Classicamiga Forum Retro Edition
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Thread: Amazon Echo Dot - Review
Harrison 10:21 14th July 2017
I'd been interested in the Amazon Echo since launch, but the standalone speaker version seemed a bit expensive for what it could do. Then Amazon released the far cheaper, and smaller Echo Dot.

I finally bought a Dot this week during Amazon Prime day with it discounted to £35. Bargain and you really can't go wrong at that price.

Was it worth it? I definitely think so.

What's the Amazon Echo? It's a standalone Internet connected speaker and audio communication device. It's tied into Amazon's services so you need a prime account to get the most from it.

You communicate with the device by asking it questions or giving it commands. Say the assigned name (Alexa as standard with 3 other names to switch to) to get the device's attention and then give it a command or ask a question.

If you ask a question it will use the Internet to find the answer and then reply in a very clear voice. Ask something like time or date, weather, temperature or any search you like and it uses Bing to find the answer (probably instead of Google due to their new directly competing and similar Google Android play device which uses their own services).

My son thought it was great and was asking Alexa things like how heavy is a house, or how big is the sun. Also useful for quick things like asking how a word is spelt or asking it to do some maths for you. Works perfectly and the answer is accurate and clear.

What else can the Echo do? The larger Echo had a very good Bluetooth speaker and is loud and good enough for most rooms. You can listen to music, radio and podcasts easily. For radio it uses Tunein and this works perfectly without needing a subscription. And for music with a Prime account you have access to a few million tracks, or you can link Spotify or your iTunes accounts.

I linked my Spotify account and made it the default music account. So now when I ask it to play music it searches Spotify and plays it. Simple! You basically just say "Alexa play "Song title" by "Artist"". Or you could just say "Play "Artist"" and it will play a random selection, or just a song title and it will search for it, but you can get some random wrong result with this, but that's to be expected. Spotify works well though. You can issue commands like pause, next, previous, stop, resume. You can also use the Spotify app on your phone to control and select the Echo as the device to play back. But can still control it from the Echo voice commands and the app at the same time which is cool.

You also have access to books. Audio books if you have an Audible account, and Kindle books from your Amazon account. For Kindle books it reads them to you. I've only tried this quickly and it reads back using Alexa. The diction is good and clear but you can hear the slight automated metallic clipping between some words, but for a computer reading text it does a very good job. If you don't like Alexa reading it you can try one of the other 3 avaliable alternative voices available in settings.

What else?

You can also add lists such as shopping and todo lists then ask Alexa to read the list for you or add new items.

Link your calendar such as Google, Microsoft or Apple and then ask Alexa to tell you if you have something scheduled or add an event. It can also give alerts.

You can set alarms and timers too.

Next are Skills. To add extra features to the Echo you install Skills from the App. Think of these like Echo apps. Things like train timetables or bus routes, Uber taxi ordering, fast food orders, news feeds. You think of it there might be something available. And tied into Amazon you can search for products just by asking and Alexa will ask if you went to buy it. You can also setup shopping and ordering and get Alexa to quickly reorder from your Amazon account.

A quick note regarding accounts. The Echo is linked to your Amazon account. So when you ask Alexa anything it does it through your account. And when you change settings or add skills it does this logged into your Amazon account through the App. If you have more then one person in your house using the Echo you might not want them accessing your account directly. That's OK because they have thought about that. You can go to household in settings and add additional user accounts. Then they log into the app from their own account. You can also add children profiles and it asks for a date of birth for what I assume is to add censorship. I've added my son but haven't looked into it in more detail yet.

Having accounts linked means you can also stop accidental ordering from your main account. There is a setting to disable ordering using your account for all users. You can also set a number pass code that needs repeating before any order is allowed so that's worth setting up. Especially if it's something like asking Alexa to read a book which needs to be purchased. I could imagine my son asking for something, Alexa asking if it should be purchased and him saying yes.

You can also setup a travel route you take regularly such as to work in settings and then when your ask for travel information it knows your standard route to check and report journey time and any delays.

And for news and weather it had a news briefing setup. The default setup has its own weather and news feed setup, but you have alternative services via skills you can add so can use a different weather service and add a list of news feeds by installing skills. Then when you ask for the news it will include news from all your added skill feeds. Mine f.ex. is set to include bbc news, sky news and F1 news. For some feeds Alaxa will read the headlines, but for things like BBC and Sky news it actually links and plays back the actual news which is nice.

Now to Smart Home. This was the reason I first became interested in the Echo as it supports most smart home devices.

We had a good deal at the end of last year from British Gas to have the Hive system installed. This replaces your central heating and hot water thermostat and timer with a smart one you can control from your phone. Set schedules, room temp, turn water and heating on or off etc. But Hive does much more as you can buy smart light bulbs, motion sensors, door and window sensors, and now a camera. All controlled from the app and you can link events so if a motion sensor is triggered you could tell it to turn a light on f.ex.

