I first reviewed the Echo Smart Speaker in a “First Impressions” post on 12/11/14. So be sure to check that out here.
I’ve been kicking around writing a full review of the Echo Smart Speaker recently. The thing holding me back though was that I was pretty frustrated with a few specific elements of the speaker. I’m fine writing a bad review (check out my thoughts on the WinBook!), but the Echo had such great potential, and I knew it was one major update away from being something amazing. Well today that update came. Let me tell you briefly what it is.
It is a fully functioning bluetooth speaker…NOW
When the Echo first arrived it could play music, but your choices were very limited. You were stuck with Amazon Music, I Heart Radio, and TuneIn Radio. If you didn’t have your music collection in Amazon’s cloud, you only had those streaming services as options. Amazon Prime Members can get access to Prime Music, but if you’re used to services like Spotify, RDIO, or Google Music, you’ll find Prime’s offerings pretty limited. And that was the kicker, and why I didn’t want to pass judgement on the device. Echo was a bluetooth speaker that didn’t act like a bluetooth speaker. It acted like a conduit to the Amazon ecosystem, which is very much the business model of the company (ask any Kindle Fire owner). This $100 device ($200 for non-Prime members) couldn’t attach to my phone via bluetooth to allow me to stream other music services, and that was a huge gap. But now that gap has been filled.
Just this week Amazon released on update that allows for bluetooth access. In their marketing they state that now “Spotify, Pandora, and iTunes Music” will work with Echo, but in truth any music service can now connect via bluetooth. That includes RDIO and Google Music, among many others. And now my Echo Smart Speaker is able to play my entire collection (personal music stored in iTunes, and music streaming via RDIO).
It is the smoothest setup I’ve ever seen
I was very frustrated when I first set up my Echo back in December. The need to create a new WIFI connection to link my phone, install the app, and then connect my home wireless was tedious and touchy. It took me a while to get things going. I think about casual users whenever I set up any device, and I worried that the setup was not the smooth experience Amazon is known for. But they fixed some bugs with the role-out of bluetooth connectivity. Here’s how it works:
1. Say “Alexa, pair my device”
2. Alexa tells you to navigate to the bluetooth settings and select “Echo-###”
3. You follow those directions
4. Alexa says, “Your device is now paired”
That’s it. This worked on both my iPhone 6 and my iPad Mini (1st gen). Seamless. Once you start playing music on your mobile device, you can control it with your voice, just like the original music apps. Play, Pause, Next Song, Previous Song, Volume. It’s all controlled via voice. Though you can always control it with your mobile device too.
The Update That Was Needed
The Echo Smart Speaker is a great device. I already loved it before this update. Through Prime Music I found many playlists that have filled my house with music. I’ve used the “add to my grocery list” and “set a timer” functions many times. I ask for my “news update” now and then, and I think it’s amazing. I can see such great potential in this little speaker. And now with the full bluetooth functionality I’m not searching for music, or uploaded hundreds of CDs into Amazon’s cloud. I can use any music streamer I want from my phone or tablet, and the experience is great.
The jury is still out on whether or not it’s worth the full $200 that Amazon says it will cost when the Beta period is over, but we’ll deal with that when it comes. For now the Echo is truly living up to it’s potential.
Here are a couple other reviews worth checking out: