Amazon Echo: yes or no?
December 30, 2015 12:59 PM   Subscribe

I was given an Amazon Echo for Christmas. I'm trying to decide whether it makes sense to keep it or return it (for something as-yet-undetermined). Those of you with Echos: what am I missing? Is there some great application of it that I don't yet realize?

On one hand, this is a great present for me - I'm geeky and generally like the idea of home automation, have been looking for a good music-playing device, and Amazon Echo sort of feels like an early step towards what "the future" is supposed to be like. On the other hand, it's not clear exactly what I would use it for. I don't have any other home automation things and most of my music is not in Amazon's ecosystem; it's either in iTunes or, more likely, ripped from original CDs. I understand that I can pay Amazon $25 per year for the privilege of uploading my music to their servers, but that doesn't excite me.

So, those of you with Echos, what am I missing? Do you love it? Hate it? Are there things about them that I don't see yet?
posted by Betelgeuse to Technology (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It is so much fun. I got my first one as a beta user when I accepted Amazon's invitation, and now both my Bear and I use that one, in our living room, all the time. I got my second, for the bedroom, a month or so ago. Yes, we love it.

Take a hard look at the app when you set it up and you'll be rather amazed at all the Echo can do. I have played games with my Echo, laughed at its jokes, asked it the weather, checked my route to work, gotten trivia answers from it, and dictated lists to it. And those are things I don't do often. Routinely I have the Echo play my Pandora stations (you don't need Prime to have it play music), read me my books, brief me on the news, tell me the time, and wake me up with my chosen alarm sound, plus snooze for me a couple of times. I am thinking about adding some smart lights because it is neat to just tell the device to turn on or off lights. And there is a new capability pretty much every week.
posted by bearwife at 1:07 PM on December 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Do you have Prime? Do you use Pandora or other streaming services? It will interface with a few other services, and more are being added. It's a pretty cool piece of tech, and integrates well as a home music player with some added bells and whistles. I've had one for a couple of months now and really enjoy it. I vote for keeping it. You can always try it and if you don't like it, sell it on craigslist.
posted by cosmicbandito at 1:14 PM on December 30, 2015

Best answer: I have one in the kitchen and find it handy for setting timers while my hands are dirty or tied up in cooking projects and playing audio during the same. My housemate likes to have it give the weather and traffic reports while he has breakfast or packs up a lunch on the way to work. Friends will use it as a Bluetooth speaker to play audio off of their personal devices.

I don't know that it's a killer app for any specific purpose. If you have an iDevice, Siri plus a decent Bluetooth speaker would likely be functionally equivalent for you. The compelling thing for me having it in the kitchen is that it's always there, on, and ready to go, so there's no setting things up to get access to its functionality. I got it at a cheap price as an early adopter, I don't know if I'd get $200 of value out of it.
posted by Candleman at 1:18 PM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Love it! I think it's worth it just for the ease of playing music. The sound is very good for its size.

If you're a Prime member, there's lots of music available to you. I do pay $25 a year to have access to my music as well, and I do think it's worth it. I don't do any home automation with it, but here is what I use it for, aside from having it play music effortlessly.

- Tell me the weather before I leave the house.
- Keep my shopping list. It shows up on the app on my phone. My wife and I use this feature all the time. Instead of telling me what to add to a list, she tells Alexa. (We use this all the time.)
- Play radio stations
- Keep a to-do list
- Setting timers and alarms

We keep it in the living room, but I'm actually considering getting a second one for the bedroom.
posted by The Deej at 1:19 PM on December 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I love the music aspect of it. When I do laundry, I plug it in near the laundry room to listen. When I do dishes, it is in the kitchen.

I have all of my music in the Amazon cloud, but it plays tons of music I don't own via Prime or Pandora.

I also use it for timers in the kitchen.
posted by tacodave at 2:33 PM on December 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

I bought one. I hate it.
posted by nogero at 2:35 PM on December 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

I discovered recently that if I tell one Echo to play, the other one automatically starts playing too, so the music is on in each room where there is an Echo. (You can tell one of them to stop, too, if you don't want the same thing in both places.)
posted by bearwife at 2:35 PM on December 30, 2015

Best answer: I love my echo. I didn't use amazon music prior to having one but I do now, plus I love that I can still use it to stream Pandora and Spotify through Bluetooth. I use my echo to listen to music, get the weather report, listen to news and traffic, play games and listen to my audible audiobooks.
posted by CosmicSeeker42 at 7:51 PM on December 30, 2015

Best answer: I love how easy it is to just play some random music. When you are cooking and just want something in the background, and you can say "Alexa, play some eighties music." We also use the weather part to see how we need to dress. And the thing where it plays the NPR news is really cool although we don't remember to use it very often.
posted by smackfu at 8:12 PM on December 30, 2015

Best answer: Check the Skills section of the Alexa app to see a ton more it can do.
posted by bearwife at 8:40 PM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I absolutely love ours. You have to get used to it as an always listening personal assistant. It's important to note that I have it within talking distance to both my kitchen and my family room, and that we are heavy Amazon prime users. I use it all the time, easily multiple times a day, to:

