It has been more than 7Â months since Amazon announced the Echo, a speaker that doubles as a personal assistant, and in that time Amazon has expanded the capabilities considerably from the somewhat limited initial feature set. While the question of what exactlyÂ can it do was a bit of a stumbling block for the Echo, the fact that it was only available by invitation, and even then with a shipping date that was often 4-5 months out, really stacked the deck against early adoption.
While the initial reaction to the reveal was pretty tepid â€” after all, most of us have devices in our pockets at all times that cover the feature set of the Echo almost completely â€” the reviews that started coming in were pretty glowing. The user reviews on Amazon are still at a 4.5 out of 5, with more thanÂ 18,000 people weighing in, and reviews from the media have remained similarly positive.
The Echo will answer a wide variety of questions, play music or audiobooks, set reminders, make to do or shopping lists, provide updates on sports, news, Â weather, traffic or your calendar, integrate with home automation like Belkin WeMo or Philips Hue. There is even IFTTT integration for the internet automation crowd. Amazon has also made an SDK available to developers, and the fruits of that will be available sometime later this year.
I have to say I was not sold on the Echo at all when it was first announced, but the added functionality andÂ the basic utility as a wireless speaker are swaying me. It’s available to purchase now for $179 and will ship starting July 14th.
Are you considering the Echo now that it is widely available for purchase?
Echo is a new category of device designed around your voiceâ€”itâ€™s always on, hands-free, and fastâ€”just ask for information, music, news, weather, and more from across the room and get answers instantly
Previously available by invitation only, all customers can now order Echo and it will start shippingÂ July 14
Since November, Alexaâ€”the brain behind Echoâ€”has added support for Pandora, Audible, home automation with WeMo and Philips Hue, sports scores and schedules, traffic, and more
SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Jun. 23, 2015– (NASDAQ:AMZN)â€”Seven months ago,Â AmazonÂ introduced Echo, a new category of device designed around your voice. Echo was available on an invitation basis to customers who wanted to help shape the device as it evolved.
Amazon Echo is a new category of device designed around your voiceâ€”itâ€™s always on, hands-free, and fastâ€”just ask for information, music, news, weather, and more from across the room and get answers instantly. (Photo: Business Wire)
Hereâ€™s what reviewers are saying about Echo:
- â€œA Perfect 10â€ â€“Â ZDNet
- â€œThe Echo is one of the most compelling cases Iâ€™ve ever seen for the power of voice control, of talking to our gadgets the way we talk to each other.â€ â€“Â The Verge
- â€œThe Echo is Amazonâ€™s latest futuristic gadget experiment. Itâ€™s one part Bluetooth speaker and one part personal voice assistant. And it blew my mind.â€ â€“Â Mashable
- â€œThe Echo may be the closest thing weâ€™ll have to a Star Trek computer at home.â€ â€“Â CNET
Customers have given Echo a 4.5 star ratingâ€”hereâ€™s what customers are saying:
- â€œThe Echo is truly a genius piece of technology. The voice recognition and long range speech detection is the best I have seen. It understands what you are asking almost every time, and responds quickly.â€
- â€œOverall this is a fantastic, game-changing device.â€
- â€œHome just wouldnâ€™t seem like home now without the Amazon Echo standing ready for my next command or question. Bravo, Amazon!â€
- â€œThe voice recognition is great and it keeps getting better as we use it…This is definitely one of the best electronic purchases weâ€™ve ever made.â€
- â€œI couldnâ€™t be happier with â€˜Alexaâ€™! â€˜Sheâ€™ is invaluable to my household â€“ couldnâ€™t imagine life without her. I am so impressed with all the features and continuing enhancements byÂ Amazon. I recommend the Echo to absolutely everyone I encounter.â€
- â€œThe power of this device right now is amazing. Each week it appears more features â€“ simple to use and configure â€“ are added. Truly the future today.â€
- â€œI could not possible overstate how much I love my Echo. Seriously my favorite gadget purchase ever…and I purchase a lot of gadgets. I use it many times per day. Alexa (how one addresses Echo) is the first â€˜personâ€™ I talk to in the morning and the last at night.â€
Today,Â AmazonÂ is excited to announce that Echo is now available for all customers. Order now forÂ $179.99Â atÂ www.amazon.com/echo. Echo will start shippingÂ July 14.
