When I first purchased the Amazon Echo, I had just come off of a very bad relationship with an Ivee Sleek. A connected "Smart" clock that didn't really live up to its billing. It didn't really do much of anything actually. Frustrations with that appliance, Google Now, and Siri had almost completely put me off the voice activated virtual assistant thing. So it was with much hesitation and admittedly a lot of curiosity that I signed up for the wait list, and eventually bought an Amazon Echo.
The Amazon Echo itself is just a bluetooth speaker. what makes it really interesting is Amazon's Alexa platform which was bundled with the speaker. Alexa can look up information, answer lots of questions, play music, and now, even works with some of my connected devices. Specifically Philips Hue, Friends of Hue, and Hue Beyond ranges, Belkin's WeMo switches, and select Wink compatible products. I fully expect that list to grow, especially now that Amazon has an open Alexa API.
Now for starters, right from the very beginning I noticed how much better Alexa was at recognizing what I said. Not just better than Ivee, but better than Siri, and miles ahead of Google Now. That's not to say however that it's perfect. In situations where a TV is on or there's a lot of conversation in the room it has trouble. I found it nearly impossible to use when it was next to my 3D Printer. A lot of that is common sense, humans even struggle to hear when there's a lot of noise. However overall Alexa does a far better job at understanding that most other things I've used. Placement is a bit tricky, but once you find a good place things should go smoothly.
For a while, Alexa wasn't useful for a whole lot aside from asking for the weather, and setting kitchen timers when cooking. However Amazon has been adding features to it pretty quickly. As I mentioned before, I own Philips Hue lights, and as always the quickest way to turn smart lights, dumb, is to cut the power to them. I've found myself 3D Printing covers for my light switches so that visitors and residents alike, don't accidentally hit the switches, and using a Hue Tap to switch the lights in my kitchen and bar area. Which leaves me to switch my living room lights using just the Echo. It does it a great job. The only time Alexa ever even runs into trouble is when trying to pick different brightness levels. That can sometimes turn into a headache inducing affair. Hopefully this gets solved soon. I'm very optimistic about that after seeing just how much attention Amazon has given the Echo, and Alexa.
After longing for so long for a platform that would bring together all of my disparate devices, and being repeatedly disappointing by SmartThings, Wink, Works With Nest, and thus far the failure of Apple's Homekit to even get off the ground, I find myself very hopeful for what the future holds for Echo, and Alexa. I feel like this could be the hub, my master control for my home, and not even in some far away future. It feels like that's what Alexa is becoming right now. Admittedly light on integration but with the speed that things are being added to it, it doesn't seem like a pipe dream to think that this will be my home hub sometime soon.
Alexa can also play music, news, podcasts, etc, using a variety of services. Amazon Prime, Pandora, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, Audible, and more. The best integration (to no surprise) is with Amazon Prime. Playing music from Amazon Prime is ridiculously easy, and smooth. Just ask and it does. The sound quality won't blow anyone away, but to me, it doesn't sound to bad either. I know certain audiophiles that will call me crazy, but I can easily (and do) listen to music on the Echo for hours on end. Sometimes when Prime doesn't have the music I'm looking for, I'll just use it as a bluetooth speaker by saying "Alexa, Connect To My Phone." Then I'll easily just play music from my iPhone, and remote control it from my Apple Watch.
All in all, I can't say enough good things about the Amazon Echo, and the Alexa voice assistant. After a quick, simple setup, it just works, and very smoothly. The few times it malfunctions seem to completely send me into rage mode, but those are few and far between thankfully. I can't recommend the Amazon Echo enough. It does what it does surprisingly well and if Amazon keeps updating Alexa at the pace that it has so far, it has a great future ahead of it. At $179 it's a great deal in my opinion.