A reader had a question about he Amazon Echo, more precisely, “What is the Amazon Echo?” I’ve talked about the device before, but there have been quite a few changes since it was introduced, to it’s a good time to go over some of the new features while I explain how it works to those of you who aren’t familiar with it yet.
The Amazon Echo is a smarthome hub that comes with a digital assistant called Alexa. It connects to the Internet via WiFi and to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth.
The unit is just over 9″ tall and 3″ round and comes with a built-in speaker. It connects to your home WiFi network and can respond to your voice command from just about anywhere in the same room as the device.
Echo connects to Alexa, a digital assistant that can answer questions, read you sports score, weather and news. Alexa answers you via voice, no screens required. Echo can play your Amazon or Amazon Prime music, plus also songs from services like Pandora and iHeartRadio. You can also connect your phone or tablet via Bluetooth to play music from the device or from apps like iTunes or Spotify.
Additionally, Echo now works with smart lighting devices like Phillips Hue and WeMo to control lights with voice commands.
Echo will also play audio books from Audible and read your Kindle books to you. You can ask questions, such as definitions and how to spell things and also search for reviews on local businesses.
It’s possible to sync your Google calendar and also set alarms, timers and make lists, all by using your voice. Alexa can even give you local movie showtimes.
You can even do a little shopping, by re-ordering products from Amazon that you’ve purchased before.
You can take Alexa with you on your smartphone or tablet and use the assistant to manage alarms, music, lists and appointments.
Users will soon be able to access Echo from many Ford vehicles using Ford’s Sync Connect. That means you can tell Alexa to turn on your lights at home from you car.
The Amazon Echo costs $180, but subscriptions to Amazon Prime or other music services do have additional fees. You do need to have the device plugged into an outlet at all times. So while it’s small, it’s not completely portable because you do need to find a plug.
While it’s a fun and useful gadget for many people, it’s people with limited mobility or vision issues who seem to get the most out of the device.