Amazon Echo 2 Review: Alexa, Go Fetch

Difference Between Amazon vs Amazon Dot

Our Impression
4.8

Summary

Amazon Echo is the best voice-activated personal assistant and smart home speaker sold today.

Great for:
● Listening To & Streaming Music
● Alerts for Weather, Sports & News
● Searching the Web
● Shopping on Amazon (and many others)
● Controlling smart home devices
● Works with iOS, Android and Fire OS devices

Avoid if:
You are a single, Google-loving Android phone user who prefers simplicity and doesn’t care about third party integrations.

Amazon Echo

Overall Impression

Amazon Echo 2 Review - all new

Amazon Echo (2nd Generation) and its smaller sibling, the Echo Dot, are the best-selling smart speakers today – by a long shot.  Compared with the first generation Echo, the Echo 2 has a new speaker, a new design, and is available in a range of styles including fabrics and wood veneers. 

Millions of Echo units have been sold since they were released in November, 2014.

This isn’t because they’re the best-sounding stereo speakers (they’re not).

It’s because they give you access to Alexa, Amazon’s voice recognition technology (AI) that has command over thousands of services, devices and skills.

And, of course, Alexa will play music when asked. Echo works out of the box with most leading streaming services, including: Pandora, Spotify, Sirius XM, Amazon Music and more.

Amazon Echo 2 Review - music choices


Best Feature: Alexa

The best Echo feature (by far) is Alexa, Amazon’s AI voice assistant technology. Compared with Google Home, Amazon Echo has the better AI, hands down.

I love the effortless, pleasant and rapid way Alexa responds to my commands. Very cool.

The best way to think of Alexa is as your go-to personal assistant who can handle dozens of basic tasks: she answers your questions, reads you the news, gives you a rundown of the traffic and weather, provides sports updates, orders movie tickets, reads a recipe and more.


Voice Recognition

Echo customers rave about how much better Alexa is at understanding commands than Siri, the voice recognition technology baked into all Apple devices, is.

I agree. While certainly not perfect, Alexa is the best voice AI in the business, right now.

Part of the reason for this is that inside Echo, there are seven noise-canceling microphones that pick up your commands and differentiate between different users in the home.

The Amazon Echo is also better than Google Home in terms of multi-user support.

Even if you are in another room, Amazon Echo’s voice recognition will usually be able to tell who is asking the question and personalize the response for you. The voice differentiation isn’t perfect, yet, but it works surprisingly well.


Built-In Capabilities

Amazon Echo 2 Review - new look

The Echo does far more than stream music, right out of the box.

As you can with Google Home, you can ask Alexa to search the internet for almost anything. Alexa and Home are very similar in abilities here.

Ask Alexa a question, and she will promptly answer with no fuss.  You can ask, “Alexa, what’s the weather like?” and she’ll tell you.

You can also access many Amazon services including Amazon Music, Kindle books, and even order products with your Amazon Prime account – all with your voice.


Third Party Integration: Alexa Skills

Echo

This is one area where Amazon Echo beats Google Home, hands-down.

Amazon built Alexa as an open platform for third party developers from the get-go, so that new commands and skills could be built.

As a result, today there are thousands of Alexa skills available for almost any type of informational need or smart home task.

This means you can do far more with an Amazon Echo than you can with Google Home.

You can ask Alexa to play audiobooks saved on your Kindle; search Yelp for a restaurant recommendation; order a pizza from Domino’s; and, tell a bedtime story to your child.

Amazon echo skills march 2017 - food and drink

To add a new Skill to your Echo, you can simply ask Alexa to add it (if you know it by name); or, you can use the Alexa smartphone app to search through the Alexa Skills marketplace, where you can view the best-rated Skills by category. Then, you add a Skill to your Echo with a quick tap on your phone.

Amazon echo skills march 2017 - smart home

If you use smart home devices already, then you’ll be happy to know that Echo is compatible with WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, Nest, and ecobee smart home devices.

Plus many others.

In addition, you can use IFTTT to connect Alexa to other apps that Amazon hasn’t made available in its marketplace, yet.

When talking to Alexa, each Skill is activated by speaking a special “keyword”. You have to memorize each skill’s keyword to execute it – but that’s all you need to do.

Tips:

  • Make sure you memorize the keyword for each Skill you add.
  • Don’t add too many Skills of one type – you’ll never keep the keywords straight.
  • Beware if you have a talking bird. Some users have complained that Alexa will listen to and execute commands from them.

Speaker Hardware

Amazon Echo 2 Review - speaker design

The second generation (tall) Echo uses a 2.5 inch subwoofer and 0.6 inch tweeter to deliver a full 360 degrees of sound that will fill a large room.

But to be honest, the sound quality isn’t the best; it’s on-par with other bluetooth speakers in the same price range.

The cheaper Echo Dot provides even less of an audio punch.

That said, if you care about sound quality like I do, don’t fret: both units offer a line-out plug that can be used to feed voice-controlled playlists into any stereo system or powered speaker systems.

Final note: don’t take your Echo or Echo Dot outside; these units are NOT waterproof.


Expandability

Syncing your smart home devices to an Echo unit, or adding a new Echo to your home, is an easy process because it only needs to be done once.

Once a new Echo or device is setup correctly using Amazon’s smartphone app, it will automatically connect to the other Echo units in your household.

From there, you can synch your Echo speakers to play the same track, or use them independently. The other major plus is the line-out plug which allows you to send voice-controlled music to your existing hi-fidelity speakers and/or stereo setup.


Pros

  • Huge number of third party Skills
  • Best voice recognition system, yet
  • Able to differentiate between users (with some limitations)

Cons

  • Sound quality isn’t that great
  • Alexa smartphone app could be improved

Choose The Amazon Echo If:

You want the best voice recognition AI in the business, plus the ability to add new Skills to your personal assistant over time. Google Home doesn’t compare, on this point.  Yet.

We recommend buying the Echo Dot: it costs one-third of the Amazon Echo, with the only drawback being its lesser sound quality/power.

Avoid The Amazon Echo If:

You live by yourself… and you are a dedicated Google services user with an Android phone… and you don’t want to do much more than search the web, check the weather and play music.

If you fit this description, then buy a Google Home and save a few bucks.


Specifications

Amazon Echo 2 Review - technical details

Size: 9.3″ x 3.3″ x 3.3″

Weight: 2 lbs

Wi-Fi Connectivity: Dual-band Wi-Fi. Does not support peer-to-peer Wi-Fi.

Bluetooth Connectivity: Alexa App works on all Android, iOS, and Fire OS devices and can be accessed via a web browser.

Audio: 2.5 inch subwoofer + 0.6 inch tweeter

Warranty and Service:  1-year limited.  Extended warranty / service plans are available on Amazon.com.

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