The future is here, or at least beginning now. Remember in Star Trek when Captain Kirk would ask the computer a question and it would answer? Well, the Amazon Echo (aka Alexa) can do that – you can even program it to respond to "Computer" instead of "Alexa" to feel more like a space-navigating captain.
My wife and I received Alexa as a gift last year and it has truly changed the way we search, live, and shop.
What is Echo/Alexa?
Amazon's Echo/Alexa is a hands-free speaker device with voice control. If you’re a music lover, you'll be happy that Alexa can play music from most of your favorite streaming apps, including iHeartRadio, Pandora, and Spotify; you can also listen to your favorite audiobooks. If you’re a geek, Alexa responds to Star Wars quotes and will even settle that debate of “did Han shoot first?”
Alexa also provides conversions, measurements, quick math calculations, spelling corrections, answers questions about songs, finds Wikipedia entries, and answers those random questions running through your brain. And the best part is that when you ask for those things and Alexa is done answering, your song or book will resume immediately.
Echo/Alex Cost and Requirements
The price of the Amazon Echo is $179.99 (come on Amazon, you're not fooling anyone, it's $180.) You'll need wi-fi to run the Echo/Alexa and it's compatible with Fire OS, Android, and iOS devices and you can access it via a web browser.
You can ask for things like news, weather, and even jokes. The Amazon Echo/Alexa was designed for the “internet of things,” and can control things such as room lighting.
A huge advantage over other voice recognition software for my Amazon-ordering family is that with a simple voice command I can order more ... well, anything. Apple's Siri can't do that for me! A big advantage of the Echo/Alexa is the Household Profiles – multiple family members can use and modify shared features like shopping lists.
I quiz the Echo daily about business names and even categories. Such as, "Alexa, give me a list of marketing companies in Charlotte." I'm always relieved when Alexa says, "Leading Results"!
It's Not Quite Perfect ... Yet
One drawback my wife and I agree on is that Echo/Alexa can't differentiate between my voice and hers. Alexa recognizes anyone's voice, including our guests; we’d like to see the next upgrade have true and loyal voice recognition.
I'm a big fan of the film Her, which is about a man who develops a relationship with his highly intelligent and human-like operating system, Samantha. What I like best about the movie is that Samantha the OS is everywhere; I'm not sure how Amazon plans to compete with Apple's Siri since Amazon, unlike Siri, requires wi-fi and can’t follow you everywhere you go – but hopefully they’ll figure it out.
It’s one spectacular leap into the future – which is, I suppose, NOW.