One of the presents we got this past Christmas was a surprise Amazon Echo. It wasn’t even something on my radar to get/look at/envy/wish list. But apparently it’s the Hot New Thing that a lot of people have, so we set it up in our kitchen and have been trying to find a purpose for it ever since.
Issues of voluntarily bugging your own home aside (as Alexa is always listening for her activation word), I still don’t quite get the device. It’s still more of a novelty than a useful tool, having yet to jump that gap. My tablet used to exist more on the novelty side for a long time until it finally found its niche in my life, so we’ll see what happens here.
So what is the Echo? It’s a tube that’s an audio-activated computer coupled with a booming speaker. It listens for prompts that start with the word “Alexa” and then provides feedback or music based on that. You can ask it to play songs, give you the weather, deliver a news briefing, answer questions, set timers, and so on.
The thing is that I use this so infrequently when I’m in the kitchen, which is kind of a shame because I probably spend about an hour there every day cooking dinner, making lunches, and helping the kids with homework. The news briefing is nice, particularly because you can customize it to include certain segments. The music… is not so great.
The problem is that Echo is fully tied into the Amazon ecosystem, so while it can access music that I’ve purchased through Amazon, it won’t touch iTunes or my computer’s hard drive. So I can’t have it play the exact music I want to hear, and I can’t set it up with Spotify without a Spotify premium account, and so on. It just doesn’t have the best array of radio stations or access to music. I can upload 250 songs to Amazon’s cloud drive for free, but the next step past that is $25 or so to get 250,000 song storage for a year. I’m not about to spend money to upload music just for a year.
I could use the Echo as a bluetooth speaker for my phone, which has the music that I want. But I already had a bluetooth speaker and if I’m going to use the Echo for music, I’d want it to be fully voice activated (versus having to take out my phone, turn on bluetooth, and play my music).
Other features of the Echo, such as accessing smart gadgets (which our house has none), are not needed at all. My commute is five minutes down the road; I don’t really need Alexa to tell me traffic conditions. The various apps that you can load seem more gimmicky than not, although I haven’t explored these fully. I haven’t tried having it access Audible to read my books, but I probably won’t do that because I don’t always want my kids to hear some of the words in them (I usually wear headphones if I’m doing chores and book-listening).
I’d hate for this device to become a paperweight, so I’m still looking for its purpose. If it could access all of my music, that would be a huge benefit — I would love to be able to turn on my tunes on demand. As it is, I’m still looking.