I got a chance to test out an early release of the Amazon Echo, a new smart voice system. It’s like Siri/Cortana/Google Now, except you don’t have to push a button to get its attention. Like the other devices, Amazon Echo (which answers to “Amazon” and “Alexa”) can update you on news, play music, tell you about the weather or set up a to-do list. My husband and I watched the infinitely geeky promo ad and then spent the weekend getting to know it.
What impressed me:
1. It’s a cool way to play music, although it sorely needs a Spotify tie-in. Right now it uses Prime Music to grab individual songs, which means half of the relevant artists aren’t available. Otherwise you can set up stations to play through TuneIn and iHeartRadio.
2. The sound is good. Crisp, clear, loud.
3. The microphone is impressive. Although it gets distracted by other noises like doors opening/closing or the dog barking, it could pick up our voices from another room (30 feet-ish away).
Bonus: My Dad loved it. I sent him an Instagram video of it turning on a Jim Croce song and he was über impressed. Are dads Amazon’s target market? He does love his voice-activated texting…
Overall, it seems like it could be cool and a lead into a Terminator-like future, it’s just not there yet. It sounds like they’re planning to roll out new features in the coming months, so here are a few recommendations.
Things it still needs:
1. TV integration, even if it’s just Amazon Instant. “Amazon, play Broad City” would be an awesome addition when I’m too lazy to handle our super-complicated remote control.
2. Thermostat. I assume this would be cool, even though I would never take the time to actually figure it out. “Amazon, it’s cold.” “Sorry, let me turn up the temperature.”
3. Sync with other apps. I’m talking Dropbox, Evernote, Google Calendar. The stuff people actually use on their smartphones, not just the Echo app.
4. Amazon-related purchases. “Amazon, how much is Mindy Kaling’s new book on the Kindle/paperback/hardback?” “$9.99” “Buy, please!”
5. Games. Play intros to songs and guess the answers aloud? Karaoke-competition “Guitar Hero” style? Jeopardy?
Bonus: Become a sentient companion who will answer the bigger questions in life. Why are we here? Why do I always get distracted and burn my scrambled eggs? Do I have a guard dog or am I a guard human? Do self-actualized robots have genders? Will Taylor Swift ever release her music to a streaming service again? Oh.
I still don’t care about most of the features. I’m really OK with Googling the weather, typing a to-do list and letting Twitter give me the most important news of the day. Wait until the early adopters have begged for the cooler features before investing any money and try actually using your voice activated smartphone to its fullest extent for a while instead.