The festive season is over and most of us are trying to find places within our homes to fit the strange gifts we received. An unexpected present that I was given was the Amazon Echo Dot 2nd Generation. The Dot is the smaller version of the Echo with most of the same features. Since its release (23rd June 2015) we have been inundated with TV commercials showing off both Echo & Alexa but as the product is a “first of a kind” many do not know what it is supposed to be. So, at HMP we start 2018 with an Amazon Echo Dot review. We will answer the question “What is Amazon Echo Dot” and talk about how it can be used around your homes. We will hopefully help you decide whether the Echo Dot and the technology is worth a purchase and whether we think it will take off.
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Amazon Echo Dot – What is Alexa & what can She do?
Many of you will have arrived at this post asking what is Amazon Echo Dot or what is Alexa? Before we begin our Amazon Echo Dot review it is important that we look at what the product is supposed to be. Echo & Alexa are two different things and we must ensure that you understand the difference and the concepts behind them. Amazon Echo devices are really a “first of a kind” solution and is leading the way for the technology. We begin this post addressing what is Amazon Echo Dot followed by a full Amazon Echo Dot Unboxing. [Read: Whats the Difference Between Amazon Echo and Echo Dot?]
What is Amazon Alexa?
Amazon Alexa is an intelligent personal assistant developed by the retail giant to be installed on their product range particularly the Echo. The idea is simple and is designed to be voice controlled only with no touch interaction. You begin a command with the word “Alexa” followed by what you would like it to do or a question. The Alexa software will then send your command over the internet to Amazon’s data centers. The back-end servers at Amazon will then provide the best response to your command. Alexa can also access websites like Wikipedia to find suitable answers to your queries. It is very similar to Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana. The Alexa software can be found on Amazon devices like the Echo, Echo Dot, Fire TV, Fire Stick or Fire Tablets. [Read: The Best Things You Can Do with Amazon Echo & Alexa]
What is Amazon Echo Dot?
So what is Amazon Echo Dot? The world is becoming smarter and the phrase “Smart Home” has been devised for the concept of completing standard day-to-day tasks around the house like switching on the lights using technology. The Amazon Echo is designed to put Alexa into the living room and to make her accessible without having to leave your sofa. It takes her away from the computer and gives her a presence. Instead of having to pick up a device to give the Alexa software a command the Echo box sits hidden away constantly waiting to hear your voice. [Read: How to Control Plex with Alexa – Media Streaming Voice Control]
Echo is voice only in both the commands that you give and the responses you receive. The intention of Echo is for you to be able to control the majority of your home tech simply saying commands. Amazon hopes that the Echo Dot and the Alexa software will become a fundamental part of daily lives. [Read: Steam Link Review – Stream Games to Every Room]
Amazon Echo Dot Unboxing
Most tech products we purchase these days are getting simpler and the Amazon Echo Dot is no different. Gone are the days where you got a full manual, independent mains adapter and a drivers CD. In the box you get the Amazon Echo Dot device itself which is roughly the size of a coffee mat. The Echo devices are available in both black and white. Most owners tend to place their Echo devices next to their TV sets and so you can purchase an Echo Dot that will sit well with your other hardware. The below image shows the full Amazon Echo Dot unboxing all laid out. [Read: How to Install Google Play Store on Amazon Fire Stick & Fire TV]
Also included in the box is a single micro USB cable and a mains adapter head as shown. To help you find your feet with the product three small instruction booklets are provided. This includes an Echo Dot overview document, a setup guide and leaflet containing things that you might want to say to Alexa. This is surprisingly useful for someone who has never used the product before. Using it you get a feel for what is possible with an Amazon Echo Dot device. [Read: Best NAS for Plex – A Network Media Server]
How Amazon Echo Dot Works
When your Amazon Echo Dot device is given access to your internet connection Alexa has the ability to search the net to find answers to your questions. If you think about when you type a question into Google the search engine will try to put a straight text based answer at the top of the search result. Alexa performs a search in a similar way in super quick time and then effectively reads out the top question result it finds from the search engine results. She also has a set of pre-configured web services for different things like weather reports or radio stations. Using the internet as a resource and a vast set of preset voice commands Alexa can find answers to pretty much any question you may have. [Read: How to use Handbrake to Compress Video – Handbrake Tutorial]
Another way in which Alexa works on the Amazon Echo Dot is by using skills. A skill is a set off functionality you can add to your Echo Dot either by logging into your Amazon account or by using the mobile app. Lets say the latest smart TV comes out with built in Freeview and catch-up TV capabilities. In order for Alexa to know how to control these type of devices she must have a new skill added to her library. [Read: Sideload Apps to Amazon Fire TV & Stick using ADB]
Adding Skills to Amazon Alexa
