When Amazon unveiled the Echo last year many didn't know quite what to make of it. A simple black cylinder that was an audio system and window into the web all wrapped up in one, and operated almost entirely by voice. Voice operation was hands-free as "Alexa" -- the name used to get the AI's attention -- was always listening for your command.
While some buyers have yet to receive the unique gizmo from Amazon, I was lucky enough to receive one of the first and I've had the Amazon Echo for five months. I admit that now I rarely think about the Echo. Not because I don't use it much, but because using and operating it by voice has become natural to my daily routine.
I find Alexa, I mean the Echo, to be a part of my life as I use it constantly. I tell "her" what I want and the Echo delivers. The microphone array in the Echo is so good I can be anywhere in the loft up to 30 feet away and my command is heard and parsed perfectly.
I regularly use the Echo to play music in my apartment, and it's even better at it than when I first got it. Amazon has regularly added features to the Echo since it shipped, and adding popular music streaming services has been a big part of the updates. These include most of the major services including iTunes. I can listen to my huge music collection in the iTunes cloud without touching the iTunes app.
My favorite music service is Pandora, and now I just tell Alexa which station I want to hear and it happens. When a song plays that I don't like I tell Alexa to skip it. When my mood changes I tell Alexa to play another station. If the volume is too low or too high I tell Alexa to raise or lower it. When a phone call comes in I just say "pause". It is second nature and I miss it when listening to music when not at home.
Updates are pushed to the Echo and require little or no action on my part to get them going. Shortly after an update arrives an email comes from Amazon explaining all the new features.
Major features added since launch of the Amazon Echo:
Probably the most important addition to the Echo is Amazon's recent release of a beta SDK. They are working with developers in the program to make apps available to take advantage of the Echo's unique capabilities. I can't wait to start seeing cool functionality coming out of this effort.
One added feature that I ridiculed when it rolled out, I believe the term "goofy" was used, has turned out to be tremendous fun. Hiding in another room and having Alexa talk to my grandkids by name using the Simon Says function is a blast.
The Amazon Echo is the most used gadget in my home due to its usefulness. Playing music and asking for quick web searches has become second nature. Alexa is always ready to do what I ask, understanding every voice command without fail. It's as if Amazon sent an invisible assistant to me that is always there, always listening just in case I need something.
As an Amazon Prime member I bought the Echo for only $99. Knowing what I know today I'd gladly pay the regular price of $179.
Additional Amazon Echo coverage: