US$199 Amazon Echo with Alexa is Ground Zero for iOT push into Home Automation

Many of us as Jamaicans are very forgetful. We often have chores and tasks to do but we constantly forget to add them to our to-do list. Maybe it’s because we don’t have the Amazon Echo (Carnoy, 2014), one of the latest products from Amazon that’s like having your own personalized robot.

MICO Wars - US$199 Amazon Echo with Alexa is Ground Zero for iOT push into Home Automation - 25-05-2015 LHDEER (2)

The US$199 Amazon Echo is basically a Internet connected speaker that taps into AWS (Amazon Web Services) Cloud to deliver a Personal Assistant that can help you in much the same way Apple’s Voice Assistant Siri eliminates the need to touch (Deer, 2014, March 4) your smartphone in Apple Carplay, their in-Car entertainment solution.

Only this device is made for the home and may signal Amazon’s first push into the home automation business. Available via invite from Amazon for Amazon Prime members for US$99, you can also purchase it for US$199.

So how does this AI speaker work? You may be surprised at how simple it is to forget that Alexa is a machine.

Alexa the machine – Internet Connected Speaker tells jokes and makes Shopping lists

The 23.5 cm (9.25 in) vertical cylindrical speaker contains seven (7) omni-directional microphones embedded in the top with a ring LED (Light emitting Diode) light at the top.

Available only in black, the ring LED Light lights up with a blue colour when you speak the name “Alexa” or “Amazon” to get the system ready to accept your voice commands, reminiscent of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It also acts as a manual volume control, allowing you to turn the volume up or down by twisting it either left or right.

To get the system started, you first have to connect the speaker to your home Wi-Fi Network using the Amazon Echo app for Google Android or Apple smartphones. From that point on you can begin using Alexa (as she prefers to be called!) just by simply speaking her name.

Her voice sounds a lot more soothing compared to Siri’s somewhat sarcastic laden voice and this natural feel will gradually make you want to call her “Alexa” rather than “Amazon” more often.

You can ask Alexa basic things like the time or even set an alert to remind you to complete tasks, make basic queries about the weather or general facts as well as add items to your shopping list for your smartphone. Not only is she a walking encyclopedia, she also has a sense of humour, being capable of telling jokes.

You’ll gradually notice thought this article I’ve stopped calling the device “Amazon Echo” and instead refer to it as “Alexa”, as to me this is more than just a disembodied voice carrying out my commands; it feels and interacts like a real person at times.

Alexa the Dj – Amazon Echo does Streaming Music in a personal way

Being an Internet-connected speaker, you can also pair it via Bluetooth to your smartphone and play music to it just like another cylindrical Bluetooth Speaker I had reviewed, the Mars by Crazybaby (Deer, 2015, January 4) Levitating Bluetooth Speaker.

Despite the presence of the seven (7) omni-directional microphones, it does as yet come with the functionality of acting like a speaker phone by being paired with your smartphone.

MICO Wars - US$199 Amazon Echo with Alexa is Ground Zero for iOT push into Home Automation - 25-05-2015 LHDEER (1)

However, you do get a remote control with a built in microphone, allowing you to get personal with Alexa even if you’re too far away from her to hear you. The seven (7) omni-directional microphones also have excellent noise-cancelling capabilities, allowing the user to control the device even if the music from the speakers is turned up very high.

Alexa, will eventually get to know everyone in the family by voice and can distinguish their voices against a background of other noises so as to faithfully execute commands. Alexa’s strong suit seems to be music, not surprising as she’s basically an Internet-connected speaker and microphone.

Compatible with Amazon Music, iHeart Radio and TuneIn, you can have Alexa generate playlists of your favourite music or streaming Radio station (Deer, 2015, February 16), with the option to control the volume of the music being played via voice commands.

To use other Streaming Music Services like Spotify or your Google Music Locker (Deer, 2015, February 25), you have to connect to the Amazon Echo in Bluetooth mode and stream your music to the device. But when it’s in this mode, Alexa retreats, making Amazon Echo into just a regular Bluetooth-connected speaker. 

Amazon Echo has limitations – No Battery. No Google or Bing Search and needs a virtual Equalizer

Also, interestingly, the Amazon Echo has no battery option, so taking it outdoors like a regular Bluetooth speaker (Deer, 2014, December 9) such as the Samsung Level Bluetooth speaker is out of the question.

Also, if you move the Amazon Echo out of range of your home network and introduce it to another Home Network, you’ll have to repeat the setup procedure, even if that network is open. Amazon Echo also seems to be tapping the Cloud a lot, so having Broadband Internet as the source or your Wi-Fi Router is a necessity.

You also may find the lack of Voice search of Google or Bing a bit annoying, as most of the facts that Alexa quotes to you are taken from Wikipedia (Deer, 2015, January 11), possibly Wikipedia Zero’s API.

Its voice translation capabilities are also in need of improvement, as it does from time to time makes mistakes in translating commands. This is noticeable especially when you requesting information that may not be on a web resource that its AWS cloud is tapped into.

