The Amazon Echo is a voice-activated home audio speaker system with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. Here we answer your Amazon Echo questions and explain what is the Echo Dot and Echo Show in our complete guide to Amazon Echo.
The latest news is that adverts are coming to Echo products. Find out more.
What is Amazon Echo?
Amazon Echo is a cylindrical home audio speaker that integrates a personal voice assistant named Alexa, very much like Siri, Cortana and Google Now on your phone or tablet. It's always on and always connected with Wi-Fi allowing it to sit on your home network and access cloud services, and Bluetooth letting you stream music from mobile devices.
Alexa can handle things like multiple timers and alarms, IFTTT support, integration with Google Calendar, and lets you listen to Audible audiobooks and re-order Prime-eligible items from Amazon. It can even order your favourite takeaway from Just Eat. (See all Speaker reviews.)
Some of those capabilities are built in, while other 'Skills' have to be enabled in the Alexa app. They're like apps which created by developers and some let you control smart home products, including Philips Hue, LIFX, WEMO and Nest devices.
Who is Alexa?
Alexa is the wake word for Amazon Echo. Its digital voice assistant will happily fulfil any of your spoken commands, from setting an alarm to searching the web to answer your burning questions and playing music. Echo is constantly learning, too, adapting to your speech patterns, vocabulary and personal preferences. Amazon says that the company is constantly updating the way Alexa listens and responds and will eventually provide an interface with natural-sounding responses.
A report via BusinessInsider says that the company that Amazon works with to allow third-party 'skills' is going to introduce adverts soon.
This isn't as bad as it sounds. The ads will be six to 15 seconds long and will only be heard once every 15 times you use a skill, and not before you've used it for the first four times.
It seems that Alexa's native capabilities won't be interrupted by ads just yet, only those extra skills you enable yourself via the Alexa app. The money generated by the ads will go to the developers of those skills, which could be a benefit for users if it means more skills are added and have more functions.
Ads could also be displayed on the Echo Show's screen. This won't be too surprising to anyone that's ever used an Amazon Fire tablet and not paid the extra £10 when ordering to remove the lock screen 'offers'.
What is the Echo Show?
It's an Echo with a screen and a camera as well as a 'room-filling speaker'. It's only available in the US at the moment and costs $229.99.
It allows you to:
• Watch video news broadcasts
• Watch YouTube videos
• View song lyrics from Amazon Music
• Monitor smart security cameras, baby monitors and video doorbells, including those from Ring and Netgear Arlo
• View weather forecasts
• Read shopping and to-do lists
• Video chat with others who have an Amazon Echo device or Alexa app
Find out more about the Echo Show.
What is the Echo Dot?
Amazon's newly updated Echo Dot brings Alexa support to any room in your home, offering pretty impressive functionality for such a small device. First, and most obviously, the Echo Dot will use the Alexa Voice Service to provide users with everything from music playback to the latest news, and even control of smart home devices (if compatible, anyway!). It's also smart enough to work out which Echo you're closer to (if you have more than one) and respond only from that speaker, despite being heard on multiple speakers.
However, the Echo Dot also features Bluetooth functionality allowing you to connect it to any Bluetooth speaker in your home, bringing Alexa functionality to, say, the high-end Kef Muo Bluetooth speaker. It also allows you to play music from services like Spotify, Prime Music and Pandora without the need for a computer or smartphone. The virtual assistant is activated by simply saying "Alexa" and thanks to its "far-field voice recognition" it can pick up commands from across the room while music is playing from the speaker.
It also features a built-in speaker, allowing the Echo Dot to be used in a number of situations from simulating an alarm clock in your bedroom to reading out a recipe in the kitchen, and can be hooked up to an existing speaker system via a line out cable.
How can I buy Amazon Echo and Echo Dot in the UK?
Amazon Echo UK release date: 28 September 2016
Amazon Echo Dot UK release date: 20 October 2016
Amazon Echo, Tap and Echo Dot have been on sale only in the US, but in mid-September Amazon announced that the Echo and redesigned Echo Dot (sorry Tap fans) would be coming to the UK and Germany.
You can order the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot from Amazon, Argos, John Lewis, Currys PC World and more stores in one of two colours - black or white. Price wise, Echo costs £149.99 and £49.99 for the Echo Dot.
Amazon Echo: Podcast discussion
What is Amazon Tap?
Amazon Tap is a portable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled speaker, providing users with Alexa functionality while on-the-go, and everything that comes with it including music streaming support, smart home support and even the ability to order a pizza from Dominos (in the US, anyway!). However while the Tap provides Alexa functionality, the real focus is on the audio quality - it features dual stereo speakers with Dolby processing, allowing for high-quality vocals and deep bass. It was also designed to provide users with 360 degree sound projection, providing users with omni-directional audio.
It's small and lightweight making it the ideal travel companion, and the 9-hour battery life should serve most users well.
Can Amazon Echo hear me while music is playing?
Yes. Amazon Echo has seven mics hidden inside and around the edges of the speaker, which use beam-forming tech and enhanced noise cancellation, so it'll hear you no matter how loud it is and where you're sitting.
That's the theory, anyway. In practice, Alexa can't always hear you when the music is loud and you might have to turn it down a bit manually before she'll respond.
What is Amazon Echo's audio quality like?
The quality is fairly decent from the big Echo. It's excellent for things like news briefings, audio books and anything else spoken. It's not the greatest for music, but it's perfectly acceptable.
Inside the Echo is a 2.5in woofer that delivers deep bass, and a 2in tweeter for hitting the high notes. Amazon also says a reflex port is able to enhance the woofer's output without distortion.
The Echo Dot has a much smaller speaker that's not great for music at all, but pretty good for vocals. The idea with the Dot is that you connect it to your existing hi-fi or a Bluetooth speaker.
How do I control and Echo, Tap or Dot?
Besides using the Alexa wake command, an Amazon Echo companion app is available for Fire OS and Android, and can be accessed via the browser on iOS devices, PCs and laptops. This lets you manage alarms, music, shopping lists and more.
There is also a volume ring at the top of the big Echo, (buttons on the Echo Dot), plus Action and mic mute buttons on top.