What in the world is Echo?

Echo is a nine inch black tube of sheer fun. If you are an Amazon Prime member, then this is the gadget for you. It sits on a desk or table and gives you weather, time, sports scores, unlimited music and all sorts of other information. Let’s start with Amazon Prime. Many of us joined Amazon Prime (under $100 a year) to get free shipping on Amazon products in two business days. But there is so much more. The biggest features are movies (similar to Netflix) and Prime Music. Echo is your voice-activated access to music and information. So if you are an Amazon Prime member already or are thinking about it, let me tell you about Echo.

As I sat down to write this article, I asked Alexa (the wake up word for Echo) what the weather was. She knows I am in Rockford so she gave me the weather forecast for the day, which included rain and thunderstorms all day. This was a nice confirmation of my decision to stay in and write this article. Next I came up with a request for her to play Mannheim Steamroller, which she promptly began from prime music. However, too many Christmas songs were being played so I just said, Alexa, play Peter, Paul and Mary (you can tell I am a Senior Lawyer) which she did.

Now, I wanted to test the information available. I asked how tall the Empire State Building was; she said 1250 feet (she also gave it in meters). Alexa is a cloud based service and is connected to Wikipedia. As I knew I would be going to Springfield to participate in the Computer Basics program, I asked Alexa, the distance from Rockford to Springfield, and she said 173 miles. I asked her about the distance between Rockford and a certain city in Florida, and she knew that also. She does not have all imaginable information programmed into her. I asked her for the price of a room at the Marriott Courtyard in Springfield and she told me she has not been programmed for business information. I can only imagine that her database will grow with time. To further put her through her paces, I asked the score of the Cubs game, knowing that they aren’t playing until this evening. She said, “The Cubs are not playing right now. Yesterday they beat the Cardinals 9-0. They’ll play tonight at 7:15pm away against the Cardinals.” No, she did not add, Go Cubs Go! If you ask Alexa about the news, she gives you the NPR flash briefing with the weather or ESPN or a local station. She is connected through the cloud to both mine and my wife’s calendars. I just ask what is on my calendar and she tells me. She has streaming music from Pandora, iHeart Radio, audiobooks from Audible, my music from my phone, and traffic reports The shopping list function is a marriage saver for me. You ask Alexa to add an item to your shopping list and it appears in your phone which you can check while at the store (very helpful for those of us who come home with everything but the one item our spouse actually sent us to the store to get). You can even place re-orders of items you have previously ordered on Amazon (very smart of Amazon) and so much more.

I have now asked her to play “oldies,” which is why I really like her. Not because she plays oldies, but because she can play anything. I cannot imagine I will ever buy another music CD. This aspect makes her so much fun. She may not be as sexy as Frank’s iWatch, but she is certainly worth having around. Of course, I am easy to please. I was blown away by how cool the packaging was!

If you have been with me to this point, then you must be looking for some technical information. So here it is: Echo has seven microphones with beam-forming technology; the 360 degree omni-directional audio fills the room with immersive sound; it is 3.3 inches in diameter, 9.2 inches tall and weighs 3.4 pounds. It is hands free and always on. It will connect to Belkin WeMo, Phillips Hue, SmartThings and Wink to control lights and switches by voice commands. It has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon with 24,722 reviews at the time of this writing. If you want more information I suggest you visit Amazon.com. The price is $179.99.

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November 2015Volume 7Number 2PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)