Amazon Echo 2nd Generation: Better and Cheaper Than Ever Before

Amazon Echo 2nd Gen
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I was a bit cautious about buying this- but it went on sale and I figured, even if I hate it I can return it… Well, I LOVE IT! I am not a super-tech-savvy guy, but I had it set up and playing music within 20 minutes of it being delivered to my home. I used my iPad to “install” it (after getting the free Alexa app), and that was it. No problems. Sound is fantastic! Love the new Echo 2nd Generation.

At yet another Amazon unveiling event in Seattle on 27 September, we got the low-down on the all-new Echo to share with you.

Most manufacturers today are not shy of uprating models across their range but these facelifts normally come with a hike in cost. Amazon has started bucking this trend and their tweaked products come in at a cheaper price-point than previous generations for a real double-win.

With the original Echo now discontinued and the all-new version slated for release on October 31 of this year, there’s not long to wait now until you can enjoy the zenith of home digital butlers in a colorway to blend in with any décor.

Time for a revamp was ripe…

Echo was launched a full 2 years ago which is an aeon in the world of technology. Any device of that age starts to look tired. To salt the wound, Google predictably joined the voice assistant party with Google Home storming in boasting richer features, nimbler dimensions and a lesser price tag into the bargain.

In today’s Echo review, we’ll explore how Amazon hit back hard with this nifty little hands-free speaker. We’ll show you where it excels and you can decide whether a device like this would work well in your home or whether you consider it an unnecessary luxury. We’re here to help you make an informed decision not niggle you into purchasing.

Amazon Echo: What’s It All About?

Put simply, the all-new Amazon Echo is a voice-activated speaker that’s equally well equipped to serve up entertainment or to help you control your smart home.

Echo is far more than just a wireless speaker so read on if you want to see what other tricks Amazon has slipped up this quirky little device’s sleeve…

From playing a selection of your favorite music to sending messages, dimming the lights to dishing up all manner of information, Echo and Alexa join forces to take digital voice assistants to the next level.

First up, then, a brief breakdown of Echo’s formidable strengths and minimal weaknesses:

What We Like

  • Exceptional value for money costing less than original Echo while offering far more in return
  • Tiny footprint measuring just 5.9 x 3.5 x 3.5 inches and weighing a mere 29oz so maximum performance in a scaled-down unit
  • Hook up to Alexa for all your entertainment and smart home needs
  • Digital assistant is constantly updated and also grows more attuned to your voice while learning new Skills for a truly intelligent experience
  • Full hands-free functionality lets you control everything without breaking your stride or using more than voice commands
  • Voice-activated connectivity with all Echo devices in your home
  • First-class speakers now enhanced further so bathe in 360 degree wireless audio
  • Beamforming technology, noise dampening and 7 mics come together to make your voice heard wherever you are in the room
  • Place free audio calls within North America and Mexico as an added bonus
  • Wide choice of removable shell designs so fits in with any color scheme
  • 1-year limited warranty with paid extensions available so buy without a headache

What We Don’t Like

  • Looks very similar to the competition but then a speaker is a speaker so why reinvent the wheel?
  • Sound quality, however impressive, cannot compete with high-end wireless speakers
  • Hands-free voice recognition isn’t supported with Mac OS X devices, a surprising omission

Design

Looks always count and the design of Echo has been given a full-blooded titivation but with the integrity of the original left intact.

Where the first generation Echo was fashioned like a tall and lean pillar, this overhauled model is smaller and lighter than before. Treading the same path as HomePod and Google Home, this new speaker is designed to blend in and looks like a soft furnishing or ornament with the pioneering tech tucked away inside.

You can choose from 6 distinctive finishes:

  • Charcoal Fabric
  • Heather Gray Fabric
  • Oak Finish
  • Sandstone Fabric
  • Silver Finish
  • Walnut Finish

Whether you want a shiny silver shell to complement your minimalist kitchen, a classic wood for the bedroom or softer fabric style to set off your living room, there’s something for everyone rather than the soulless black column of old.

