Being a man I had to order Amazon's Echo as soon as it became available in the UK, it arrived this week. The Echo has been available in the USA for about a year now, it's a standalone device that connects to your wi-fi and hooks into your Amazon account working best if you have Amazon Prime, although that's not essential. Best of all though, it's voice controlled. You initiate a command by saying "Alexa", although this can be changed (sadly only to Amazon or Echo rather than HAL - this will probably change though).
Given I only set it up yesterday (it took twenty minutes and needs you to install a mobile app) I'm no expert but my experience so far is encouraging. So what can it do? Well firstly it has high quality speakers and can play music you have bought on Amazon or any of the free Prime stuff (assuming you are a member). It can also link to a Spotify Premium account. You can ask it to play specific artists, select some mood music or a predefined playlist. You can alter the volume by voice commands - "Alexa - volume five" - or by rotating the top of the turret. You can maintain shopping and to-do lists and a few other things out of the box. The best part is its inter-connectivity with other systems although we are some way behind the USA on this so many features are coming soon. First a list of what's possible today:
- Control lighting and heating e.g. via Philips Hue Lighting, Nest, Hive or similar
- Order food deliveries from Just Eat
- Set alarms and timers
- General search - think Wikipedia style questions as well as recipes, cocktails etc.
- Read audio books
- News updates, traffic and weather reports
- Call for an Uber
- Check your calendar
Here are some things that are coming soon:
- Shopping via Amazon
- Shopping via other stores
- Combine with IFTTT to enable multiple services to interact (e.g. email you your shopping list - although you can also see it in the mobile app)
The last ability will really open up what can be done. If you haven't seen IFTTT (if this, then that) before then it's worth following the link above and signing up. I have quite a few recipes that make life easier such as recording all text messages in a spreadsheet (for easier searching) and converting PDFs to an eBook and sending to my Kindle just by dropping into a specific folder.
All in all we are having a lot of fun with it and it's certainly getting used for music and random internet searches, especially when you are playing games such as Trivial Pursuit and someone questions an answer.
Now the Echo is quite expensive, about £150, and once you have one it seems a bit much to buy more for other rooms. But you can't shout to it from everywhere in the house... So for that there's the Echo Dot. It doesn't have the high quality speaker but other than that it's much the same. It can be paired with other speakers though so if you want you can feed the audio through your stereo system. The devices are both connected and separate. You can play different music in different parts of the house but you only have only shopping list, which is sensible. The Dot arrives shortly at Casa Fawcett and costs about £50.
So, so far so good. More news once I've found out more - although the phrase second wife has already been bandied about.