* Check the weather (every morning before leaving the house, also at night to hear the forecast)
* Check the time (multiple times morning and night. hard to see the microwave and oven clocks) and date
* Set timers and alarms (like when cooking)
* Add things to our shopping list (like when you're digging around in the fridge or the cupboard and realize you're out or about to run out of something)
* Add things to our to do list (less often than the shopping list)
* Do simple math
* Do unit conversions (mostly while cooking, but it does any kind of conversion)
* Find out if a local store is open or closed (for example, I ask if the Walgreens is open, and it tells me for the nearest Walgreens and where it is)
* Find out where the nearest store or restaurant is of a particular type
* Look up things that would be in Wikipedia
* Look up things that would be in IMDB
* Play music (my kids use this a lot) and sometimes podcasts. It can also give you a daily news briefing from a variety of sources
* Reorder items in my Amazon history (don't worry, it tells you the price and you have a chance to confirm the purchase)
* Find out when a sports team (usually the Warriors, for us) is playing next
* Find out particular sports scores for teams we follow

I'm sure I'm missing some functions, but these are the ones we use regularly. We also have IFTT connected some of the functions. When someone asks what is on the shopping list, the Echo starts listing the items, but also emails the list to my wife and me. When I add things to the to do list, it also adds the item to my preferred to do list app, Wunderlist. I also can ask the echo to call my phone if I can't find it.

Super helpful thing -- love it. It answers all the mundane questions that come up as we go about our daily life, questions that my wife and I often blurt out to ourselves or to each other. And I think it works a lot better than Siri and Ok Google -- and it's always on, no need to have or look at or interact with a phone.
posted by odin53 at 6:27 AM on December 31, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I got one for myself when they first had those $99 invites. I love it for the music, haven't fully adopted the home automation aspect, asking it questions mostly for general amusement and impressing people.

We bought one for my parents and inlaws, mostly for the music, but quickly realized that they dont have the same experience as a Primary Prime Subscriber. Only the primary Prime Subscriber can ask the echo for specific artist or songs (hit or miss, about 75% success for myself). Non prime subscriber can only get 'samples' of the song or artist. They can request Pandora, IheartRadio or Tunein stations, but its not the same as asking for a specific artist or song.

The saving grace is the free 250 song upload feature, which I manage for them. I collected 250 of their favorite songs, or sets of songs from the favorite artists, and curated them into playlists so they can ask for their favorite artist, or play a genre (jazz, piano music etc) from the set of 250 songs. As older people, they have their set ways, and 250 songs provides them with enough variety, and I can also swap in new songs if they get tired of their 250 songs. (yes, I/they could pay the additional $25 a year to be able to upload 250K songs, but amazon already has me for their prime and cloud)

Hacky tip: You can upload 2-3 hour mp3s, and it only counts as one song. Search megamix of your genre/artist choice on youtube, convert to mp3, upload to amazon music, profit? (no profit)
posted by edman at 10:34 AM on December 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I love mine! I didn't use Prime Music at all before I got the Echo but I ponied up the $25, imported my entire library (took a week... groannn. The importer is not great, nor are my internets. But now I can listen to my entire library at work with the Amazon Music app, which was a great side benefit), and now it's magical music on demand with pretty good sound any time I like, which came in pretty handy while working on renovating my bathroom or hanging with friends randomly shouting out requests. I can get all the sports scores from back home (this summer's theme song was "The White Sox are not playing right now. Yesterday they lost (ridiculously high number) to (something normal) to the Other Team." Ok, maybe that feature isn't so great. Dammit, Robin Ventura.) I can listen to tons of radio stations if you're into that, and nice Audible support. Weather and time, even though I have to specify my location because it only supports US zip codes for locations -- although, when I had it at work for a day it somehow magically figured out my commute home accurately despite having a Chicago zip code, and then hi*LAAAR*iously mispronounced the Dutch street names while giving me travel times. Then I got Philips Hue for my lights at home and now it's like I live in the future what with all this wacky "Alexa, please turn on the brown lamp" stuff. Plus shopping lists for my scatterbrained self. It's super fantastic. If they added Nest as a controllable device I'd be in heaven (and probably run up my heat bill, so maybe that's a good thing). And then there are all these neat skills that people build for it (I am fond of Cat Facts. Because reasons). I was a little skeptical when I first got it, because it seems like an overpriced bluetooth speaker on first glance, but turns out I love love love it.

Disclaimer: I work for Amazon. (AWS, not Echo.) But in this regard I'm just a regular customer like everyone else - waiting lists and full retail price for my magic talking gadgets, waaaaah. On the bright side that means that I can fangirl Alexa like whoa with no nepotism guilt!
posted by sldownard at 5:58 AM on January 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I used to walk into my apartment, I would have to put down what I was carrying, take off my coat, then scramble around and find my various remotes in order to play whatever sonic distraction I wanted. Now, I just walk in and yell. It's fabulous. It's also a wonderful machine to have by your bedside; I've imported the "Classical Dreamtime" playlist from Prime and I just ask Alexa to play it at volume 2. I can opt for a sleep timer as well of any length. It's a wonderful jukebox, and it's recently been improved massively by the addition of the Beatles' catalog to Prime, though who knows how long that will last.

Running it will certainly make you aware if your wireless network has issues. I'll be trading in my router as a result because it sometimes goes in and out. (I'm sure it's not the channel because my Roku behaves the same way, and it's hard-wired.) Sadly, no Ethernet ports on the thing.

I thought I'd use the lists more than I do, and I haven't played with the calendar function at all. But purely as a fantastic jukebox and a fantastic new component for utilizing Prime content, I highly recommend the Echo. Highly. I really like owning a robot.
posted by NedKoppel at 10:15 AM on January 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

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