexa” and Echo responds. If you have more than one Echo or Echo Dot, Alexa responds intelligently from the device you're closest to with ESP (Echo Spatial Perception). Learn more about ESP
Amazon Echo provides hands-free voice control for Amazon Music—just ask for your favourite artist or song, or request a specific genre or mood. You can also search for music by lyrics, when a song or album was released, or let Alexa pick the music for you. Listen to 40 million songs with Amazon Music Unlimited. With multi-room music support, you can play music across multiple Echo devices simultaneously (Available for Amazon Music and TuneIn. Bluetooth not supported). Learn more
Echo also provides hands-free voice control to Spotify and TuneIn. Plus, Echo is Bluetooth-enabled so you can stream other popular music services like iTunes from your phone or tablet. Echo has been fine-tuned to deliver crisp vocals with dynamic bass response. Its dual downward-firing speakers produce 360° omni-directional audio to fill any room with immersive sound.
With Amazon Echo, you can easily talk hands-free to anyone who has a supported Echo device or the Alexa App—no tapping or searching required. Additionally, you can send messages via voice or text to anyone with an Echo device or the Alexa App. Alexa calling and messaging is available at no additional cost—to get started download the latest version of the Alexa App on a smart phone with iOS 9.0 or higher, or Android 5.0 or higher, and verify your mobile number. Learn more
With the Drop In feature enabled for room-to-room calling, quickly connect with Echo devices in your home. Let your household know when dinner is ready, ask someone for help with a chore or remind the kids to go to sleep—without having to raise your voice.
Tucked under the light ring is an array of seven microphones that use beam-forming technology and enhanced noise cancellation. With far-field voice recognition, Amazon Echo can hear you ask a question from any direction—even in noisy environments or while playing music.
When you want to use Echo, simply say the wake word, “Alexa”, and Echo lights up and streams audio to the cloud, where the Alexa Voice Service is leveraged to recognise and respond to your request. Learn more about voice recognition on Echo.
Alexa—the brain behind Amazon Echo—updates through the cloud automatically and is continually learning, adding new functionality and skills. The more you use Echo, the more it adapts to your speech patterns, vocabulary and personal preferences.
We’ve recently added Alexa calling and messaging, multi-room music and reminders, along with skills from third-party developers.
Skills add even more capabilities such as ordering take away from Just Eat, requesting a ride from Uber, checking train times from National Rail and more. Enabling skills lets your Amazon Echo do even more—simply discover and enable the skills you want to use in the Alexa App.
New skills are being added all the time. You can also see ratings and reviews to learn what other customers are saying about skills in the Alexa App. Discover and enable skills.
Use Amazon Echo to switch on the lamp before getting out of bed, turn up the thermostat while reading in your favourite chair, or dim the lights from the couch to watch a film—all without lifting a finger.
Echo works with smart home devices such as lights, switches, thermostats and more from WeMo, Samsung SmartThings, Philips Hue, Hive, Netatmo, Tado°, Tp-link, Nest and others. Learn more about compatible smart home connected devices, including starter kits for easy setup.
Echo now supports IFTTT (If This, Then That), a third-party service that allows you to create rules (or “applets”) that automate how your devices, apps and websites work with each other.
With the free Alexa App on Fire OS, Android, iOS and desktop browsers, you can easily set up and manage your Amazon Echo.
Use the Alexa App to connect services you already use such as Amazon Music, Spotify and Google Calendar. Set up your smart home devices from WeMo, Philips Hue, Hive, Netatmo, tado° and more. See which books are available to listen to from your Audible and Kindle libraries. View shopping and to-do lists while on the go. Control your timers and set custom tones for your alarms, and much more. The Alexa App is also where you discover and enable third-party skills. Make calls, view your conversation history, manage contacts and get notifications when you receive a message (calling and messaging features available on iOS and Android smartphones).
