The Amazon Echo Plus offers you much more than weather updates or playlists.
A 7-way microphone detects voice commands from any corner in the room.
In addition to responding to your queries, the Amazon Echo Plus has smart home capabilities.
With smartphones, you more or less form your opinion in a couple of weeks. But in the case of smart speakers and voice assistants, you realize that it takes time. You need time to get to know each other. And over time, the tech grows on you. I’ve used the Amazon Echo Plus for a couple of months now. Here’s my review of this year’s most talked about piece of technology.
Setting it up
AI and machine learning works well based on how effectively the product learns your preferences. It does that by storing your inputs and responses in a database usually on the cloud. A simple question such as ‘what’s the weather like?’ would need your location to deliver a consistent human-like response. That’s just a simple example. The Amazon Echo Plus lets you do much more than just finding the weather or listening to music. But before we get to what is possible with the Amazon Echo Plus (or the Echo family of speakers), let’s take a look at how you get started.
First, you need to install the Amazon Alexa app for iOS or Android on your smartphone. Next, plug in your Amazon Echo Plus to a power source, and register the device on your Wi-Fi network. That’s it. You have instructions on the screen to take you along. That process is a breeze.
The only tricky part is ensuring that your Amazon store is set to India. But it’s not as simple as setting it in your Amazon shopping app. But if you’ve dabbled between geographies in your Amazon app, you might need to tweak your settings a bit. Amazon US and Amazon India have different settings and preferences, and as I figured the hard way, it’s not as simple as switching the market in your Amazon app. Personally, I’d have loved it if it were so.
After the store is set to India, click here. Sign in and click on Go to manage your content and devices at Amazon.in. On the Settings tab, set the country to India. In the country settings, change the store to India. In case you’re wondering, the Amazon Echo Plus uses a 21W power adapter. That’s about half of a typical 45W Magsafe adapter that a MacBook uses.
The speaker with skills
The Amazon Echo Plus is a good speaker. It surely doesn’t disappoint you for what it delivers in terms of audio quality. On the Amazon Store, the Echo Plus is currently available for Rs 10,499 down from an initial price of Rs 14,999. In addition to good audio, the 7-microphone array on the Echo Plus brings with it the ability to recognize voice commands from any location around the speaker with spatial awareness.
Among the several skills that you can use to interact with your Amazon Echo, my favorite is staying organized with smart lists.
By simply saying “Alexa, remind me to complete the review at 9 pm” I’d have an alert ready by the time I’m done for dinner. I can then complete the few tweaks I need to make before I get ready for the next day. For my morning alarm, I simply say, “Alexa, set an alarm for 6 am” and it’d promptly wake me up.
Since I read and type all day, it’s refreshing to wake up the next morning and say, “Alexa, what’s my flash briefing?” Since I have BGR India as my preferred news destination for everything tech, it reads out the latest news stories from BGR India for me. Alternatively, I have the choice to set the news source to Reuters for the top world news.
It doesn’t matter how convenient and advanced technology may get, demo fails always happen. We see it happen all the time. The Amazon Echo Plus is no different. There are occasional instances when the Echo Plus would just go quiet to your request. I’ve also observed that in certain cases of ambient noise, it can get difficult addressing Alexa.
I’ve observed this quite often when I use the Xiaomi Air Purifier, and the Amazon Echo Plus is not far away from it. It would require me to shout out and that can get awkward, especially requesting the Amazon Echo Plus to play you a song. It understands your request, displays on the Alexa app that it’s understood you. But all you’d get in return is silence. The likely reason could be a problem with the Amazon Prime service. But it still feels awkward nonetheless.
Smart home capabilities
The Amazon Echo Plus also works in conjunction with Zigbee-certified products such as the Philips Hue lights and Syska smart lights. If you’ve wired your home to use smart lights such as Philips Hue, you can control them using your voice. Do note that these lights are exorbitantly priced currently at about Rs 4000 a piece.
You can set the lights as per your mood by simply saying a command. The Alexa app will accept up to 20 lights for your home. You could create skills that understand your preferences in the morning.
A good example to illustrate this is by saying “Alexa, Good morning” and eventually expecting smarthome compatible appliances such as toasters, coffee makers and water heaters to set in motion your morning routine. The toaster could get started with the toasting process, the coffee maker on your brew, and the water heater on your shower. That’s the home of tomorrow. We’re not there yet, but some day we would be.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed interacting with the Amazon Echo Plus. I also realize that I’m not relying on the smart home capability offered by the Echo Plus, be it switching a light on or off, or drawing the curtains. The biggest reason for this is my home is limited in size, as is most flats in Mumbai. In fact, in small flat where power points are easily accessible, these capabilities seem rather redundant. In a larger set-up, probably in other cities and towns in India, these capabilities make more sense.
Talking to the Amazon Echo Plus is engaging, as long as it detects your voice commands easily. When ambient noise levels go up, the conversation begins to feel like an effort. If I’ve to compare the AI capabilities with competition, the Alexa does understand Indian accents much better than Siri. But Google has a clear advantage, if I go the Assistant’s capabilities on Android devices. It’s such a pity that the Google Home hasn’t launched here in India, but it’s probably for good reason. That makes the Amazon Echo the only practical India-ready product in its segment worth buying, which is quite an achievement. Hopefully, the minor creases will be ironed out by Amazon going forward.