Amazon Echo review: Amazon’s smart speaker now has a smaller, fatter sibling

£149
Price when reviewed

Using Echo

The key to getting the most out of the Echo is learning how to talk to it. It’s remarkably good at understanding natural rhythms of speech for many enquiries, such as “Alexa, how’s my commute looking?” or “Alexa, what’s the news this morning?”, but that’s not the case with certain skills. Reach outside of the Echo’s baked-in abilities, and skills such as the Guardian require you to actively command the Echo to open the relevant app and choose options from an available selection.

Like any voice assistant, though, the key to getting the most out of Echo is learning its quirks. Well, that and getting used to not having a visual interface to shape your requests. Trying to think of which song to play from a music collection of thousands can be a dizzying prospect, for instance.

Sound quality

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Impressively enough, Echo is a very capable Bluetooth speaker. The 2in tweeter and 2.5in woofer team up to fill a room with clean, detailed-sounding audio, and while it’s not the most exciting speaker you’ve ever heard, it’s great for the money. Ramp up the pressure with demanding dance music or classical works and you’ll find the Echo’s limits soon enough, but then you can say the same of any Bluetooth speaker below the £150 mark.

Verdict

Amazon has got many of things right with the Echo. Personally, I find it far more convenient and useful than other digital voice assistants. With the Echo in my bedroom, I can wake up and check the weather, enquire about train delays, and start music playing without moving a muscle. I can simply ask a question and Echo will give me an answer. The fact that it’s a competent speaker certainly doesn’t hurt either.

Once the smaller, £50 second-generation Echo Dot devices arrive on 20 October, you’ll no longer be tied to being in earshot of a single Echo. These miniature, cut-down versions only have a very basic speaker, but as you can still connect to other speakers via Bluetooth, or an auxiliary cable, you can still get the benefits of music streaming throughout the house. Keep an eye out for Alphr’s full review.

One big question mark concerns the Echo’s abilities as a smart home controller, and this could potentially transform its appeal. If it can draw together a morass of smart home gadgetry with simple voice commands, then Amazon may have a roaring success on its hands.

So, should you buy an Amazon Echo now? That depends. You’ll want both a Prime account and a Spotify Premium account to get the best out of it, but if you fit that criteria I suspect you’ll come away quietly impressed. If you like the idea of being able to dictate your shopping list without reaching for a pen and paper, listen to audio books and music without lifting a finger, and fancy a decent Bluetooth speaker into the bargain, then £150 is something of a steal.

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