The Amazon Echo is the latest in smart home technology. It can play internet radio, music, news and more with voice command controls. It also uses voice commands to control household features such as lights and A/C. The full list of features is impressive, and the device retails for a reasonable price.
The unmatched voice command recognition
The Echo is able to pick out a voice command from amongst a sea of ambient noise. Recognizing voice commands amongst other noise has always been a problem for voice-controlled devices, but the Echo solves the problem with far-field voice recognition technology. This represents a massive leap forward in the field, but it isn’t the only technological advance in the device.
Look to the cloud
The Echo is connected to the cloud, and receives constant software updates and information downloads. This feature is unique amongst such devices, and makes the already enticing Echo even more interesting. Also, it opens up a world of possibilities that will only expand. It is compatible with a great many cloud-based devices, and will only be compatible with more as the sector expands.
Don’t underestimate the speakers
Although the cloud and voice recognition technology are quite impressive, the speaker included in the Echo may be the most impressive feature of all. Although the Echo is a single standalone unit and quite small, it has excellent surround sound audio quality. Many of the device’s reviewers have commented positively on this aspect of the device.
The method of operation
The Echo’s operation is quite fascinating. It is always on, but must be activated by a wake word. The wake word can be set to either Amazon or Alexa. When the Echo hears this word, it is ready to receive voice commands. The voice commands that it can recognize are nearly infinite. It is much like the Siri feature on the iPhone, but with a massive increase in functionality.
A massive and growing database
Alexa is a massive and ever-growing database of information. It contains data about current events, restaurants, nightclubs, and more. The Echo accesses Alexa not only to answer questions, but for its basic operating software. This unique structure results in extremely fast processing and limitless memory.
The voice recognition software and the Alexa database
The highly advanced voice recognition software on the Alexa is also stored on the cloud. This allows it to be constantly updated on a much faster schedule than competing devices. More important, however, is the structure of the voice recognition software itself. It uses highly advanced cloud storage techniques to save voice commands. It then parses these commands for grammar, vocabulary, and intonation. This helps the Echo recognize such commands at a much higher rate than its competitors.
How the speakers work
Another impressive spec of the Echo is its speaker system. One might think that a speaker on a smart home device is an afterthought. This is not the case with the Echo, however. The speakers are impressively designed and manufactured. They emit sound downwards at 360 degrees, which then spreads until it fills the room with surround sound audio. The speakers may not be quite the leap that the voice recognition software is, but they prove the hardware on the Echo is just as impressive as the software.
An expanding library of content
The array of music and other content that the speakers can play is mind-boggling. It can stream using voice commands from Amazon Music, Prime Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. Echo is also Bluetooth-enabled so you can stream Spotify and iTunes using your phone or tablet. Voice commands are not yet recognized for these services, but reports indicate that Amazon is working on this. The fans of this extremely cool piece of technology will certainly be happy when these features are released. Of course, they have plenty of content for the meantime.
Don’t forget the home security features
The Amazon Echo does much more than merely provide entertainment. It also has many smart home features. With the right connected hardware, it can control the lights, A/C, security system, and much more. The Echo has compatibility with the most popular smart home devices right out of the box. These devices include the Belkin WeMo and the Phillips Hue. Amazon is working on making the Echo compatible with more devices. Of course, there will be many more devices released in the future that the Echo can work with.
Of course, it comes with an app
The Echo has a companion app that allows users to control the device from their smartphones or tablets. The app is free, and designed to be very easy to use. Those that own the Echo can use the app to set or change alarms, edit shopping lists, manage their music collection, and more.
The Echo is a very versatile product
While the app is quite useful, the list of things that users can do with the Echo itself is much longer. It can play audiobooks, edit Google Calendars, order items from Amazon (shocker), control the aforementioned Philips and Belkin devices, and make traffic reports. It even has something for the sports fans in the family. It can use voice commands to access the Alexa database for up-to-the-minute stats and scores. In fact, it can provide up to the minute information on nearly anything.
An impressive set of tech specs
Those who are hardcore technophiles will love the Echo’s impressive technical specifications. It features a dual-band MIMO WiFi antenna, which improves the reliability and speed of the internet connection. As one might imagine, the Echo also features highly advanced Bluetooth technology. Users can utilize this technology to stream music from their handheld devices through the Echo’s capable speakers. As of now, streaming from Mac computers is not supported, but there are plans for this feature to be included at a later date.
More about the speakers
The speaker specifications don’t sound like anything special, but given their performance, the Echo is even more impressive. The device features a 2.5 inch woofer for bass notes and a 2 inch tweeter for treble. These two mechanisms combine to give the Echo an excellent all around audio quality that audiophiles will love. The Echo also features a state-of-the-art reflex port that enhances overall audio quality and output without causing distortion.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
The looks of the Amazon Echo take a back seat to its technology, but they are still impressive. The most eye-catching feature is the “light ring.” This LED ring lights up when the Echo is given a command. It does not light all at once; only the part of the ring that is facing the person giving the command will react.
Two simple and easy-to-use buttons
There are only two buttons on the device. One is the microphone off button, which Amazon anticipates will rarely need to be used. The other is the action button, which is to be used if the Echo is experiencing problems and not taking commands.
Reviews are excellent, with the occasional concern
It is important to note that the Echo has gotten rave reviews from the majority of people on Amazon.com, with only a small minority reporting bugs or glitches. This is to be expected in the very early life of such an advanced product, and Amazon has said that they are committed to fixing what errors have happened.
As interesting as the Echo is, some people have raised privacy concerns about the device. Whenever the device is on, it is analyzing all of the audio within its “earshot.” Some people have mentioned in reviews that they are worried about Amazon spying on them through the device. It is possible, but very unlikely when one thinks about it. There is simply too much data for Amazon to handle. Although it is true that all of the commands are stored, the wake word must be said before the recording is started.
Even when one takes into account the reduced amount of recordings that are actually stored in the cloud, there is far too much data for anyone to actually go through. This data is parsed by a computer for the purpose of enhancing the Echo’s voice recognition software.
It is important to note that the microphone can be turned off, and that any voice recordings saved in the cloud can be erased as well. Amazon has thought of the potential privacy concerns with this device. Also, those that don’t like the privacy aspect of the Echo’s capabilities are under no obligation to purchase one. While the Echo is certainly interesting, it is far from a necessity. For this reason, Amazon does not have to make it appeal to everyone.
You can find out more about the Amazon Echo here.