Sign In

POLL: Will You Buy the Amazon Echo? (Echo... Echo... Echo...)

Prime members can buy an Echo for 50% off, but what is it exactly? We have the run-down on this new device.
Published
Amazon Echo

In early November, Amazon announced that it'd be getting into the stand-alone, always-on, voice-activated, information-box game when it unveiled its Amazon Echo. (To our knowledge, they are the only player in this very niche field, but enter it they did!) Amazon Prime members could sign up to be put on a waiting list for an invite that would nab them the $199 list price device for 50% off, dropping it to $99. Yes, with free shipping via Prime.

Two months later, Amazon continues to offer this deal to Prime members, which has proven quite popular with our readers. So we began to wonder: What's the deal with the Echo, and will you invest in the first-generation, nascent technology?

A Stand-Alone Personal Assistant Device

If we didn't know anything about technology, we'd say the Echo was a magical cylinder in which resides a tiny wizard. However, knowing what we know of modern technological "wizardry," we're going to assume it has microchips and stuff inside it. The result is an always-on box that sits, patiently waiting for you to utter the activation word (either "Alexa" or "Amazon").

Once you do that, the Echo starts listening to you. You can ask it things like, "What's the weather?" or command it to tell a joke, and it will consult the Internet and then tell you the weather or a joke (respectively). Other answerable requests include asking for the time, setting an alarm, reading information from a Wikipedia page, playing songs from your Amazon Music library (everyone uses that, right?), getting news updates from NPR or ESPN, creating to-do lists, and more.

Better still, since it's connected to the Internet, Amazon can push updates to it which expand its capabilities. One day, you might be able to say "Amazon? Wash my car!" It won't be able to do that, but it might be able to tell you why it's not capable of doing that. What a glorious future!

With everything this little counter-top box can do, it's like finally being able to take the Siri, Google Now, or Cortana function out of your smartphone and put it into another, stand-alone device. One that costs $99 — for a limited time and if you're a Prime member! All kidding aside, we can see how an on-demand informational service like Echo could be of benefit, especially for those with impaired eyesight. However, at its current early stage, we wonder how useful the device would be.

Concerns Over Privacy, Annoying Names

Anticipating your security concerns of an "always listening" device, Amazon has thought to put a mute button on the top of the Echo, to prevent your conversations from being overheard, if only by the device itself. When pressed, the device will not connect with the Internet again until it's physically unmuted. This will may prove to be a useful button to have when you find yourself discussing that one Billy Joel song, or the river in South America.

For us, the worst part of its design is that the trigger-word is "Alexa" or "Amazon." Imagine having "Amazon" be the first thing you say every morning. "Amazon, what's the news this morning?" That's some tight brand-name reinforcement, but it'd get old quickly. We have to imagine that an OS update is in the works, one that will allow you to set a custom name.

Personally, we think we'd opt for "CTHULHU, AWAKE!" if only to taunt the cyclopean nightmares that live in R'lyeh. But what name would you choose? Tell us, in the comments below!


User Experience Researcher

Jeff Somogyi is the DealNews User Experience Researcher. Since working here he's written deals, features, promotional and newsletter copy, blog posts, as well as scripts for our videos. Follow him on Google+, Twitter at @sommerjam or his blog.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
You might also like
Leave a comment!

or Register
28 comments
grubesicgirl
Yup, bought one. Arrives in a few days.
Mr. Mailman
Requested my invitation day 1. Just got my invite to purchase, last week. Only thing is, expected delivery date is April 23, 2015. Well, I will see if it is worth the wait. I decided since I am a Prime member, that for $99, why not. Have read all the pros and cons and figure that with future updates, Echo could go from a some what useful, but entertaining object , too a really useful, must have house hold assistant. Maybe things like check and read emails (or even write a new one), schedule appointments, add and remove from numerous list or even control house hold lights and locks. Maybe even start your auto start equipped vehicle! The potential is there! For the price of a couple theme park tickets or a night out to dinner for the family. You could always try it and if it doesn't meet your expectations there is always Ebay!
chicagoliz0206
I wanted it when I saw the video demo. I got my invitation, but in the time between I bought a Yamaha theater sound bar that has sound that covers most of the house or the important living/kitchen area. It has Bluetooth and I have Siri and I got it on sale during the holidays for just a little more, so I won't be making the echo purchase as it's more of a personal sound system that you'd take along room to room rather than something portable. I liked the shopping list feature but I can just as easily ask Siri to jot it on my iPhone reminders list.
mattb47
"Hello...hello...hello... Echo...echo...echo... Pinch hitting for Pedro Borbón... Manny Mota... Mota... Mota..."

ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CahNAauFgys]
mitsured
I am a Prime member and registered months back though still have not received an invite.
When I first registered I was ready to buy though now since I have been reading others "opinions" of Amazon's ability to create a SIRI or Google now type of system, built into a stand alone device I remember how much I use the pre-mentioned applications the first week and how little I use them now. Still I am always up for a deal and new tech so at the $99 price I will probably pick one up if I have a chance.
Scroogus Maximus
As it looks like a cross between an electronic suppository and a top-secret highly-radioactive thermonuclear exploding Grelbin device, I'd probably name it "Albatross". Or possibly "BoomStik".

But I wouldn't want it sitting in my bedroom, watching me and saying things like, "I'm sorry, I can't do that, Dave..." Big brother is creepy enough without the electronic overtones of HAL 9000!
Carolyntimm
YES! I will purchase an Echo, just waiting on my invitation, & wondering why it has not yet appeared...& I would re-name it "Echo"; why not?
FactCheck
Gordon: You can leave it registered to your Amazon account and keep the pin # a secret to avoid unwanted parental purchases. I can't speak for the Fire Phone but this device is less push oriented than the Firestick, which has caused us to invoke the child limit to avoid hassling with Amazon customer service weekly. We haven't even tried to order or had to cancel purchases with it.