With the Echo I added the Hive skill and can now control my Hive with voice control. I can ask it to set a temperature, turn the water and central heating on or off. And with hive lighting setup correctly in zones you can just say "Alexa turn the hall light on" or "Alexa dim lounge light to 30%". And if you have the colour hue lights you could say "Alexa make the room gold" etc. Quite cool. And if you have smart plugs you can then do things like turn the kettle, fan, or desk light on. Really cool features. I really didn't see a point in smart homes until I got the Hive (only because i needed a new thermostat). And now can see is as very useful.

I think that's about it for common abilities.

What's the difference between the Echo and the Echo Dot? The Echo is a larger standalone device with a good Bluetooth speaker. It has good sound and it's great as a playback device to stream Internet music or anything from your local devices.

The Echo Dot is much smaller. It's only about 2cm tall and about the circumstance of a coffee mug, so very small. It's however a good weight so won't move too easily. It has a built in speaker and I was actually surprised how clear and loud it can go without distortion. It's never going to have the bass or volume of the larger Echo but it's more than loud enough in my living room for general music, radio or other activities. You will be surprised how good the speaker is for the size.

The big surprise with the Dot is that for the much cheaper price you have addition features. The Larger Echo can receive audio via Bluetooth from another device, as well as from wifi and the Internet, but it can't connect to anything else or output audio other then through its own speaker. The Dot by contrast can connect to and control other Bluetooth devices, so if you have a sound bar you can pair it to the Dot and then control it from the Dot and stream music to the speaker. In addition the Dot has a 3.5mm audio out socket, so you can plug it into any audio system, amplifier, receiver or hifi. This really adds something special to the Dot as it can then be used to turn any existing audio setup into a smart Internet connected, voice controlled, bluetooth and wifi enabled home music setup. Having similar features built into an AV receiver costs quite a lot for those models, but for under £50 you can just connect the dot and get these and much more. Internet radio, podcasts, music streaming, local audio streaming. Very nice and well worth it.

For this reason unless you are specifically in need of a standalone Bluetooth speaker for your kitchen, dining room,office etc then get the dot as it can do more.

Home theatre entertainment companies are also jumping on board. Sonos are adding support so you can pair and control your Sonos setup from the Dot. That's pretty nice especially if you have multiroom Sonos zones so you can tell Alaxa to play different things in different rooms and set volumes, or link them all for a party and let guests control what's playing via voice.

Harmony have also added their own skills. I've not looked into this yet but I'm assuming it adds voice home cinema control to your setup which can only be good. So with the Dot and supporting devices in a home cinema setup, using just your voice you can adjust the lighting, set the speaker volume, turn on the display via a smart plug and tell it what to play. Anyone else suddenly realising the Star Trek voice controlled computer is now here and a reality? ;-)

So in conclusion I highly recommend it. Definitely consider an Amazon prime account to get the most from it but it works fine without one. You just lose some things this Amazon Music, Kindle and the music cloud storage. But if you have a Spotify or iTunes account you won't be missing much.

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Stephen Coates 20:48 14th July 2017
Originally Posted by Harrison:
Quite cool. And if you have smart plugs you can then do things like turn the kettle, fan, or desk light on.
Does it fill the kettle up for you as well?
Harrison 01:53 15th July 2017
Not yet! I bet they are working on a kettle connected to the water supply.

You can get Internet connected coffee machines now that grind the coffee and make it ready for you.

In a way filling the kettle before bed and asking to turn it on is similar to the old teasmaid everyone used to have in the 60s and 70s. And with smart plugs you can set a schedule too.

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Tiago 09:57 4th August 2017
what's the difference to "ok google"?
A friend of mine has a similar device, but works with "ok google". He can also order to play musics, change lights, ask something etc... looks very similar.
Harrison 11:17 6th August 2017
Google's one is very similar and there are more about to be released. Obviously Google is only using its own services and the device can really only do the same as you speaking to your phone.

The advantage of Amazon's Echo is that it's much more open source. There are no paid "apps", known as skills, on the echo and no adverts. All are free. There will be on Google's device. The number of supported skills and devices is about 6000 on the Echo at the month compared to about 300 on Google.

Amazon also has the huge advantage of thy Amazon store and associated services such as Audible.

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HilarioLap 14:28 24th November 2017
Originally Posted by Demont Cleaner:
Google's one is very similar and there are more about to be released. Obviously Google is only using its own services and the device can really only do the same as you speaking to your phone.

The advantage of Amazon's Echo is that it's much more open source. There are no paid "apps", known as skills, on the echo and no adverts. All are free. There will be on Google's device. The number of supported skills and devices is about 6000 on the Echo at the month compared to about 300 on Google.

Amazon also has the huge advantage of thy Amazon store and associated services such as Audible.

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Remember that episode of the Simpsons where they're in that futuristic house and Pierce Brosnan is talking to them.

How long before this ai stuff control all the appliances in your house, better not annoy it lol.

