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Science fiction movies have promised us self-aware homes and cars for a long time. Just issue a voice command, and the requested action occurs immediately. If you were expecting this type of technology to just suddenly appear by now, you probably feel disappointed. However, as with most ground-breaking technologies, this type of thing slowly weaves its way into our lives, often without us even realizing it. Think about how naturally you now issue commands to a smartphone via voice. Did your phone offer that functionality ten years ago?
Personal assistant devices are one of the next steps toward the self-aware home and car. The family of Amazon Echo devices ranks among the most well-rounded personal assistant device hardware available. If you don’t know much about what these devices can do for you, we’re here to help.
At BestReviews, we pride ourselves on the detailed research we perform in each product category. We seek to give our readers the key information they need to make a wise purchase. You can count on our information and product recommendations because we don’t accept free samples from manufacturers. Please continue reading our Amazon Echo shopping guide to understand how these devices work and what they can do.
Echo devices will have a few different components that allow them to work. Most Echo units have all of the features listed here.
You’ll need to have the Alexa app installed on a smartphone, tablet, or computer to control some aspects of any Echo model. The Alexa app offers compatibility with common mobile devices running Android OS, iOS, Windows, or Fire OS.
The display screen is one of the newer feature found in some Echo devices. Through the display, you can watch video, read messages, or make video phone calls.
Alexa is the voice control software used to run the Amazon Echo hardware.
You can play streaming music through the speaker on the Echo devices, and you’ll hear Alexa’s answers to your questions through the speaker. Larger speakers in an Echo provide better audio quality, and some of the Echo devices include a speaker system, rather than a single speaker.
For Echo to work properly, it needs to be able to connect to the internet. The Alexa software retrieves answers to your questions from the internet. Additionally, most Echo devices use the built-in WiFi connection hardware to communicate with Smart Home devices.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Great All-Around Personal Assistant
The new generation of the Amazon Echo includes an upgraded speaker for much improved music playback performance. This upgraded speaker will impress you versus any of the other Amazon Echo options on the market. The new generation also offers multiple design finishes, making it look nicer than the first generation. Ultimately, the new generation maintains the fun and helpful personal assistant features found in the first generation.
The Echo device contains multiple microphones, ensuring it can pick up your voice commands successfully. Quality microphones are also important when you use your Echo to make voice or video phone calls.
Echo devices connect to an outlet through a power cord. Most of the Echo devices require an outlet, though some are portable.
The portable Echo devices run on a rechargeable battery. These models also come with a charging dock.
Because all of the Amazon Echo devices work using information from the internet, you need a WiFi connection to use it.
When using Echo, you issue voice commands to the device. Just ask a question in a conversational tone, preceded by the wake word, “Alexa,” and the software will attempt to fulfill your request. Some functions you perform with Alexa and Echo are informative, some result in physical functionality, and some are just fun.
Looking for a bit of entertainment from Echo? Feel free to ask Alexa any silly questions you can think of, and you may receive some funny answers.
You can ask Alexa for a weather report, information on your personal calendar, or for sports scores.
You can set up any of the Echo devices to ignore commands given by children.
As long as your Smart Home hardware — like thermostats and lights — are compatible with Echo, you can control the devices through voice commands. The simplest way to control your home devices is to use an Echo-compatible outlet converter. Plug an electrical device into the converter, plug the converter into a wall socket, and Alex can turn the flow of electricity on and off at your command.
You can set a timer or have Echo remind you of appointments you may have, just by using voice commands.
If you don’t want the Echo device to listen for its wake words, you can turn off the microphone with a physical switch.
If you want to create a shopping list that you can port to your smartphone, just tell Echo what you need. Better yet, if you have a credit card on file, you skip the trip to the store and have products automatically ordered through the Echo, and sent to you from Amazon.
Echo enables hands-free telephone calls, as long as you have an internet-based telephone service. Echo devices with display screens allow for video calling, too.
The Echo will send your voice commands to the cloud only after you say the “wake” word. Other random conversations are not recorded nor transmitted.
You’ll be able to make use of quite a few streaming music and audio services with Echo and Alexa. Options include services such as Spotify, Pandora, Audible, and TuneIn. Echo can play a specific song you request, dial up one of your playlists, or it can play music from a certain style, if you want.
With an Echo that contains a display screen, or with an Alexa-enabled streaming video stick, you can request a certain TV show or movie.
Echo devices that contain a display screen will turn on the screen when hearing the “wake” word, or when detecting motion in the room.
We appreciate the fact that the devices in the Echo family appear in many clearly distinct price points. This makes it easy to pair the budget you have with the features you’re seeking.
For this small price point, you’ll be able to make use of the Echo Dot. It performs most of the Echo functions you’d expect, but it has a very small speaker, meaning its audio quality ranks below average. The Alexa Voice Remote Amazon Fire TV Stick also fits in this price range. It allows you to give voice commands for streaming TV services, but keep in mind, you’ll pay for the Amazon Fire TV service separately.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Amazon Echo Dot
Smart Starter Device
If you want to give the Alexa personal assistant a try, but you don’t want to spend much, the Amazon Echo Dot offers a smart option. Its small speaker doesn’t deliver the audio quality for music playback that the Echo provides, but it has the fun personal assistant features you love in the Echo. And if you really want better music quality, the Dot does have a port to connect external speakers. It also allows you to control some Smart Home devices for an additional handy feature. You can use the Echo Dot to make phone calls or send text messages, and can even use multiple Dots as a room-to-room intercom system.
You’ll find the popular Amazon Echo in this price range. It offers the best all-around features and will work well for most people looking for access to the Alexa personal assistant software. It also has a speaker of a good size to produce decent audio quality. You can control some Smart Home devices as well.
Advanced Echo devices fit in this price range, including the Echo Plus. This device looks and performs the same functions as the less expensive Echo, but it also offers more extensive control of Smart Home devices. Amazon has introduced display screen capabilities in this price range with the Echo Spot, but its tiny screen may not work for everyone.
While recording and streaming video to the cloud, the Echo device will display a recording icon on the screen.
If you want larger display screen options with your Echo device, you’ll be looking in this price range.
With a display screen, you can play Amazon Video, using voice commands. You also will have the option of making video phone calls with these devices.
Essentially, these top-end Echo devices will do everything the lower-priced Echoes do, along with displaying video.
Q. How can I pick the right Echo device?
A. Consider both your budget and your priorities for Echo functionality. Because Echo devices are available in such a wide price range, it’s easy to determine which device meets the majority of your needs, while still falling within your spending allowance.
Q. What are some practical things I can do with Echo?
A. If you think the Amazon Echo device only works for fun and entertainment, think again. The Echo has plenty of extremely useful features that can help you accomplish more. For example, you can control compatible Smart Home devices with the Echo. You can access weather reports or the latest news reports by just asking the Alexa questions. You even can order products for home delivery.
Q. Does the Echo actually record my conversations at all times?
A. The Echo only pays attention to your voice conversations when you issue the wake word, “Alexa.” It records the next few seconds, then sends the recording of the command to the cloud, so the device can fulfill the request. Internet rumors have claimed that the Echo records your conversations constantly, but that’s simply not true. Unless the physical mute button is pressed, the device does listen constantly for a very small number of keywords (in particular, “Alexa”) but doesn’t record until that keyword is heard.
Q. What is Alexa and how does it relate to Echo?
A. Echo is actually a family of devices, which includes members such as the Dot, Spot, and EchoPlus. Alexa is the name of the software used by the Echo to fulfill your requests.
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