Living with Alexa : an Amazon Echo Review (Part 2)

Hello again everyone, and welcome to part two of my review for the Amazon Echo! Okay, that sounds too formal. Let’s start again – but first, be sure you’re caught up on the first part.

I’ve been living with Alexa for just over two weeks now. We’ve gotten more and more comfortable with each other. As I said in my initial review, we didn’t quite work out as work partners in the office, so I tried to turn it into a little more of a personal device.

I’m going to cut straight to the chase here and skip the eloquence – here’s a summary of a few additional bulletpoints and thoughts that have come up in the past week.

Definitely not a Home Center

Right off the bat, I can say that Amazon Echo’s advertisement of a “home center” replacement for Siri is just not there yet, at least under most circumstances. However, in a standalone situation, Alexa is found to be most useful in the bedroom.

She’s got a wonderful feature as an alarm clock, and although she’s not particularly loud, it’s a much less offensive noise than a regular clock and certainly better than a cell phone alarm. Again, I hate that there’s a flip side to this coin – for some reason, Alexa doesn’t have a built-in clock radio feature. Waking up to a music stream would be an incredible little feature that just doesn’t exist.

The closest you can get to it is to have Alexa sync to your smartphone, and download a radio alarm app. It’s sketchy at best, and flawed in reality – a very disappointing shortcoming I hope they overcome in a software update soon.

Has some connectivity features, but not enough

Two of the very well touted features of the Amazon Echo is that it can sync with the Nest thermostat and the Hue lightbulb – both of which would be really great I’m sure… Should you be willing to drop $200+ on either system in addition. They’ve made an effort to open it up for additional functionality by pairing with IFTTT, which allows for some nice features I requested earlier:

  1. I can add a memo to Evernote
  2. I can add something to Google Calendar
  3. I can integrate with some fancy third party services

Unfortunately, it’s all through a workaround. Instead of native connection, you have to say something like “Alexa, add X to my To Do list in Evernote”, even if it’s just a memo. To Do seems to be the only real command that IFTTT can work with, which is extremely limiting, and particularly frustrating – I’d rather just grab my smartphone and type in the note or use the voice recording.

Certain connectivity features are missing, but extremely baffling as to why

One thing I don’t understand is how it doesn’t integrate with an Amazon Fire TV stick. How amazing would it be to say “Alexa, can you put It’s Always Sunny on?” and have her send something to the Fire TV stick through Wifi? It’d be incredible, but it’s a dream. No can do. Want to have Alexa play an audiobook from your Audible account? Sorry – you’ll have to Bluetooth in through your smartphone. It’s these silly oversights that take away from the value of the machine that I can only hope some engineer forgot to add in and is coming down the pipeline.

The long and short of it

For now, even at the reduced $99 Amazon Prime member price, it’s hard for me to recommend buying an Amazon Echo. While the premise, the hardware, and the capability is there, everything else is just missing. So much potential is wasted due to the lack of an open API, that until one comes along (if ever – the Kindle Fire OS hints otherwise), I can see forgetting about Alexa entirely and moving on as if I never purchased, $99 poorer.


As I said before, something like this has a learning curve – we’ll revisit my relationship with the Amazon Echo in a couple of weeks once I’ve tried to push a few more boundaries. Until then, wish us luck!

3 thoughts on “Living with Alexa : an Amazon Echo Review (Part 2)”

  1. You say that the only music is Amazon Prime, You can get any radio station on Tune in radio and I Heart radio. Also works with Pandora. You can sync 250 of your own songs to Amazon for free. It also now can connect with Google calendar. The IFTTT has a lot of recipes for it. I have one I ask Alexia where is my phone and a few minutes later my phone rings. I misplace my I phone from time to time. I’ve had mine since May 8th and they keep adding features.

    Reply
    • You can now listen to audible books through the echo without Bluetooth. I think you should correct your review about where you can get music from.

      Reply
      • Hi Matt,

        You’re correct on both accounts – however, things like the Audible feature were added post-publication (not until 6/6/15), and when written, IFTTT recipes relied on workarounds with the “add to grocery list” and “add to to-dos” voice commands, neither of which should have been required at the onset.

        In the next follow up segment due in a week or so, those features will be covered. The series is about the evolution of my time with an Echo, so naturally it’s set to get better as it has more time on the market (and hopefully after they release some sort of dev kit).

        Reply

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