Amazon’s Echo, a connected device that combines the abilities of Siri and a bluetooth speaker in a 9.25-inch tall cylinder, is now available for anyone to buy. The Amazon Echo is essentially a voice-activated personal assistant for your home. People in the house can ask it questions, ask it to read books from Audible, ask for sports scores, set timers and even get it to tell terrible jokes. Some people set it up as an alarm clock, and have it read the day’s news from NPR when it wakes them up. It also is linked to Amazon Prime Music, which means it acts as a credible speaker that will play any music that’s available in your personal Amazon music library or the free music available for Prime members.
The Echo is smaller than I expected. It's a matte black cylinder that measures 9.25 inches high and 3.27 inches around. It might be a little tall for some shelves, though I can imagine it fitting just about anywhere else in your home just fine. I do wish it came in a white option, though.The lower half ofis covered in tiny circular perforations, and there's a grey Amazon logo at the very bottom. The top half is completely unadorned, save for the volume ring, which occupies the uppermost half-inch of the device. The ring twists left or right to control volume, though you can also control that by voice or using the included remote, which I'll describe in just a moment. And on the top you'll find two buttons: one that turns the microphone off, and a multipurpose Action button. A sleek translucent panel lining the perimeter is a light ring that lights up when you're controlling the speaker. It sits right next to an array of seven microphones.
Any question that has a simple, spoken answer, like the time, the weather, or the year Kobe Bryant was born, Amazon’s Echo just says it aloud. If it can’t find the answer, or doesn’t understand the question, it creates a card in the companion Echo app for Android, iOS, and all the Kindle products. Your query goes into that card, and with one tap becomes a Bing search. The Echo app houses a running history of all your questions, your to-do and shopping lists, and a lot of helpful tips for how to talk to your device. When the Echo is working properly, you’ll only ever need the app to access the lists Alexa helps you create; every time I’m sent to the app to complete a search it feels a lot like failure.
Now, on the downside, the sound quality is akin to what you get on a Jambox or other bluetooth speaker. It’s good, but it won’t replace a high-end stereo. Amazon launched with access to streaming music from TuneIn and iHeartRadio, but it now growing to other services including Pandora.
For those of who are looking for a device with personality that you can trust to help you in your everyday life, then the Amazon Echo is what you need. There's really nothing you can do with this device that you can't do with the smartphone in your pocket or the smartwatch on your wrist.