The smart home revolution is about to get a massive boost, with the announcement that Amazon Echo is coming to the UK this autumn. Here’s everything you need to know about this revolutionary new gadget.
WHAT IS ECHO?
Echo is a speaker, but it’s also a really good listener. That’s because it’s powered by Alexa, a voice-controlled assistant much like Apple’s Siri or Google’s eponymous helper.
You can ask Alexa almost anything, from whether it will rain today, to how how your favourite football team did at the weekend, and she will give you an instant answer.
But Alexa doesn’t just field questions. Because Echo is connected to your home network, it can communicate with your other smart gadgets, like Hue lightbulbs, a Hive thermostat or your Sonos music system.
So ask Alexa to turn the heating down, switch on the lights or play some jazz, and she’ll happily oblige.
I see this as a massive game changer. Smart home tech may be proliferating, but controlling it is a faff. However, with Echo and Alexa, there’s no need to be constantly delving in and out of different apps. Just say what you want and Alexa does it. End of.
No wonder so many existing users want to marry her…HOW DOES ECHO WORK?
Echo promises ‘room-filling sound and crisp vocals’ from its 360-degree firing speaker. Also on board are six microphones, plus one in the middle.
The system has been developed to hear your voice from across a busy (and noisy) family kitchen. Amazon calls this ‘far-field voice recognition, as opposed to the near-field version you’ll find in your phone, where the microphone is next to your mouth.
Echo uses something called ‘beam forming’ software, which amplifies the sound from the microphone that picks up your voice, and surpresses the background noise picked up by the other mics.IS ECHO SPYING ON ME?
Hopefully not. Amazon says it’s taking privacy very seriously, and that Echo won’t stream anything you say to the cloud until you say the wake word, ‘Alexa’.
Echo will then light up blue, and when ever it’s in this state, anything you say will be streamed to the web.
Don’t want echo to eavesdrop on your conversation? press the padlock button on the top. This means nothing you will say will be streamed to the cloud.
In this mode, power to the mics is truly shut off, so it really won’t hear. Echo will also shine red, so you know it’s safe to chat.
WHAT DOES ALEXA SOUND LIKE?
Like a digital Eliza Doolittle, Alexa is having ongoing elocution lessons to make her sound less tinny and robotic. With every software update, you can expect her to sound a little more human. And English. Because Alexa has a voice specific to her country.
She spells colour with a u. Ask her to do so and she puts real emphasis on that letter, like she’s really proud of it. She also knows a UK pint measure from a US one, and if you ask her how tall the Gherkin is, she knows you’re not talking about a vegetable.
There’s a fun side to Alexa, too. I’m not saying she’s the next Amy Schumer, but tell her ‘this is a dead parrot’ and she’ll retort ‘no it isn’t, it’s just pining for the fjords.’ She’ll even finish off catchphrases like ‘Nice to see you, to see you… NICE’WHAT CAN ECHO AND ALEXA DO?
An awful lot, which I have put together a separate post on some of the many things Alexa can do…
Amazon Echo: 14 brilliant things Alexa can do
WHO IS ECHO FOR?
The joy of Echo and Alexa is that anyone can use it, from toddlers up. But for anyone that struggles to use a traditional computer interface, be they elderly, dyslexic, visually impaired or disabled in some way, Alexa has some quite amazing potential for empowerment.
HOW MUCH DOES ECHO COST?
Echo will cost £149.99, but if you’re an Amazon Prime customer pre-ordering in the next two days, you can get one for £99.99.
Amazon’s Echo Dot, which is a smaller version that does not have a speaker but instead links up to Bluetooth speakers, will also go on sale for £49.99. AmyTweet