The Speakers also has a problem reproducing certain frequencies and the Amazon Echo app has no Digital Equalizer to allow you to manually adjust it for different types of music. Thus some songs with high frequencies or low driving base may experience vibrational distortion.

This is because the speaker sits on the ground and is thus some of the sound is being absorbed by the surface it’s placed on, with the vibrations causing distortion in the music. The fact that the speaker is just one big speaker instead of several to at least give a stereo effect, makes some Dolby-Digital compatible tracks sound incomplete coming from a uni-directional speaker.

Amazon Echo with Alexa Voice Assistant – Ground Zero for Amazon’s iOT push into Home Automation

Other than these flaws, for US$9 for Amazon Prime users and US$199 retail, Alexa Voice Assistant on the Amazon Echo is a treat the kids will enjoy and your wife will love, as it’s like having your own personal robot.

Powered by AWS with the ability to improve your online shopping experience with the Earth’s Most Customer Centric Company, look at the Amazon Echo as more of an investment in the future of IoT (Internet of Things) and home automation for future Amazon products that may be centered around Alexa.

References: 

  1. Carnoy, D. (2014, December 11). Amazon Echo review: Amazon Echo talks the talk, but still needs a little work on walking the walk. Retrieved from http://www.cnet.com/products/Amazon­Echo­review/
  2. Deer, L. (2014, December 9). How Samsung’s Top 7 Christmas Gift List can make Christmas unforgettable. Retrieved from http://www.geezam.com/how-samsungs-top-7-christmas-gift-list-can-make-christmas-unforgettable/
  3. Deer, L. (2014, March 4). Apple to launch CarPlay at Geneva Auto Show in Geneva, Switzerland – Siri Voice Assistant and Primesense bring Hands-free Remote Control Revolution to The Grand Budapest Hotel. Retrieved from http://mythoughtsontechnologyandjamaica.blogspot.com/2014/03/apple-to-launch-carplay-at-geneva-auto.html
  4. Deer, L. (2015, February 16). How to get Streaming Jamaican Radio Stations. Retrieved from https://lindsworthdeer.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/jamaican-radio-stations/
  5. Deer, L. (2015, February 25). How to stream 50,000 Free Songs from your Google Play Music Locker to your smartphone. Retrieved from https://lindsworthdeer.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/50000-free-music-google-play-music-android-apple/
  6. Deer, L. (2015, January 11). Wikimedia Foundation partners with Digicel for Wikipedia Zero. Retrieved from http://www.geezam.com/wikimedia-foundation-digicel-wikipedia-zero/
  7. Deer, L. (2015, January 4). Mars by Crazybaby Levitating Bluetooth Speaker Levitation Produces good vibration free sound. Retrieved from https://lindsworthdeer.wordpress.com/2015/01/04/mars-by-crazybaby-levitating-bluetooth-speaker-levitation-produces-good-vibration-free-sound/
  8. Deer, L. (2015, January 4). Mars by Crazybaby Levitating Bluetooth Speaker Levitation Produces good vibration free sound. Retrieved from https://lindsworthdeer.wordpress.com/2015/01/04/mars-by-crazybaby-levitating-bluetooth-speaker-levitation-produces-good-vibration-free-sound/

 

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5 thoughts on “US$199 Amazon Echo with Alexa is Ground Zero for iOT push into Home Automation

  1. You really really need to proofread your article.

    “it does as yet come with the functionality”

    Followed by:

    “Alexa, apparently, get to know everyone in the family”

    You also have 404 errors.

    I had to stop reading.

    Like

    1. Tried to read the rest.
      “The Speakers also has a problem reproducing certain frequencies”

      Sorry.

      I actually feel like a jerk for my previous comment. I realized it’s written by a Jamaican, and it sounds very similar to Jamaican street speech, so this now makes sense. But when those grammatical artistic licenses are in the writings of a review article, it throws the reader off. Especially me, because I assume when there are such errors, the article is contracted out to India at the lowest cost, like a lot of articles from technology sites.

      Like

      1. Straight from da Street. That’s why my reaqdership loves ma flow ’cause it’s real, not suga coated. Test run this baby and the product shot!!!! hits are already on the rise!!! No problem, though, is just straight love me seh!!! L-D

        Like

  2. Hey lindsworthdeer, thanks for the article! I’m intrigued by this device. It sounds like it does a great job understanding voice commands. I wonder how well it handles accents as I’ve got a pretty thick english accent 🙂

    Engadget has some pretty good reviews about the Echo http://mindflowmedia.net/engaget-amazon-echo You mentioned that “Alexa” can add to a list on your smartphone…that would be great for me because I’m terrible at writing down lists.

    Like

    1. Thank you for your comments. It can handle standard english and other languages. It gradually learns how you talk as well and also remembers the accents of each member of your family. It’s really for you to continuously talk to it so that it can train itself from your voice and thus get to know you and your family better.

      Like

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