What is it?
Amazon Echo is a wi-fi connected smart speaker that performs voice activated tasks. This is the second generation of the Echo featuring Amazon’s digital personal assistant, Alexa.
What does it look like?
Echo mark two is much more pleasing to the eye than its previous incarnation. Fabric-covered and much shorter than its predecessor, this is something that blends into a lounge or kitchen with style (especially as it has interchangeable covers available).
So what can it do?
The new Echo boasts all of the voice activated smarts of its predecessor but in a smaller and more attractive package.
If you want to play music, you simply say “Alexa, play REM” and before you know it Alexa has accessed your preferred music service (Spotify and Amazon Music both work well with this device) and you’re listening to Michael Stipe et al and some beautifully melancholic college rock.
If you want a flash news briefing, just ask “Alexa.”
Same for the latest weather report, or to set a kitchen timer.
And because Amazon allows third parties to create “skills” for the device, more and more services are being added to the platform all the time – from ordering an Uber or getting a pizza delivered to traffic and public transport information to aid your commute.
Plus if you already have other connected home devices, Echo can be used to control them – from your lights to your thermostat. This is a bit more tricky, and to get a seamless experience as a connected home hub, it might be worth thinking about the Echo Plus as part of your Amazon network.
The main changes from the original Echo are even better microphones to ensure that Echo can hear you from further away and makes less mistakes (not that it made many in the first place), it’s significantly smaller, better looking – and a lot cheaper at £89.99 – discounted to £69.99 during Black Friday deals. The only other difference is the quite swish turning volume control on the old Echo has been replaced by a + and – button the same as on the Echo Dot.
However, what you get is better than the old echo – still delivering good sound for its size and price and clearly a class leading personal digital assistant for the home.
What should I look out for?
As with any voice controlled device, this still emerging technology and it’s not always perfect. It’s getting better all the time – but you can still find yourself shouting at the speaker from time to time when it doesn’t understand your command.
It’s also worth noting that Echo is best with a good wi-fi connection. If you place it in an area of your house with a weak signal it may not always respond (but that’s obvious, right?).
It’s also worth noting that the Echo in our house stopped working when the microwave was switched on. Presumably because of the wi-fi interference caused. Hardly a big deal, but worth remembering if you want to cook a bowl of beans and listen to the radio!
What’s the verdict?
This tech is just getting better and better. If you want a great priced versatile smart speaker with a good sound quality – this is the way forward. The Echo 2 brings all of the great features of the original full-sized Echo into a smaller and better-looking package. It makes the gap in price between the smaller Echo Dot and the main Echo slimmer, and so in the future I’d imagine many more homes will be upgrading to this really quite impressive piece of smart home technology.