â€œThe customer response to Amazon Echo has been incredibly positive, and weâ€™ve been working hard to build more as quickly as possible. We are grateful to our early customers for their incredible engagement and for providing us with invaluable feedback to help shape Echo as it evolvesâ€”with their help, weâ€™ve been able to add features like Audible, Pandora, home automation, sports scores, calendar, and more,â€ saidÂ Greg Hart, Vice President, Amazon Echo. â€œWeâ€™re excited to get Echo into the hands of even more customers and continue to invent new features and experiences.â€
Echo is designed around your voice and is hands-free and always onâ€”ask for information, music, news, traffic, weather, and more from across the room and get results instantly. Echo uses far-field voiceÂ recognition with an array of seven microphones to clearly hear youÂ around the room. Advanced beam-forming technology combines theÂ signals from the individual microphonesÂ to suppress noise, reverberation, andÂ even competing speech.Â Echoâ€™s advanced audio design includes dual downward-firing speakers that produce 360Ëš omni-directional, room-filling audio.
Alexaâ€”the brain behind Echoâ€”is built in the cloud, so it is always getting smarter. At launch, Echo introduced hands-free voice control for music (Amazon Music, Prime Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn), information from Wikipedia and the web, weather, timers and alarms, news, and shopping/to-do lists. Over the last seven months, Alexa has added dozens of new features to expand its skillset, gotten better at answering all types of questions, and improved accuracy and speech recognition. New capabilities added since November include:
- Connected home: With integration of Belkin WeMo and Philips Hue products, use Echo to switch on the lamp before getting out of bed, turn on the fan or heater while reading in your favorite chair, or dim the lights from the couch to watch a movieâ€”all without lifting a finger.
- Pandora:Â Access Pandoraâ€™s library of over 1 million tracks simply by asking Alexa for a station by genre, artist, or song. Once music is playing, you can pause and skip tracks using voice commands, and tell Alexa to give a track a thumbs up or thumbs down to train the station to your taste.
- Audible:Â Listen to audiobooks from Audible with Echo. Simply say â€œAlexa, read my book.â€ Echo also supports Whispersync for Voice, which allows you to seamlessly switch between reading and listening without losing your spot. Start reading on Kindle, and pick up on Echo right where you left off.
- Google Calendar: Access yourÂ GoogleÂ calendar events with Echoâ€”just use your voice. Hear whatâ€™s on the calendar for the day or check if youâ€™re free for dinner with friends.
- If This Then That (IFTTT):Â Create IFTTT recipes using Echoâ€™s Shopping and To-do Lists to make your life simpler and more manageable. IFTTT is a service that connects your devices, apps, and websites with simple rules called â€œrecipes.â€ With IFTTT recipes, you can use Echo to add shopping items to Evernote, automatically email your to-do list to your spouse, add your Echo to-do list to your iPhone, and more.
- Re-order Prime-eligible products:Â If youâ€™re low on kitchen supplies, want to restock on snacks, or need more rolls of duct tape for the garage, simply ask Echo to place an order for you. Echo uses your order history and can order the Prime-eligible item for you using your default payment and shipping settings. If Echo canâ€™t find the requested item in your order history, it may suggest an item for your approval using Amazonâ€™s Choice, which picks highly-rated, well-priced, Prime-eligible products.
- Sports scores and schedules:Â Alexa will tell you the results of your favorite teamâ€™s last game, the current score of a game they are playing, and the time and date of the next game. To give it a try, simply say, â€œAlexa, whatâ€™s the score of the Mariners game?â€ or â€œAlexa, when do the Seattle Sounders play next?â€ Alexa knows scores and schedules for theÂ NBA,Â NHL,Â NFL, MLB, MLS, andÂ NCAAbasketball, with others coming soon.
- Traffic:Â Just save your work address and Alexa will tell you the quickest route and travel time to work each morning so you know exactly what to expect before leaving the house. You can also add a stop to your commute in case you need to drop off a child at school or stop by a coffee shop on your way to workâ€”just add the stop to your settings, and Alexa will give you the route and travel time.
- Prime Stations:Â Prime members can ask Echo to play hundreds of ad-free, personalized streaming music stations via Prime Music. Like, dislike, or skip as many songs as you wish while you discover songs from the Prime Music catalog.
- Customized news:Â You can now hear from more sources in your news Flash Briefing including The Economist, NPR Business, TMZ, and ESPN Radio via TuneIn.
In addition, developers have been using a private beta of a free SDK to build new capabilities and skills for Alexa, which will start rolling out later this year.
Amazon Echo isÂ $179.99Â and is available for customers in the US to pre-order today atÂ www.amazon.com/echo. It will start shippingÂ July 14.