Lindsay: You would not have been allowed to get the invite unless the add-on Prime membership counted. We, too mooch our membership.
hasioc
this device obviously needs to be redesigned, it looks to similar to a Bluetooth speaker. Also, I'd wait till it has more useful capabilities like a remote for electrical house components.
Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)
Also: I requested an invite, because now I'm curious. At $99 I could do it, but I'm not sure if I qualify for the Prime discount because I'm an add-on to my mom's account.
Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)
Is it weird to anyone else that they didn't make "Echo" an awake word option?
TZen
I ordered one - I think it will be more useful than a vacuuming robot that isn't all that automatic after all, & at least as much fun (seriously, it's a gadget!). Thanks for the funny article.
Al-in-SoCal
The ONE reason I'm buying it is for the shopping list function. Feature Request: Portability via batteries.
edchuy
I'll probably wait to see how it does. If I am convinced, I'll ask something to give to me as a gift for next X-mas! (I don't have Prime and $199 seems a bit steep ... I could get Prime and then buy it for $99, we'll see).
amick827
Echo has proved very useful, especially since I always had a tendency to leave the grocery store without the one item I really needed. Audio quality is great, too. I could go on and on...

We love it!
Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)
Apologies for our mistake RE: units shipped. We're fixing that now.
Gordon Shumway
Two questions for anyone who may know:
- Does this device require a Prime membership or an Amazon account? I'd like to get one for my parents, but they have neither.
- Is this primarily an Amazon content delivery vehicle like their tablets/phone? I was so disappointed in the Kindle Fire; I felt the purpose of content delivery was so prioritized over form & function that I gave it away and got a Galaxy.
Thanks!
FactCheck
Gee, Jeff, how do you really feel? Despite the inaccuracies of your tome, e.g. we have had two units for weeks now (shipped in December), what you missed is clear.
Imagine having voice control over your smart phone, without having to pick it up, start an app and wait for the results? Want to listen to music apps with a decent speaker? Set a timer? Add items to a shopping and/or to-do list? Get IMDB info? And the wake word is avoided via the included remote, which ironically is smaller and easier to navigate than your phone. You also left out how nice it is to have a device that doesn't need to be recharged, ever. Finally, if you insist on being tethered to your phone, the Echo is a very responsive BT speaker and is addressed via an app on desktops, lappys and tablets, as well.
There are several annoying limitations to the device, but I'll leave those for you to find. And, no thank you, I don't need a job as an editor.
thicks
I have had one for 2 months. love it!!! weather, to do list, play specific tunes, timer - all great!
hazzah1234
I agree with nimer and Janshell; home automation tech is too young and there are too few legitimate privacy controls in new and forthcoming networked devices. This would be cool if you could honestly have complete control over it, but because that's just not the case at all, the lessons of Orwell aptly apply.
Greg the Gruesome
@regularg0nz0: 'Alfred' as in Bruce Wayne's butler?
nickotine
Just got my invite yesterday and ordered. Estimated delivery is mid February. Wow, I didn't even wait that long for an iPhone 6 Plus. lol
hippyirish
Bought it. Was calibrating it to my voice by asking it 25 questions which it was only supposed to listen to. Since it wasn't answering, my father in law thought it was broken so he stated, "Alexa, you suck!" Alexa responded,"All feedback can be relayed through the Echo app." HAHAHAHAHA!

But honestly it's been fun and useful. Here are some uses;
My wife and I both have the app on our phones so when either of us added something to the shopping list, we both see it. It's easier than her sending it to me.

News and weather

Bluetooth connectivity is very cool. All I have to do is ask Echo to connect to my device and its done.

Kid goes in time out I ask Echo to set a timer

Tunein is integrated, so I just ask it to play ESPN and it streams the local station.

I bought it for what it can't do yet as well.
TecateCerveza
In response to "Now that two months have passed without a single unit shipped". I signed up for Amazon Echo in November and received the unit on December 5th. So they did ship out some units.

Echo has been fun to use so far. The function I use the most is the 'ToDo' and 'Shopping' lists. When I stand in the kitchen and look in the refrigerator I can say "Alexa, add beer to the shopping list". Then using my smartphone and the Echo app I can access the list at the grocery store and check off each item.

Another function I use often is the radio..."Alexa, play 98.9 KUPD radio" and you can also tell Alexa what volume you want to hear the music at (1-10). Once catch to that is if you play the music loud, Alexa can't hear your next command unless you shout over the music or use the remote to speak into.
FuLinHyu
I have an Echo and am enjoying it so far. Alarm function has worked well every day and I tie it into my Amazon song library + prime + iHeartRadio and have almost unlimited music choices. Forecast info is okay, but not great, but for $99, I am happy with the purchase.
regularg0nz0
I'd snag one for a hundred bucks if Amazon would send me an invite. It's kind of frustrating, because I'm pretty much an Amazon evangelist.

That said, and assuming the name has to be at least two syllables with at least one sharp sound, I'd name mine "Alfred".
Janshell
I always get a bit nervous with all the devices that can access info! Who knows how secure my iPhone really is I don't want another headache!
nimer
No. The 'home automation' genre needs to grow a little bit before I consider investing in it. This would have been useful if Echo is connected to your home (lights, range, heat, etc...).

That said, you should youtube 'Echo Parody', there are a couple of very funny parodies based of the amazon ad :-)