Please note that while I am an Amazon employee via one of their subsidiaries, the Echo is my personal Echo, paid for by me, and my opinions are clearly my own and do not represent my employer.
I received my Echo last Friday, a few days earlier than Amazon promised (always awesome when that happens) and I was excited to set it up. Set up failed miserably; I tried set up from the Android app, a Kindle, an iOS app, and the web site itself on my Mac (in two browsers). Wasted about a half hour before I called tech support. They were promptly able to get my device back in working order by having me do a factory reset … you now, right out of the factory. After that everything worked great and we have been off and running.
At first it’s a little weird having the Echo around. You can’t talk about the Echo using its “name” without triggering it to want to help you. You also tend to yell to it even though it has like eight microphones or something. You quickly learn not to yell and it then becomes more pleasant to use. We got all the novelty stuff out of the way quickly, asking all sorts of random trivia questions, etc. We then lived with it under normal circumstances.
We usually think of things we need while we are either holding the baby (I.e. Ran out of diapers!) or while cooking (I.e. Ran out of spinach). It sounds minor but just being able to update the shopping list in the moment and having it synced across devices in the Echo app is a huge step forward for us in remembering items we need to purchase. We were previously using Cozi (an okay app where we didn’t need any of the other functionality) or a mini whiteboard that we took a picture of before we left the house. The ability to do that with the ToDo list is not as useful for me.
Asking it random trivia gets old pretty quickly (except when demoing it to new people) though it might help you win Jeopardy more often. Getting answers to relevant questions in the moment is highly useful, especially when you don’t need some lengthy dissertation. The immediate examples are obviously math or conversions of units but even the ability to essentially have an audible “second screen” when watching a show or doing some activity to provide some information or context.
Probably a personal thing but I like to just be able to ask the weather or the time. Earth-shattering, no.
I love being able to ask for music by artist, album and genre and having it play. I find artist and genre to be the easiest to deal with assuming you want a shuffled mix. Album is a bit more difficult as it’s the only way to get music to play in order but the odds of you remembering album names is probably not highly likely for some of your less frequently listened to bands. Echo doesn’t seem to be able to list them for you so that you can be reminded. You can always use the app but it feels like cheating when voice normally works so well.
I also have a Sonos system in my house. I don’t plan on getting rid of it any time soon. I sense that it’s probably a better overall system. However, if I just want some random background music (I.e. Alexa, play Norah Jones) the Echo is more than sufficient.
I also like being able to easily get a good number of radio stations as well as a collection of recent news.
A seemingly minor feature, but again, just verbally going “Alexa, set timer for 5 minutes” is just too convenient to not mention.
All of the stuff I mentioned is useful, convenient and fun but overall not earth-shattering from a feature perspective (though the technology that makes it work so well probably is) but it gives a glimpse into the future potential of devices like this. Imagine if your entire house could respond to your commands. Currently for a lot of home automation stuff you’ve either got sensors, control panels or an app. Sensors are not always accurate, control panels can be unwieldy and apps just take way too long. But imagine if you could walk into a room and control the lights, etc. with your voice. I would sign my house up for that.
At the end of the day, I’m quite happy with my purchase even if right now it’s borderline novelty with a lot of future potential. Constantly being in a position where I don’t have two hands free makes it so much more apparent that we need other mechanisms. Voice could also be solution for allows less tech-savy folks to utilize some of the items in your house. For example, I’ll never get a Sonos app on my mother-in-laws phone, but I can get her to say “Alexa, play classical music”.