Amazon describes their new Echo device as a speaker, but fans of Iron Man will understand when I describe it to be a lot more like J.A.R.V.I.S.! Designed around the sound of your voice, the Echo is always on and ready to respond to your every command –beginning with the wake-word ‘Alexa’. Sure it also plays music (from local radio stations, NPR, and ESPN from TuneIn), but all the while it is ready to answer questions like: “Will it rain tomorrow?” or “How many teaspoons are in a tablespoon?” (plus being eager to deliver the news, forecast the weather, set alarms and timers, and help manage your shopping lists).
The accuracy remains to be seen (or experienced), but Amazon claims the Echo can hear you from quite a distance (thanks to a circular array of seven microphones that use ‘beam-forming technology’ that will hear you from any direction).
The Echo also has its head (brain) in the cloud, running with help from Amazon Web Services. What this means for consumers is an ever-expanding database of knowledge with the Echo learning as you use it, adjusting itself to your speech patterns and vocabulary.
Using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and controlled by a companion mobile app (even when you are away from home), Amazon has packed a lot of features into a small package measuring about 9.25 inches high and 3.27 inches wide.
Amazon Echo is currently available by invitation only for $199 USD, though membership really does have its privileges –those subscribed to Prime can grab one for only $99 USD.