Surprisingly Simple: A Review of the Amazon Echo

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Amazon Echo. Image courtesy of Amazon.

Over winter break, my family acquired an Amazon Echo on a whim. The Echo is one of Amazon’s most recent hardware products, encompassing a radio, a music player, and voice-recognition assistant all in one. At first I was very skeptical. Isn’t this just like Siri or Cortana or any other voice-activated audio system? I remembered the Google Nexus Q, an Android-based stereo that was a flop and is now a glorified paperweight in a box among other products that failed to live up their potential.

So what makes the Amazon Echo different? What took my breath away? Is it the proprietary software that requires you to use yet another application for making grocery lists? Not in the slightest. Is it the need for you to put all of your music in the Amazon Cloud in order to access it? Definitely not. Is it the companion Android app that lists links to Google searches that it didn’t know what to do with? My Google Now app can take care of that functionality. I don’t need my radio to do that.

No, what made me love the Amazon Echo was how well it does one simple thing. It plays music. The simple voice command of “Alexa, play Pete Townshend” activates Alexa from anywhere in the room and she starts shuffling music by that artist. Is the volume too loud? Just say “Alexa, volume down.” Want to listen to the radio? Say “Alexa, play NPR” and she finds the station on TuneIn. For years, whenever I wanted to listen to music at home, I either played it from my laptop, or had to turn on the entire stereo system and wait for the Home Theater PC to boot up. These practices either reduced the quality of the music or took time that I didn’t want to spend.

The Echo makes it so easy. Alexa is always listening for your command and is very good at knowing what you’re looking for. Jack Dorsey once said, “The best technologies disappear.” Alexa does that. The Echo is finally a piece of technology that blends seamlessly into my life, adds functionality, and doesn’t add frustration in the process. She’s a small, compact package that doesn’t take up space and isn’t an eyesore. She blends into the background, but when you need her, Alexa is there. Amazon created a personal music-playing assistant with a personality.

Yes, there are many things that the Echo could do better, and I assume those improvements will come with time. But for one very simple thing—helping me enjoy my music—Alexa is exactly what I want.

Keep thinking!