Alexa, turn on the living room lights! – The Echo Smartspeaker Keeps Getting Smarter
I’ve had the Echo Smartspeaker (containing the digital assistant named Alexa) since December 2014, and it’s been a fun ride as Amazon keeps pushing out new updates. In January the device received an update to push any music app running on your phone to the speaker via Bluetooth. That was the clincher for me, and now the Echo Speaker is used almost constantly when I’m home. But Amazon wasn’t done yet. Today the company announced a new update, which is the ability to pair Smart Home Technology. This let’s you control those devices with your voice. So what exactly does that mean? For now, it’s all about the light bulbs.
I’ve been anxious to get some WIFI enabled light bulbs. But they are pricey. A basic setup will require you to drop $100 on the low end, and several hundred isn’t out of the question. So my light bulbs remain “dumb” for now. A smart light bulb kit comes with a WIFI Link, which you plug into the wall and a couple light bulbs (you can always add more). Before Echo got involved, you controlled those bulbs with your smartphone, which is still pretty cool! But now you can pair those bulbs with the Echo Smartspeaker and simply tell the lights to turn on. Now, you gotta admit, that’s pretty awesome! I have a couple lamps that, based on their location, are a pain to turn on, and my dream of just telling them to turn on and off is close to becoming reality.
But the potential goes way beyond just light bulbs. The Echo Smartspeaker, since the very beginning, has been a signpost in tech showing us where smart technology in the home can take us. With smart device connections, one day you could tell the coffee maker to start in the morning, the doors to lock before going to bed, and the dishwasher to start in the middle of the night. Even Crock Pots are getting connected! There are so many possibilities, and the Echo Smartspeaker is just the first step in that direction.
Of course all first generation devices have their glitches and the speaker remains pricey at $200 (by invite only). Prime members still get a discount though at $150 (again, by invite only). If you want an invite click HERE.
I’ve had a lot of gadgets, but the best ones have always been those that integrate easily into my daily life, enhancing it and making things easier. Now I can ask for a news update any time of the day, I can ask for the current traffic report before hitting the road, and I can tell it to play any song in my music library and it does it, consistently well. And hopefully soon I’ll be turning the lights on and off with my voice! It’s exciting to see what this thing will do next!
The Update I Was Waiting for… Music on the Echo Smart Speaker!!
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:
Amazon Echo Review: Listen Up –The Verge
Amazon Echo: A Promising but Not Fully Mature Voice — USA Today
Yes, you can stream any audio to Amazon Echo — CNET