Top customer reviews
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FIRSTLY. I admit that I have only had the Amazon Echo for a weekend, but I just CANNOT understand the amount of 1 star reviews (and the ludicrously high amount of people finding those reviews useful?!). If I was a cynical person I’d suggest that there might even be some sort of industrial sabotage going on here. Is it just coincidence that all of these bad reviews (and huge amount of helpful votes) are hitting the Echo just before Google release their own version in time for Christmas?
So I’ve decided to give as honest and open a review as possible in order to highlight the pluses and (currently very few) minuses that I’ve experienced. I’ll add to the review as time goes on, as I have no doubt there will be some exciting developments in the coming months.
Open up package. For once Amazon have used exactly the right sized box which is a pleasant surprise – in this instance for 1 x Amazon Echo and 2 x Amazon Echo Dots. Bought for £119 and £39 each respectively. Bargain. Excitedly unwrap the various boxes and pull “Alexa” out of her package for the first time. Initial thoughts are that she looks slightly larger than I’d envisaged, but very sleek and lovely. I’ve definitely had worse surprises than this.
Plug Alexa in to my kitchen, pride of place on the kitchen island. Download Alexa App on iPhone. I have Sky broadband by the way – I’ve seen reviews about Alexa not connecting to BT so can’t comment on this, but seems to have been resolved anyway. By the time the App has downloaded Alexa’s rather Sci-Fi circular top light is glowing orange and I connect her to my Wifi. This has taken less than a minute in all from opening the box and plugging her in. Alexa announces that she is now connected.
“Alexa, hello” I whisper in stunned awe and expectation
“Hello” Alexa responds, perhaps rather nonchalantly.
“Alexa, what is the weather like today” I ask
“The weather today will be 8 degrees and overcast, with a chance of sunshine later on”
I glance at my wife and my children. Truly, this is a new dawn in the technical age.
2 hours later : I have linked Alexa to my Spotify account, to Audible, have updated her skills to include my preferred news bulletins. I can now ask Alexa to play music, artists, songs. I have asked her to set multiple alarms. I have asked her to read my latest Audible book and then seconds later ask her to switch to Xfm, Radio 6 music, and Rinse fm just for laughs. I will test Alexa mercilessly on this in due course.
4 hours later : Downside. My eldest daughter (who is 5) has cottoned on to the “new miracle” in the kitchen and has developed an imperious style of talking to her. She demands constant jokes. They’re not too bad thankfully. Little Mix’s Black Magic has been played 335 times so far, followed by Abba’s Honey Honey, as well as Abba’s Mamma Mia. Unfortunately I have no way of getting Alexa to sanction particular songs or not. Yet.
6 hours later : I have plugged in Echo Dots in two other rooms. NB – you CANNOT link them in terms of playing songs on all of them together as you would a Sonos system. I have also not tried playing different songs off my Sonos system on different Echo speakers. I suppose that if only one account is linked then this could be an issue. I did find last night that when playing music from my iPhone on a Bluetooth speaker in another room, the music would switch off on the main Echo unit – i.e. couldn’t play the same Spotify account music at the same time in two parts of the house. Will have to revisit this.
“Alexa, good morning” I say breezily as I come in to the kitchen the next day. “Good morning” she replies, with equal good humour, and then goes on to tell me some fact of the day about Frozen, which is 3 years old today.
“Alexa, put on the radio, please” I say, as I can’t yet get used to making demands without being polite. Well, I am British. The radio starts.
“Alexa, what is the weather like today?” my wife asks as she walks in to the room. Alexa responds. Jackets and scarfs it is. Radio continues playing.
“Alexa, tell me a joke” says my daughter to the Echo Dot in the next room and then runs in to tell us why the chewing gum crossed the road.
“Alexa, how do you boil an egg?” I ask, just testing her, and I smile wryly as Alexa tells me that she also recommends putting a little hole in the top of the egg with a skewer before boiling.
Throughout the day we all variously use Alexa to play an audible book, play the radio, set a number of timers whilst we’re cooking, work out the distance to the moon, tell us (multiple) jokes, and do a lot of dancing to Little Mix.
It also turns out that her favourite colour is infrared.