These echos are really cheap because of black friday so I may get one to test.
Demon Cleaner 15:41 24th November 2017
I got a Prime account now too, as it was not possible before here in Luxembourg, and now I can get Prime from Germany. So I got 3 month trial, after that itís payable, and I took already advantage of the free shipping service. I also have Amazon video now, besides Netflix, they have different stuff than Netflix obviously. And further it will be 6Ä monthly which is basically nothing, so I guess I will keep it.

Gonna read your detailed review now, as I didnít do that yet, because I couldnít get Prime anyway
Harrison 10:49 28th November 2017
Amazon Prime isn't really a requirement of the Echo, but it is a nice addition. Adds Amazon Music to the Echo and a few other services. I tend to use Spotify with it instead. Prime free deliveries and offers are very useful though and as you say it really doesn't cost much. Their prime deliveries are fast too and have great tracking. I receive email and text tracking details. I ordered some micros cards in the sale on Saturday and they arrived Sunday morning. You can't argue with that service.

With the current Echo sales both of our parents have just purchased an Echo Dot. I doubt they will use most of the features but it's still useful.

A new feature now active in the uk is voice calling and messages. You can ask your Echo to make a voice call to another friend's Echo and the light circle glows yellow to alert you. Works ok. You can also call an echo from your mobile. And you can leave voice messages.

I use mine daily to ask the time or date. Set reminders or alarms. Set the temperature of my central heating or boost the hot water. Turn on, off or dim lights. Ask it to play music from Spotify or a radio station via Tunein.

It's also great if you want to quickly find something out. Faster to just ask than search Google.

I think if you are into streaming audio it's a great device. But better to get the cheaper Dot if you have good Bluetooth enabled speakers already as the Dot can stream it's audio to any Bluetooth device, including Sonos and most soundbars, whereas the full sized Echo is a standalone Bluetooth speaker and only accepts inputs not output streaming.

I'm also going to be adding some more home automation in the new year. I want to get some of the colour changing Hive lights for the games/study room so I can change the mood when gaming, watching a film or working. And some smart plugs to voice control things like standard lamps.

I might also get an active plug this week to control my outside Christmas lights. And all Hive lighting and smart devices can also have schedules set or be activated via motion and light sensors. So endless possibilities. Sadly I think Hive is a UK only system. Others like Nest exist. Or you can use a combination of other smart systems with the Echo, such as the Philips Hue system. And you can even get smart plug sockets now that don't even need their own hub setup and just work with the Echo. I think TPLink now make one.

One stumbling block to controlling lights gas been that they are normally the bulb itself which is a smart wifi device. I have some rooms with multilight light fittings or led lights so can't use these. But I noticed the other day a couple of companies are now making smart wall light switches so I'm going to investigate that.

My idea is smart plugs could also be useful for holiday mode. Power down everything you don't want on whilst on holiday, but utilise schedules to make lights or radio come on to make it seem someone is there.

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Demon Cleaner 13:08 28th November 2017
It's not really for me, as I play music via my Yamaha receiver through the 5.1 B&W system, same for listening internet radio. Otherwise I have my Shield which does basically the same. Have alarms ready, time is everywhere, calendars I don't use at all, or reminders, for that I have my long self created method Temperature pr heat settings I don't have, I use a thermostat which regulates the temperature automatically, no need to change. Only dimmable light I have is in the living room, and I need it when I'm lying on the couch, where my remote control is lying. Don't use Spotify or other music services. For holiday mode, I have a complete Daitem alarm system.
Harrison 12:32 1st December 2017
See I thought the same thing until we needed a new heating thermast and had an offer from British Gas to get their Hive system. That has automatic schedules and regulated temperature and you could just go to the wall unit and set it manually. But it's what triggered the start of home automation for me.

It wouldn't be as useful if we had a combination boiler, but this house has the older style gas boiler that heats water into a hot water tank so only heats water for showers etc when you tell it to. Not on demand. That's because we have solar hot water so it needs to store it. But that obviously doesn't heat in the winter. Being able to just tell the Hive system to boost it ready for a shower is useful. And being able to activate it before getting home is very useful. Especially in the day when the heating isn't on.

Lighting I thought was a gimmick until I thought about it. Having the hallway and landing lights with smart bulbs is handy as I can activate the lights before walking in the front door via a motion sensor. But also get them to a dimmed light at night.

Will also be getting some for the office and living room.

The Echo itself I only got because it was con offer and linked seemlessly into the Hive setup so I can control without needed to use the app.

For Echo alarms I find it most useful when cooking. And just generally to be able to quickly look something up.

The advantage for me regarding Echo Dot and audio is that it has both audio out and Bluetooth out. My Sony AV Amp also has built in Internet radio streaming but I tend to send audio from the Echo to it via Bluetooth these days. Same with Spotify. It's less hassle than actually going through my own music library.

Basically I only got into it because it was cheap. Smart Hive system because we needed a new heating control and the Echo because it was on offer.

With an Echo even if you only had one in the kitchen for radio and news bulletins in the morning is still useful.

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