As we are entering the Internet of Things era, more and more smart home products are emerging to the market. We now have smart lightbulbs that can adjust its brightness and colors automatically, we now have smart security cameras connected to your smartphone, and we now have robot cleaners to clean our houses seamlessly.
However, arguably the smartest of all the ‘smart’ products nowadays is the smart home assistant. Remember those old sci-fi movies where you can actually ‘talk’ to your house? Or more recently, remember how Tony Stark talk to Jarvis to control his over-the-top smart house? Well, we are not at that level yet, but we are getting close.
Ever since Apple and Siri showed us the ability of voice assistant, the technology has been explored more than ever before, and now there is a wide range of smart home voice assistant products available in the market. Yet, choosing the one that will fit your needs, as well as being compatible with your existing appliances and devices is honestly a hard task. Hence, we will cover all the best smart home assistant products in a series of reviews, to help you make the best possible choice.
We will kick off this series with a review of arguably the most popular smart home assistant today: the Amazon Echo.
Amazon’s Alexa (the voice control software inside Echo), is widely regarded as the most powerful smart home assistant available and comes with a wide range of products supporting it. Chances are if you are looking for a smart home assistant, the Amazon Echo and its variants, the Echo Tap and Dot will be your first choice.
What can the Echo really do? Honestly, almost everything from asking it to do any Google search, streaming the latest NPR news, controlling your smart products (that support Alexa integration, and many more. During the early release of Echo, Amazon withheld the support of Spotify stream in favor of Amazon’s own music streaming service, but now the Echo is fully integrated with Spotify Connect. Honestly, it’s hard to find any weakness from Amazon Echo ever since. If you are looking for any Amazon Echo reviews, chances are it will be hard to find any negative ones.
However, let’s take a deeper, objective look, starting with its key features.
Note: We will focus the discussion to the standard Echo. Most of the features of the Echo Tap and Echo Dot are similar to the standard model, and we will discuss their differences briefly later on.
Powerful and Constantly Updated Skills
Amazon simply did a great job to support Echo and Alexa. With each and every month, there are more and more things the Echo can do for you. You can now tell it to order an Uber seamlessly, or recite a random joke at you or your guests. You can control it through the ‘Skills’ section of the Alexa App. Currently, there are over 3,000 Skills available and we can only guess how far it will evolve in the coming years. The number of third party integration is amazing, and its support for IFTTT simply means that it can connect to almost everything.
In it’s purest and most basic form, the Amazon Echo is technically a smart speaker, designed to stream music, podcasts, and news with a voice command. Hence, the audio quality is pretty decent with it’s dual, 360-degrees immersive speakers. There are obviously more expensive and better high-end speakers out there, but Echo does a decent job in this aspect.
While the Amazon Echo is obviously powerful software-wise, its hardware is also something to be proud of. The design is sleek and modern and is quite durable. While the updated, smaller design of the Echo Dot is arguably better, the standard model is also good looking on its own. This is probably the strongest advantage over Echo’s strongest competitor: the Google Home, which we will review later.
Setting up the Amazon Echo is fairly simple. Take the Echo out of the box, plug it in, and Alexa will greet you.
She (have we come to the point to refer A.I as a ‘she’ or ‘he’?) will then give you a step-by-step instruction to set up the device. Well, the steps are simple enough: You connect the Echo to your Wi-Fi network, and the Alexa app will sync things up. After that, it’s basically good to go.
The speaker will wake up every time she heard the word “Echo”, “Amazon”, or “Alexa”, and then you can follow it with any commands or questions. Some Skills might require a specific command, but it will be explained clear enough as you access the said Skill for the first time.
How smart is it? As we said, very smart, thanks to the ever-growing Skills updates, which is kind of similar to its own App Store or Google Play Store. If you are a gamer, there are many gaming-related Skills for specified games, such as Minecraft. If you are a sports fan, you can ask the Echo for the latest news about your team and even live scores.
What then that it cannot do? Well, for starters, you can’t program smart home scenes to control multiple different devices at once. This is a feature relevant to other products like Google Home or Samsung SmartThings. Currently, Echo also can’t connect to any Smart TVs. However, due to its sandbox nature, it’s highly possible that these features will be updated in the near future.
Also, although technically it can connect to your phone through BlueTooth, you can’t use it as a native speakerphone or commands it to call someone.This one is hardware related, so it will be doubtful to be updated soon.
- The Skills feature which is updated constantly. Think of it as the App Store
- Wide array of integration including to other smart home assistants like Samsung Smart Things and Logitech Harmony
- Durable hardware and sleek, modern design
- IFTTT protocol allows it to connect to almost all smart devices available today
- Decent audio quality as a smart speaker
- Limited smartphone integration
- Limited smart home programs, can’t adjust home scenes, etc.
- Can’t control Smart TVs (for now)
You Should Buy This If
If you are savvy with IFTTT there is simply a workaround for everything with the Echo. With the Skills, Echo will evolve to be more powerful as it is today.
However, other products offer simpler alternatives as a smart home assistant. Samsung SmartThings, for example, offers better integration with Samsung TVs and other products in a simpler manner. Google Home arguably is better in controlling your home.
However, versatility wise, Echo trumps everyone else. Those looking for flexibility and a wide range of integration will definitely love Amazon Echo.
The Echo Dot offers similar features for a very cheap price but sacrifices the audio quality of the standard Echo. The Echo Tap has a built-in battery, but you will need to tap on it before speaking.
If you want the whole package, the standard Amazon Echo is for you. With Echo, unlimited potential and flexibility is its key feature, thanks to the Skills feature.