These shells are removable and Amazon has made noises about offering them for sale separately in due course. The company is not known for hollow promises so watch this space.

Stature notwithstanding, the trademark cylindrical shape remains along with the buttons housed on top of the speaker.

Alexa: What Can She Do?

When you want to fire up Echo, simply bark your designated wake word and you’ll connect to the cloud-based voice service with a whole host of options at your immediate disposal.

Alexa is named for the library in ancient Alexandria. With Amazon’s proprietary voice control system, tell Alexa what you want and your wish is her command.

Playing music takes on a new dimension. If you have compatible Echo devices throughout the house, instruct Alexa to play the same music throughout or mix it up from room to room according to your mood.

From Amazon Music to Spotify, Pandora to TuneIn, enjoy vocals and bass at their finest ably assisted by Alexa. You can even get her to pick your music for you if you’re feeling lazy or lost for inspiration.

Expand your audio fare to spoken books from Audible or a range of radio stations if you’re feeling like something rather more involved.

If you want to place a call or message someone, you can get that done hands-free as well. You’ll even enjoy free calls within North America and Mexico.

More and more people are becoming sold on the idea of smart homes. Once the preserve of sci-fi movies, dimming your lights or firing up the coffee machine can now be carried out with a few judicious words. For a vast array of home security and labor-saving applications, Alexa makes your life easier than ever before.

Here are a few smart home devices that Alexa meshes well with:

  • LED Light Bulbs
  • Smart Hubs
  • Switches and Plugs
  • Security Systems
  • Thermostats

So with Alexa, it’s not as much a case of what you can do as what can’t you do. It’s the next best thing to having home help without the associated cost.

Alexa: Skills and Intelligence

In place of apps, Alexa has Skills. These already number deep into five figures and Amazon is constantly adding to them. From ordering your ride with Uber through to controlling your TV or ordering up some food, take full advantage of Alexa’s wide-reaching capabilities.

In order to further broaden the Skills base, Amazon cleverly launched Alexa Skill Kit which allows anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of programming to create new Skills and make them available to the general public.

Simply add a Skill to your Alexa account and it instantly becomes available across all your Echo devices. This does away with the tedium of manually adding things to a number of Echos.

Just like with your smart phone, there are a hefty number of pretty questionable or throwaway Skills but this is to be expected. It’s more than compensated for by a solid number of very worthwhile options covering entertainment to education and everything in between.

The more you press Alexa into commission, the more she will attune to the sound of your voice, the rhythms of your speech and your personal preferences. This kind of artificial intelligence means you’ll get a device in the form of Echo that grows with you and improves over time.

Thanks to Echo’s innovative far-field mics – 7 of them, no less – Alexa will respond from pretty much anywhere within earshot and she is always listening. As long as you set things up correctly (and also set reasonable expectations), Alexa should simplify your life and make you question what you did before you invested in Echo.

One limitation is that commands are limited to single items so you won’t be able to ask for lights to be switched on in different rooms simultaneously or address multiple devices. This is only a very minor gripe but something worth being aware of.

Speaker

While Amazon Echo is undoubtedly a solid speaker, if all you want to do is stream music, we’d strongly advise you spend your money elsewhere. Like for like, you can get a superior speaker if you are only considering music.

Thing is, the above rundown of Alexa is the key selling point with the all-new Echo. It goes unsaid that you’ll sacrifice a little audio quality in order to gain all that Alexa brings to the table.

This new iteration of Echo has a neat 2.5-inch woofer along with a little 0.6-inch tweeter offering Dolby’s trademark combination of vocal clarity and capable bass that will pump out throughout the room.

If you’re a committed audiophile, you’ll probably bemoan a degree of loss in the finer details of sound while bass tends toward fogginess. These are small drawbacks when set against the 360-degree sound dispersion making Amazon Echo a more than able speaker for most reasonable needs.

Performance

As we’ve just outlined, Amazon has managed to ramp up the audio while at the same reducing the size of Echo.

