Amazon Echo: first impressions and menu map
Update: as June 23rd, the general public can now pre-order Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) with an “in stock” date of July 14th.
Regular readers may have noticed that I said “My” on this one…I usually say, “Our” to include my Significant Other…but my SO doesn’t really like the idea of the Echo, at least not yet. 🙂
What is the idea of the Echo?
Well, it’s two main things.
It is a Bluetooth speaker…and quite a nice one. My SO was out of the house when I was testing it, and has exceptional hearing, so I will be interested in my SO’s opinion…but for me, it sounds good.
There was someone else here, who remarked on the quality of the sound.
Bluetooth means that it connects short-range wirelessly to Bluetooth connected devices…for most people, that would be SmartPhones, tablets, could be laptops, TV devices (like the Fire TV), and other things that aren’t really relevant here (keyboards, mice, headphones).
Second, though, and to me, cooler, is that it is an “ambient computing” device.
What that means is that you can use it in one of the big ways you use a computer…but you don’t have to think much about doing it.
It listens to you…quite well. I do naturally project (I’m a trainer), but speaking pretty normally, it could hear me easily across the room.
You can then ask it questions, or tell it to do some limited things.
It understood me right out of the box.
Oh, about taking it out of the box. You plug it in. You download the
if you haven’t already (I had).
You follow the very simple instructions…you will need the password for your wi-fi network (if your wi-fi network is password protected).
That’s about it.
A demo video ran in the app, and I was off to the races!
Let me give you my subjective impressions first…
The sound is good. Update: my SO has come home now, and thinks it is the best music sound we have had from any device. We’re not super audiophiles, but my SO is including a Fire tablet and our TV in that.
The ability to play music from Prime and other sources is outstanding. I have it playing Huey Lewis right now (so it is playing that when my SO comes in…Huey is a fav). I just had to say, “Alexa, play some Huey Lewis” and start it shuffling it…whether or not I have it in my music library. That’s because I’m a Prime member, and it’s available through Prime. Everybody will be Prime members who have gotten them from Amazon at this point.
It does great with some questions, but it’s inability to understand some can be a bit frustrating. That’s improving every day.
It’s heavier than I expected. 🙂 That’s actually a good thing…it seems very solid. I’ve put it on an end table…and our terriers do get up on that table from the couch sometimes. I’m not worried about it…they aren’t going to knock it over, I think.
I really like that you do have to pause slightly after you say “Alexa”. Why? So that it doesn’t start listening why I use Alexa in the middle of the sentence, talking to someone about the device.
Okay, let’s get a bit more systematic.
I can see there is a microphone off button on the device itself, but outside of that, I haven’t done anything with the device except plug it in to power and put it on a table. It’s sleek looking, and the lights on it are cool (blue lights circle the top of the cylinder when it is listening).
The remote looks very much like the remote for our
Not quite the same, but it has the familiar microphone symbol, and then a circular control functions ring.
You can hold down the microphone and talk to it to speak to the Echo.
You might wonder why you would use a remote.
Well, I’m in a different room right now…the Echo is in the family room, and I’m in the den (where I commonly write). The Echo did hear me when I spoke loudly…but not once I had the music going. The remote easily sends my communications to the Echo in the other room (maybe thirty feet away with no closed doors, but with a wall in the way.
The other manual buttons on the remote
- play/pause (>||
- skip ahead (>>)
- skip back (<<)
- volume up (+)
- volume down (-)
work like you would expect with music.
Batteries were included for the remote (easy to get the back off and insert them).
Oh, one nice thing: using the remote, you don’t need to use the “Alexa” wake word…you can just talk to it.
The remote also comes with a handy magnet cradle…I’m using it right now (I have a magnetic board in the den). The magnet sticks (super strongly…it was hard to remove), and the remote fits inside that.
It is, as I think many people know, plugged in all the time.
Okay, that’s the key hardware.
I’m going to share how well it’s been understanding me, then I’ll go through the menus in the app.
It keeps a record of our “voice interactions” in the app. Let me run through some things I’ve said, and how it responded:
- “Alexa, what’s the weather?” It gave me a nice response for our local area (it knows my location in part, I assume, because we are Prime members…it came registered to the account). It gave it for a town over, but that’s fine. It said, “In *** it’s 76 degrees with clear skies and sun. Tonight, you can look for just a few clouds in the sky, and a low of 49 degrees.” The only thing for me was it only gave the temperature in Fahrenheit, and I prefer Celsius
- So, I asked, “Alexa, what’s seventy six degrees in centigrade?” It responded, “76 degrees Celsius is 168.8 degrees Fahrenheit.” I’m impressed that it understood that I meant “Celsius” by “Centigrade”, but that wasn’t what I was trying to determine. However, my question was arguably ambiguous, and most people using the device (which is only available in the USA and only by invitation at this point) would mean it that way it interpreted it, I think
- I followed up with, “Alexa, what is seventy six degrees Fahrenheit in Celsius?” and it got that right, “76 degrees Fahrenheit is 24.44 degrees Celsius”
- “Alexa, play some Prime music.” “Here’s a Prime Playlist you might like, Earbud Vacation: West Coach Beaches”
- “Alexa, where is the nearest Ikea?””Sorry, I didn’t understand the question I heard”
- “Alexa, what time is it?” Correct
- “Alexa, what’s the date?” Correct
- “Alexa, who plays Captain America?” “Sorry, I don’t know the answer to your question.” However, it gave me a way to go to Bing in the app, which did have the answer (several answers…Chris Evans is just the most recent)
- I could not get it to understand “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
- “Alexa, who is on first?” “That’s what I keep telling you! Hu’s on first, Watt’s on second.” That’s pretty impressive…it’s an old Abbott and Costello routine about baseball players
- “Alexa, to be or not to be?” “That is the question.”