The Alexa app has a vast array of skills available for many devices to simply enable or disable. The door is already open for developers to write their own skill sets for Alexa and the Echo devices. For example developers have already created the required skill files to control Kodi with Amazon Alexa and other media center solutions. Alexa’s skill import functionality and the ease of deployment leads you to believe that the capabilities of the Echo Dot devices will grow rapidly and that we have only just scratched the surface of what is possible with this technology. [Read: Best Android UK TV Apps – Catch-up & Live TV]
Popular Uses for the Amazon Echo Dot
To fully answer the question “What is Amazon Echo Dot?” it is useful to look at some of its possible uses. Out of the box the Amazon Echo Dot can be used to simply answer your questions but this is only where the journey begins. Below is a list of common users for the Alexa assistant. I am yet to try all of these but here are some ideas that are currently popular. [Read: Best TV Box for Netflix and Online Streaming Services]
- Answering your difficult questions
- Play your music libraries
- Play popular radio stations
- Control your TV, satellite receiver or DVD player
- Control Plex with Alexa or a Kodi media center
- Turning your lights on and off
- Control your heating
- Add diary entries and alerts to your mobile phone
- Set alarms
- Receive weather reports and news updates for any location
- Make calls to smartphones or to other Amazon Echo devices
Whilst many of the tasks listed above can be applied to the Amazon Echo Dot out of the box some of these require additional hardware. For example if you would like to be able to switch your lights on and off you must purchase a suitable lighting system like the Philips Hue Lights. We did not try all of these tasks during the Amazon Echo Dot review but you will find many guides for these on the internet. [Read: Best CPU for Emulation – Computers, Consoles & Arcades]
Amazon Echo Dot Price
The price was an interesting part of our Amazon Echo Dot review.The Amazon Echo Dot price point is really pretty sweet for what you get. Amazon have been able to keep the price low due to the fact that the device itself doesn’t do much. It’s purpose is simply to record your voice and send it to Amazon. It is the Amazon back-end servers that then do the work whether this be to simply answer a question or to respond to one of your home devices. [Read: How to Install Amazon Store on Android – For Apps & Offers]
A real benefit of this is that you should not need to replace your Echo Dot device very often as most of the required software updates to Alexa will be done at the Amazon end and you will never see this. Using Alexa is without a doubt entertaining and is well worth the small fee. I do believe that we are yet to see what the full potential of this technology is. At its low cost it is certainly worth coming along for the journey. [Read: Plex Media Server Review – Stream to Multiple Rooms & Devices]
Amazon Echo Dot Performance & Usability
The Amazon Echo Dot is remarkably easy to setup. When you first add a power supply to your Amazon Echo device Alexa even tries to talk you though setting her up! No PC is required. You simply download the Amazon Echo app from your mobile phones app store and follow the onscreen instructions. During the setup process you are shown various videos and provided with a range of things to try to help you to learn how to use the product.
Once setup the Echo Dot is one true product that can be used by people of any age. You do not need to be able to use a PC only master various voice commands. If one command does not work it is simply a case of rewording the command to try to help Alexa to understand what you are asking. We were fully up and running with the device in around 10 minutes in to the Amazon Echo Dot review. [Read: 30 Best Kodi Skins – The Complete List]
Amazon Echo Dot – Solid Voice Recognition and Fast Responses
When you get to try an Echo product for the first time you cannot help but be impressed. Alexa seems to know everything and can find answers to your questions in no time at all. Voice recognition has been around for some time but not at this level! Mobile phones of 10 years ago had the ability to understand the command “Call John Smith” but this is the Premier League of voice recognition. The Echo Dot can pickup your voice at range and even when music is being played. With Alexa you can talk normally and do not need to change your voice to help it to understand your commands. The Amazon Echo Dot performance is impressive to say the least and remarkable for the first of a kind product! [Read: How to Download APK Files From Google Play – For Manual Installs]
HMP Verdict – Amazon Echo Dot Review
If you like the concept of a smart home and love to try out new technology then we can fully recommend the Amazon Echo Dot or the Echo device (if you want a large speaker included). When you first receive your Echo Dot you will undoubtedly have hours of fun talking to Alexa. Just asking questions and and finding out what she is capable of. As time progresses you will build upon your Amazon Alexa skill sets and integrate the Echo device into more and more of your home appliances. One of the great points to take on board is that with limited data stored on the Echo itself you should not need to upgrade any time soon and your device should last. The price point is very competitive when you consider what is possible with this technology. [Read: Best PC Game Controllers for HTPC – Emulators & Steam]
For a “First of a kind” product the Amazon Echo Dot’s performance will not fail to impress you. The voice recognition is so accurate even with a broad accent and the response to your questions are fast and precise. The skills list for the Amazon Echo Dot product has exploded since its launch. I do not expect this to change. I believe that we have only scratched the surface of what the Echo, Alexa and this technology can do. The journey has only just begun. At HMP, following our Amazon Echo Dot review we fully recommend the device and that you come along for the ride! [Read: Top Mini ITX Cases for the Smallest HTPC Build]