Amazon Echo Review: The beta device of beta devices

by on January 20, 2015
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“Could you imagine having instant access to a personal assistant without having to grab your phone?” Yeah, I can imagine it and this isn’t it…

So, now that I’ve had access to Amazon’s answer to the digital personal assistant included in our smart phones for a week or so,  I went online to check out what other reviewers thought. Perhaps I was alone in some of my gripes, after all, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Thus, after scanning through other reviewers articles I realized a two things:

1) I wasn’t alone in my complaints.

2) Other people write reviews considerably more entertainingly than I do.

 

First off, it should be noted that the Echo is really still in beta, which is why there is such a limited roll out on the device. This also explains quite a bit with the voice recognition software being a little wonky.

This also explains why there’s so little to do with the device, although an explanation is of very little comfort when I can easily think of tiny things that would have made Echo better with very little effort.

Take Echo’s ‘preferences’, for example. Suppose you were to ask Echo it’s favorite animal, Echo would reply ‘I don’t have preferences or desires’ (or something to that effect). That’s all good and well since Echo is telling the truth, after all we aren’t talking about any type of advanced AI, but that misses the point entirely.

 

…an explanation is of very little comfort when I can easily think of tiny things that would have made Echo better with very little effort.

 

It would have taken the programmers all of five minutes to include an array of various preferences to pull from. Even better yet, Echo could give you an answer, ‘I’m not sure, but I think penguins are interesting…’, and then ask, ‘would you like to hear a interesting fact about penguins I just learned?’. Echo could then pull a sentence or two from Wikipedia or wherever to present this fact.

White noise generation (rainy cafe sounds for example) is another simple idea that you would think Echo would be able to do but can’t, and quite honestly, wouldn’t be much of a chore to implement.

This really just ‘echoes’ (see what I did there?) a larger problem with the device: I’m not very sure what it’s supposed to be used for.

  • As a cloud player / speaker you can find more robust apps on your phone.

 

  • As a personal assistant for adding things to lists, sure it’s hands free, but the information is buried in the companion app instead of the notification center in a widget (iPhone – this ability to add information to the iPhone information center was added with iOS 8).

 

  • As a bluetooth speaker, for the price you can find a much better sounding speaker.

 

  • As a vocal accessed reference guide, it works alright assuming it understands you.

 

If you watch the introduction video produced by Amazon, it shows exactly the extent of what Echo can do. Granted, you get the idea that it can do more based off of the video, but this is completely marketing voodoo.

 

echoPic2

 

Now, I understand that it may seem as if I’m suggesting that the device isn’t worth the time, and that would be a fair assessment if Echo weren’t in beta. That is the key point in all of this and I would be hard pressed to believe that the software engineers at Amazon aren’t actively working on the programming and settings.

So, for right now? It’s pure beta, but that’s to be expected I suppose.

Positives

Interesting design
Easily access basic information
Easy to access Prime Music

Negatives

Limited functionality
You would think Echo could generate white noise
Obviously in beta
Pricey for a beta device

Editor Rating
Total Score
7.5


Bottom Line
 

It's pure beta. As long as the programmers stay hard at work, it could turn out great.