- “Alexa, who put the bomp in the bomp shoo bomp shoo bomp?” (that’s how it heard what I said) “Sorry, I didn’t understand the question I heard”
- “Alexa, play some big band music.” Played Swing Jazz playlist from Prime, which was a good choice
- “Alexa, play some Bruno Mars” Started right off with Uptown Funk
- “Alexa, play some Creedence Clearwater.” I was impressed that it got this right (it shuffles music from the artist), since I deliberately left off “Revival”
- “Alexa, who starred in The Avengers?” It didn’t know
- “Alexa, who starred in Gone with the Wind?” “The stars of Gone with the Wind include Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, George Reeves, and Hattie McDaniel.”
- “Alexa, play Old Time Radio.” It did start playing an old time radio show, although it was in the middle of it…I think it was from a TuneIn station
- “Alexa, play Star Wars” It played the end theme, which worked well
- “Alexa, how many calories in a carrot?” It game me a long answer, with lots of different kinds of carrots…reasonable
- “Alexa, what are some quotations from Casablanca?” It didn’t know that, but it could tell me who starred in Casablanca, how tall Humphrey Bogart was (in metric and English), where Humphrey Bogart was born, what Humphrey Bogart’s first movie was, and when that movie was released. I did have to say “Alexa” at the beginning of each of those questions, and I stated the question fresh…I didn’t say, “Where was Humphrey Bogart born?” get an answer, and then say, “How tall was he?”
- I got it to play some sound effects…for example, I said, “Alexa, play a dog barking”. It did, however, identify the track first. I think if I’d had it in my library, that might have been easier for it
- “Alexa, how long is the Golden Gate Bridge?” Correct
- “Alexa, what is Stephen King’s latest book?” “Stephen King’s latest book is Lisey’s Story”
- “Alexa, what was the score of the Giants game?” It gave me the score…and the app gave me the box score, which was great.
- “Alexa, who is Bufo Calvin?” Interestingly, it got “Bufo” correct in the app, but it heard “Calvin” as “Kelvin”, and couldn’t find an answer
That gives you some idea.
The menu button is three horizontal lines (which is standard with Amazon).
- Home (announcements)
- Now Playing (Player, Queue, History…interestingly, the history is quite extensive, letting you Create a New Station based on a song you’ve played, or Shop Digital Music Store). You can also start playing music again, and see who the artist is
- T0-do Lists (and a number showing you the number of items). Tap that, and you can mark something done, move an item to the Shopping List, or Delete item
- Shopping list (similar to To-do list
- Timer (you can also set one manually in the app). This, by the way, is where you remove items. If you ask the Echo to remove an item, it tells you to go to the app
- Alarm (you can also set one manually)
- Your Amazon Music Library: Playlists|Artists|Albums|Songs|Genres…and a search for your music
- Prime Stations
Settings has sub-menus, so I’m going to do that one separately here:
- Bufo’s Echo: Update Wi-fi | Bluetooth | Remote (so you can make it forget your remote, if you get a new one) |Echo device name (mine came named “Bufo’s Echo”. I could change that, but it wouldn’t change the “wake word”, just how I see it referenced at Amazon) | Echo device location (mine actually was wrong, but I fixed it…that should take care of the weather thing of being in a nearby town) | Wake Word (you can choose Amazon or Alexa…we say “Amazon” too much for that to make sense right now. They are going to add more) | Metric measurements (Yay! I didn’t know you could do that! I may change it, although I do have to consider my Significant Other in that one) | Sounds (Alarm and Timer Volume) | Wake up Sound (if you want to turn on a confirmation for that…it’s defaulted off) | End of request sound (again, if you want a confirmation that it realizes you are done speaking…defaulted off) | Echo is registered to…(and a Deregister choice) | Echo software version (I’m on 2392) | Serial number
- Set up New Echo (it will just automatically start looking for a new one…you can cancel)
- History (this is aplace you can see all of your voice interactions)…one disappointment here, is that it doesn’t give me a way to get back to the Bing search easily
- Under Account, we have
- Music Services: Amazon Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Tunein (you can link to accounts for Pandora and iHeartRadio if you have them)
- Voice Purchasing (this appears to just be for music at this point, but eventually may hopefully be for more). You can turn it on or off, set up a pin (which you’ll say aloud to confirm a purchase), and you can go to your 1-click settings
- Flash Briefing: it came defaulted to NPR, but you can also use BBC News| ESPN Sportscenter | Economist | NPR Business Story | NPR Technology Podcast | TMZ News. That will play it in the original voice. I preferred hearing text-to-speech in Alexa’s voice. You can choose categories, although I didn’t find a way to change the order of the categories, or to skip to the next category when it was reading. The categories are: Top News | U.S. | World | Politics | Business | Sports | Entertainment | Tech | Science | Health | Offbeat. I need to experiment with this more, but I tried, “Alexa, what’s the entertainment news?” and it didn’t skip ahead to that. Weather is also here
- Traffic: it starts with your address, and then you can add a destination. You could also change the first address. I tested this…there are two popular routes from our house to a destination in San Francisco, and it told me how long it would take and which route was fastest…nice!
- Household profile
- Connected Home (the Echo works with WeMo and Hue devices at this point, so you could tell it, “Alexa, turn the hallway light on” and it would, if you have that set up)
- About the Amazon Echo App
Okay, after Settings:
- Things to Try
- Help: Amazon Echo User Guide | View Intro to Echo | Contact Us (e-mail or phone) | Legal & Compliance
- General Feedback
- Voice Training (I have not done this yet…and it’s been working well)
That’s enough to get started! If you have questions, feel free to ask me by commenting on this post.
Bonus deal: I always like to do at least one book thing:
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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. Shop ’til you help!
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.