Review: Amazon Echo

Manoj Ramesh Shastri

Back in 2014, Amazon shocked the world with the first Echo smart hub. Five years on, you can find its Alexa smart assistant powering smart hubs in homes around the world. But, despite its ubiquity, the Amazon Echo isn’t the best smart hub (or smart speaker, for that matter) on sale. Its easily-confused AI and middling sound quality mean that there are better options out there. The original Echo was a device that genuinely changed the tech market. Sure, we were all familiar with Siri on iPhones, but the idea of having a voice controlled speaker was new. Since 2014, Amazon has introduced more Echo variations than you can shake a stick at. All of Amazon’s Echo devices are powered by Alexa, the company’s smart assistant. It’ll play music, control your smart home devices, perform internet searches, check the weather, and let you buy products from Amazon, as well as plenty more​ ​bespoke skills​.You control all of these functions either through the Echo’s own voice controls, or through the companion Alexa app on your smartphone, of course Amazon may have added the fabric to cut costs, but it gives the speaker more of an ‘interior design’ flavor that we think is more stylish. This is an important change as smart speakers become mainstream and an integral part of everyone’s living room, rather than just for early adopters,

If we’re honest though, the Echo can be a bit hit-and-miss. It occasionally has a hard time picking up voice commands and, sometimes, provides unusual answers to queries. For example, when asking what the weather would be like in Camden, London, Alexa would give us the weather for Camden, New Jersey. That’s despite the device’s location being set to south London we also found that, on occasion, while listening to the radio or streaming music, the audio would simply stop playing after a while. These kind of frustrations can make the Echo an irritant, rather than a helpful device.

Here’s a fun fact: the first Echo was pitched as a voice-controlled speaker, rather than as a smart hub. So, you’d think the sound quality is good, right? Wrong – it’s pretty middling, Given the Echo’s relatively small stature, it would be unfair to expect room-shaking bass, but even so, the low-end is pretty unremarkable. There’s distortion at the high-end as well. In the mid-range, though, the Echo is pretty strong. Sounds are clear and detailed, and pack a decent punch given the size.

If you want to use the Echo as your primary music-player at home, we’d advise against it. The sound just isn’t strong enough for us to really recommend. If you really want an Alexa-enabled smart speaker, we’d get a​ ​Sonos One​. But, if you want a smart speaker with smart hub credentials, and aren’t all-in on Alexa, we’d get a​ ​Lenovo Smart Display​.

Whether the Echo is good value for money or not depends largely on whether you already have a speaker at home. If for example, you already own a Sonos or a Bose speaker, don’t get the Echo. You’ll find the convenience of the voice controls too tempting and end up playing music and radio from the Echo, neglecting your superior speakers. you could, however, buy the smaller Echo Dot, and connect it to an existing speaker using an old-fashioned audio line-in. It’s not a perfect solution, but it works ok – and could give you a serious sound quality boost.

If you don’t have a speaker, aren’t too fussed about the last word in audio quality, and don’t want a Google device, then get the Echo. But, if it was our money, we’d probably save up our pennies and get the $199 Sonos One — it has the same Alexa functions built-in, but with far better sound quality, Amazon Echo verdict, Amazon Echo is a device hampered by its own versatility. There are cheaper smart hubs, and better speakers for similar prices. Crucially, there are devices that offer both for not that much more money.

It’s not a bad smart device by any stretch, but we wouldn’t spend our own money on one. If you’re determined to get an Amazon speaker, the Echo Plus is a better choice. The second generation Echo, despite Amazon’s claim to better sound, has received decidedly mixed reviews. If we’re honest, we’d look to another brand for our smart hub.It’s also clear that Amazon is up against tough competition with the Google Home, Apple HomePod thanks to its superior sound quality, It is still too early to tell if one of these systems will come to dominate smart home control. However, all reports suggest Amazon Echo devices outsell those of the Google Home range and Apple HomePod even if you don’t fall in love with the idea of smart home tech, you can still use the Echo as a pure Bluetooth music speaker.

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