Finding a purpose for my Amazon Echo


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.


11 thoughts on “Finding a purpose for my Amazon Echo

  1. Aywren Sojourner January 19, 2017 / 12:18 pm

    I originally picked my Echo up thinking to use it with my Spotify account, too. When I discovered that was a no-go, I hooked it up with my Pandora account instead. They have a nice radio station that gathers all of your upvoted songs ever called “Thumbprint Radio.” So when I want to listen to something, I just prompt Alexa to play Pandora and it knows exactly which station I listened to last.

    I also use her for weather, listening to audio books (I have an Audible account, but you’d be surprised how many of your Kindle ebooks Alexa can read to you) and for setting cooking timers. She might be useful for timers for you since you have her in the kitchen. If you sort through the Alexa app, you can install a lot of other things, including workouts and such, too, though many are somewhat gimmicky, as you noted. My sister and brother-in-law love to play the Jeopardy app on the weekdays. 🙂

  2. Kirk January 19, 2017 / 12:22 pm

    The piece that I really feel is missing is the ability for me to answer my phone through this device. We no longer have a land line, so I sometimes don’t hear my cell phone ring if I set it down when at home. There are devices you can buy to ring for your phone, but they’re not great and the Echo should be able to do this.

  3. captaincursor January 19, 2017 / 12:23 pm

    I use it as a radio and as a way to set timers and alarms. Mostly though I regret the fact that I have to scream at her to stop the alarm. “Alexa, thank you.” doesn’t stop the alarm or music, while “ALEXA STOP IT!” does. So I feel like she is my new roommate that I don’t quite get along with.

  4. repgrind January 19, 2017 / 1:14 pm

    Same problem here. Not a gift I was expecting and I didn’t even really know what it did. So far, I only use it to play Jeopardy.

  5. bhagpuss January 19, 2017 / 2:54 pm

    I spent a while looking at Echo on the Amazon store and couldn’t figure out what it was for. I am planning to get smart gadgets sometime never if not even sooner, which looks to be the main use for the thing, so forget that, but every other use seems like a complicated way to do something I can already do really easily. Call me old school but when I want to listen to the radio in the kitchen, which is every time I’m in the kitchen, I switch on my radio – which is in the kitchen!

    I’m all for smart AI that can respond intelligently to voice commands – I just think we’re still a few years off from such a thing actually existing. The current versions are like those Fisher-Price laptops for three year olds compared to what I’d actually want such a device to do. Maybe I read too much Philip K Dick growing up…

  6. Dez Tal January 20, 2017 / 2:16 am

    Aahhhh is that what they are. One of the characters had one on Season 2 of Mr Robot so it features a lot. I think it was a reflection on how lonely she is and disconnected from real people. On a similar less AI vain I was just looking at a Sony BSP60 for my desk. Its like a cross between BB8 and a bluetooth speaker.

  7. Dobablo January 20, 2017 / 6:39 am

    Our Echo Dot acts as the kitchen radio (it can play normal and internet radio stations with no issue) and adds items to our shopping and to do lists based on what we tell it. It is our notebook for when cannot find a pen or our hands are full.

  8. Regardless January 20, 2017 / 11:46 pm

    Microwave. Smartphone. Tablet. Echo. Echo is practical for daily shopping list (I use Our Groceries app with Echo), random pop culture info etc. The real beauty is going from the Flintstones to the Jetsons for less than a grand! Echo is my voice activated do it all! Alexa turn on the tv, Alexa turn on the bedroom fan, Alexa turn on the garage light. And with IFTT, Alexa trigger bedtime, living room tv, lights, ceiling fan go off thermostat sets to 70 simultaneously bedroom lights come on, ceiling fan comes on and thermostat sets to 72. For music , I have Amazon prime, however tune in radio, I heart radio and pandora are all free and awesome. Nothing like voice activation and whole home automation for a tenth of what it use to cost and it was tethered to a panel on a wall. Microwave. Smartphone. Tablet. Echo is revolutionary. Period.

  9. Kim Tucker January 21, 2017 / 12:10 am

    You can actually use the iheartradio ap with alexa for free and have her plays songs that you like. Such as “alexa, play the 80s station from iheartradio.” Etc
    We have also upgraded a few of our lightswitches to work with her and are now able to have her turn lights on/off thru out the house, whether we are home or not.
    Its also great for adding items to grocery list. Now when my kids use the last of something, they tell alexa to put it on my shopping list.
    This is just a few things we use alexa for. The possibilities are becoming endless. I suggest you research a bit more. Also if you have a prime account, the music is pretty much endless. Good luck yo you.

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