Far-field voice recognition is another quantum leap for the all-new Echo. Tucked out of sight in the innards of the attractive shell are 7 microphones. These harness noise cancelling along with beamforming technology but what does this mean in plain English?

Well, not only can you use Echo in noisy environments, you can also fire away your commands from pretty much any direction and Alexa will respond. Understandably, the more noise there is, the more difficulty Alexa will have in picking up commands so don’t expect miracles.

Drop-In is a neat new feature which enables you to call friends or family and check in on them by quite literally dropping in any time. Due to the obvious privacy concerns with a feature like this, you’ll need to enable Drop In for specific contacts. If you want to temporarily disable the service, just activate Do Not Disturb.

With Echo devices, you can also make use of Drop In as a household intercom which is a handy feature for busy families in larger homes.

Thanks to a raft of new features and boosted functionality, the all-new Echo 2 is a highly capable performer across the board.

Is It Worth Upgrading To Echo 2?

In a word, yes.

The core purpose of the original Echo was simply to act as a voice controlled smart speaker.

As technology continues to surge forward, Echo today is more of a smart hub for over 10,000 products and home appliances that helps to tie everything in your smart home together without the need for an external remote or any third-party apps.

With Alexa now thrown into the mix, clear design enhancements and superior audio, there’s little that Echo did that the brand new version won’t do better. To ice the cake, you’ll pay less for the privilege so whether you are looking to upgrade from the original or you’re a new customer wanting in on some of the action, going for Echo 2 is a complete no-brainer.

6 Handy Hints for Amazon Echo

The basics of Amazon Echo and Alexa won’t take you very long to master.

Here are 6 valuable pointers to maximize your Echo experience…

  • Wake Word: With the default wake word Alexa, Echo’s multi-directional mics kick in to deliver your request. Although you can’t customize commands fully, there is a degree of latitude. How about if your household includes someone by the name of Alexa? Things could get tiresome so you can reset the wake word to Amazon, Echo or Computer. You can make these changes easily through the Alexa app
  • Uber Time: In the true spirit of “Home James”, you can bag a ride home without needing to dial up on your phone. Simply set yourself up an Uber account and sync it with your all-new Echo which is straightforward. Whip to Alex app and choose Skills from the menu. Search for Uber and pair with your device by entering your account details. Summon a car by asking Alexa for a ride from Uber and request an ETA by asking, “Alexa, where’s my ride?”
  • Grab a Pizza: For a similar slice of convenience, set yourself up a Domino’s account and order some pizza hands-free. This works best if you have a staple order so set it up then you’re good to go. You’ll be able to track your order as well if you’re feeling particularly hungry and impatient. All that remains is to get up to answer the door and pay. Alexa is not up that job just yet!
  • Something for the Weekend? StubHub is a third party ticketing service offering up some fantastic last minute deals for major sporting events and music concerts. Just rack up the StubHub extension in Skills and ask for the low down on what’s going at the weekend if you’re fumbling for something to do and coming up short
  • Fitbit: If you’re tired of manually trawling through your FitBit app for an appraisal of your fitness stats, log in via Alexa app and sidestep the whole process in favor of hands-free operation. Whether it’s a summary of how well you slept or a breakdown of your fitness goals, get it all done through voice command
  • Updates: Each hour on the hour, Echo will scan for updates and get things up to speed automatically making this one more area when you can kick back and let your digital assistant do all the work for you

Overall Verdict

If you don’t see the merit of digital assistants, you’re not going to be sold on Amazon Echo but we’re assuming if you’ve read this far that you appreciate the many ways in which the Alexa-packing all-new Echo can make your life easier.

In today’s hectic wired world, that’s what technology has reduced to… What’s in it for you? From keyboard shortcuts on a laptop through to voice recognition, we’re only talking about saving fractions of a second but time is a priceless commodity. Every second counts.

For a combination of a more than serviceable speaker along with the shower of benefits a digital voice assistant brings your way, we say roll on Halloween when the all-new Echo will finally be available for purchase!

You can pre-order now on Amazon right here.

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