Truly, how did we every get on without her?
Conclusion so far….
We’re only on Day 3 now. I’m sure the novelty will wear off. And beyond the little gimmicks do we just have a very expensive egg timer, that also doubles up as a radio? Or is this the future as far as my home entertainment is concerned?
In short, I don’t quite know yet, but I’m very positive about what I’ve seen and experienced so far. And my conclusions so far….
- For the current price (£119 until the end of the day) this truly is a bargain. At £150 it’s a good price. The sound quality isn’t the same as my Sonos but it’s good enough.
- Once again, I cannot understand the 1 star reviews. How can anyone take this miracle out of the box and say that “it’s not good because you can’t have it read kindle books”. Seriously?! Either these people haven’t bought the Echo yet or they have an unhealthy relationship with Kindle. Or they work for a brand competitor....
- The sound quality of the Echo Dots (currently £39 and not quite as good value in my view) obviously isn’t as good or as loud, but it DOES have an internal speaker. You can also link these to Bluetooth speakers and (I suppose) bluetooth radios. I have one by the bed now which I have been using (for 24 hours admittedly) to ask the time, play the radio, or set a daily alarm.
- There are some wrinkles that need to be ironed out. Alexa hasn’t quite got it when I ask for a particular Sonos playlist yet – so I do find I have to go to my phone and bring up a particular playlist and then start it through the app. I can still then carry on as normal though…i.e. “Alexa, volume up”, “Alexa, skip”, “Alexa, what song is this?” etc. etc.
- There are also a number of “skills” that are advertised but which don’t (yet) work, and which are advertised as linkable. Others have mentioned that searching on Bing is not as good as searching on Google. Let’s face it, about 99.9% of people search on Google and clearly Google are holding off from allowing the Echo to do so until Google has stolen a march (or not) over its competitor.
There are certainly improvements to be made. But rather like the Sonos firmware, it’s fully updatable/futureproof etc. etc. and I am sure…. No. Actually I’m positive that our “Alexa” experience won’t stagnate and we find her gathering dust in a corner somewhere. I’m already excited about linking with Hive, Philips Hue and other media. In 12 months? You’ll be able to walk in to a room and have Alexa turn lights on, turn your TV and Netflix on, set the temperature to what you want it to be, and then order some food to be delivered in nanoseconds.
Do you really, REALLY need an Amazon Echo? Well, do you really, REALLY need smart TVs, Netflix, Amazon delivering in a day, Just Eat, DAB radio, intelligent playlists, a speaker reading you a book etc. etc. etc.? Probably not. But if you’re of that opinion then you’re not going to be reading these reviews anyway.
And if Google comes up with an amazing alternative and it looks like in 12 months’ time that the Echo will be obsolete, then what has the downside really been in the meantime?
UPDATE : 12th December 2016
A month(ish) since Alexa arrived, and it’s time to put a few further thoughts down on the performance so far, the various bug bears, issues, positives, and ups and downs!
And for those sceptical of my motives for writing my Alexa review….I can confirm that I (still!) don’t work for Amazon or any affiliation. Nor do get sent free products to review. I wish I bloody did. If anyone is reading this review and thinks “I wonder if this guy wants to review our incredibly high priced electrical product which we’ll give him for FREE?”, then the answer’s YES, whole heartedly! High-Fi component manufacturers – I still do not have a decent turntable or amp on which to play the (admittedly meagre) collection of vinyl I’ve built up over the years. And TV manufacturers – I’m reluctant to swap my trusty 8 year old Panasonic 40 inch plasma for something new as I just hate the “soap opera effect” that I see on new screens, but I’m always willing to try….
But, back to the review at hand. Has the Echo been worth it?
In a word – yes - and I stand by the majority of my original review. Of course some of initial novelty has worn off, and even the kids aren’t quite as enthusiastic to hear a joke as they were. But it’s still a very impressive bit of kit, and the weekly updates it sends through advise what’s new and updated, and these have been improving even in a few weeks.
