Home & Office
Why you can trust ZDNET : ZDNET independently tests and researches products to bring you our best recommendations and advice. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Our process

'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?

ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.

When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.

ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.


Two unsung ways Amazon Echos are actually pretty consumer-friendly

In a world where everything seems crazy and overwhelming, it's nice -- even if for a moment -- to appreciate when something just seems to work.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
An original Amazon Echo on a dark surface next to a pair of glasses.

David's original Alexa, in all its black Pringles Can of Death glory.

David Gewirtz/ZDNET

I woke up at 7 am to the sound of my alarm blaring. There's nothing unusual about that, except… hang on… "Alexa, stop!" Yep, the alarm was coming from the bedroom Alexa.

That bedroom Alexa is the one we call Alexa Prime since it was the first one we got. It's the old Pringles can-style Amazon OG Echo, ordered from Amazon as soon as the company started accepting orders. Alexa Prime has been with us since Jan. 13, 2015, and she has been waking me every one of the 2,828 days since.

Live blog: The best deals from Amazon's October Prime Early Access Sale

Oh, sure. We've subsequently adopted many of her siblings. We have some later-generation Echos, a bunch of Echo Dots, and a few Echo Shows. 

My wife and I bought the first three or four, and then as I started writing about them regularly, Amazon sent me review units. That's how I got the Echo Show 10 that follows me around the room in my office as I move.

At this point, we have an Alexa in every room. And yes, that includes bathrooms. We found the intercom, timer, and smart home control functions so valuable that it makes sense for them to be everywhere we are.

But it's Alexa Prime I want to focus on for a minute. She's been with us for almost eight years. We've never had to update her (although I do know that updates have been automatically installed quietly and without requiring my attention). She still runs all our routines and smart home activities, turning on and off lights, controlling the temperature, and so on.

Let's go back in time to that January in 2015. I was still carrying my Samsung S4 Android phone. My purchase of its replacement, the iPhone 6S Plus, was still eight months into the future. Four months in the future from that January, I would buy an Intel i5 MacBook Pro -- the last Intel MacBook Pro with ports and a nice keyboard.

I've since had to purchase replacements for all of those devices. With iOS 16, Apple has discontinued support of the iPhone 6S Plus. When MacOS Ventura comes out this month, my i5 MacBook Pro from 2015 will also lose support (as will all MacBook Pros purchased before 2017, MacBook Airs and Mac Minis purchased before 2018, and Mac Pros purchased before 2019).

Also: Five iOS 16 features I can't live without now and how to use them

But Alexas just work. That's the first underappreciated way Alexa devices are consumer-friendly. Day in, day out. In my case, nearly 3,000 days. They just work. I've never had to replace a single Echo device because it was obsoleted by the company. Although not all features are available for older devices (you need a more recent device such as a third-generation Echo Dot or newer to make it bilingual in Spanish, for example), in my personal experience so far, I haven't noticed any loss of support or functionality. Each incarnation of the helpful AI just sits there, waiting for us to ask or command something.

Now, sure. As Amazon introduces new Echo models, they do more and sound better. But I'm not terribly concerned with media-center-quality sound when I'm blasted out of sleep in the morning. I just want to be able to get to work on time. And Alexa does that.

There's another consumer-friendly feature of Alexa that we rarely discuss: There's no monthly fee. To be fair, this is also true of Apple's Siri and Google Assistant, but it's also very rare for smart devices to run without a monthly fee (especially security cameras).

I should note that Amazon does have some services it offers to Alexa users for an extra fee. There's a fee for the Alexa Kids+ service, which offers some kid-related content. 

There's also a fee for Alexa Guard Plus, which provides some emergency monitoring and protection. And there's a per-incident fee for Echo Auto, which you incur if you call for help when stuck on the side of the road. But there's no fee for the basic Alexa service, and in seven years, we've never needed to upgrade to any of the incremental services that have fees.

Also: The best tech deals under $20 from Amazon's October Prime Early Access Sale

This is why I was so concerned last month when we found out Amazon might be open to selling Alexa responses responses to high bidders that would answer questions with brand-centric answers. We're still not sure how that will play out, but so far, Alexa has been a fairly benign presence in my life (beyond the weird, creepy stuff that sometimes happens).

I'm not an apologist for Amazon. I'm as concerned as the next guy about Amazon's near lock on Internet commerce, and I do worry about how far an AI like Alexa can go before we get Skynet. But on this second day of Amazon's second Prime Day(s) of the year, I wanted to share a positive thought.

Right now, Alexa's generally just helpful, and she has been since she took up residence on my bedroom bookshelf. Sure, it could get a lot worse. But for now, in our crazy, fractious, messed-up world, it's nice to be able to point out something, anything, that doesn't completely suck, even if for only a moment.

"Alexa, thank you."

"You're so welcome. Your kindness really gives me a charge."

Now, what exactly does she mean by that? Is that a pun? Is she saying she likes it when I charge things via Amazon? Is she mocking me for yelling "No" this morning when she wanted to tell me about the weather? Will she someday murder me in my bed?

Yep, that moment is over. But still... "Alexa, set alarm for 7 am."

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

Editorial standards