So, some general comments/issues to be aware of.
- Firstly, since it is my Spotify account that is linked to the Echo, I often find that I’m just getting in to a song or Podcast on the way to work when the music drops (literally) and I then get a note to say that the Trolls soundtrack is being played on my Echo. Irksome. I know what the solution is…to get a family Spotify account…but I haven’t got around to doing this yet, so this will be resolvable.
- Alexa is good for most information most of the time. I am learning that interaction is dependent a lot of the time on how a question or demand is phrased, for example “Alexa, play Christmas playlist” will result in Alexa suggesting a random Christmas playlist from Spotify. Asking “Alexa, play my Christmas Party playlist on Spotify” and it will work. So not far off, but you have to be specific.
- Likewise, when searching, I’m not experience a drop in quality in terms of her answering as some other reviewers have mentioned, but you do have to be quite specific with questions, and “random” questions that you’d ask Google and get a response don’t necessarily get the same response (or in fact any response) from the Bing setup on the Echo….
- …..and in fact that is one of the prime (no pun intended) issues that Amazon will need to resolve in my view. I have never rated Bing as a search engine, and I do not think it’s nearly as advanced as the Google search. I seriously doubt Google will want or need to allow Amazon to use the Google search engine until Google have made some serious roads in to getting people sold on their own product.
- I sometimes get a bit bored of saying Alexa. Particularly in this sort of sequence…”Alexa, play my New Music playlist on Spotify”, “Alexa, volume up”, “Alexa, volume up”, “Alexa, skip”, “Alexa, pause”. But how to resolve this? I don’t expect there will be, and I’d say it’s probably going to be the same on any home system you buy.
I do love walking in to the room (the 3 rooms we have where Alexa resides) and saying “Alexa, play Absolute Radio” *radio starts*, and a little later “Alexa, set timer for 10 minutes” *sets timer*, then “Alexa, what’s the weather going to be like today?” *immediate breakdown of weather*, and then because I’m filling out a form “Alexa, what’s the date today”.
So, I’m still impressed. Still think it was worth the money I paid for it. And still excited about the various future opportunities that are going to come about. Particularly excited about the Sonos link up next year.
Update 3rd November. Downgrading to one star. Amazon are now sending out weekly emails with commands to try. These do not work. Example was around this weeks suggestion "Alexa, play the Grand Tour playlist on Amazon music" ... Alexa doesn't recognise this ... it is actually "Alexa play the Grand Tour playlist on Amazon PRIME" ... Why cannot Alexa associate the two things ... How hard is it ? This is really getting infuriating as are the useless Amazon weekly emails. Amazon get your act together ... At least in the UK. Alexa now wants to watch Humans on C4 for some reason ...
Updated 25/11/16. There has been an improvement in Alexa's music searches since Amazon announced Music Unlimited. It's not perfect but much improved. Searches are still very hit and miss, bing really isn't great. It would help if Wolfram realesed the app in the UK (US only) as that carry out some intelligent question/answer searches. The latest weekly Amazon emails suggesting commands to try seems to have been proofread and actually work. As one readers comments pointed out Amazon are now advertising IFTTT (If This Then That) as coming 'soon' which will allow Alexa to interact with the outside world more if that's your thing. Not a huge amount of activity on the Apps available as far as I can see, the Guardian app is very good for news. The echo will read any Audible books but is still not reading Kindle 'text based' books which is a great shame. Just to be clear as Amazon roll out new features you shouldn't have to buy a new one, the changes will be on the Amazon back end systems not your echo. If you are willing to wait for the features or wanted it as a christmas present then I would say go for it, especially with the Black Friday discounts, but just don't be dissapointed that it doesn't quite meet up to some of the misleading hype. I am putting this back to three stars now based on the fact the music side has much improved but there is still a long way to go to bring it up to the level of the US version. I will update this post if there are any significant changes.
The device has great potential, but Amazon has chosen not to enable those features for UK consumers. That's a real shame.
Most recent customer reviews
Only downside is the kids keep changing what is being played