In September, Amazon introduced an all-new line-up of Echo devices and a range of new Alexa features that give you even more ways to add Alexa to your daily life. One of the key members of the new line is the new Echo that has taken all the great things that the Echo Plus from the previous generation had. I spent considerable time with this device and here is my review of the Alexa powered speaker in town.
The next-generation Echo has the same audio architecture as Echo Plus, including a 3-inch woofer and increased back volume so that the bass feels stronger, and the mids and highs are clearer. It also features an updated fabric design with color options suitable for any style—including Blue (new), Black, Grey and White.
This means that the new Echo has crystal clear sound quality, neat design and a very aesthetically thought out form factor. But then, when Amazon makes a new device, there is more to it that just cosmetic changes. There are solid changes to Alexa that sits inside these smart speakers this time. We will get to that in a bit.
This iteration of the Amazon Echo uses the same physical parts, as well as the enhanced audio architecture of the Echo Plus model that previously set it apart from the standard Echo. When I tried playing music with it, it was able to fill a room with high quality sound effortlessly. The form factor makes it a nice addition to any decor in any room that you put it in. That means the new Amazon Echo features the same bulked-out cylinder shape and wraparound mesh casing, with curved edges ensuring no sharp points and hence no comparisons to the more industrial tin can design of the first-generation Echo.
The uppermost side of the Echo has four inputs to choose from, consisting of two volume controls, an action button (to ‘summon’ Alexa) and a mute button to stop Alexa listening out for your commands. You don’t get the physical shut-off as in the Pure DiscovR smart speaker, but it should cut off any audio recording.
As usual, if you have the Amazon Alexa app on your phone, set up is simple and fast. It took me all of 5 minutes to add this to my Alexa set up and get going. I am a fan of how easy this is with Amazon Smart speakers. Even child can set it up in a few minutes.
Let us now get to what’s inside the speaker – Alexa. This time Amazon has made great strides in improving Alexa. Whenever I use Alexa, I use the metric of how close Alexa is to Tony Stark’s Jarvis – the ultimate smart assistant in my opinion. And this time, Amazon has taken big strides. Yes, you can play music, check out the news and generally get any information that you need by just speaking to Alexa. But then, there are a lot of new value added features built in now, some very Indian and some very useful.
Pay your bills with Alexa
Amazon has announced that users in India can now pay their utility bills with Amazon Pay just by speaking to Alexa. This new Alexa feature supports payment of bills across categories such as electricity, water, post-paid mobile, cooking gas, broadband, DTH and more. Users of Amazon Echo, Fire TV Stick and other devices with Alexa built-in can just say commands such as “Alexa, pay my mobile bill” or “Alexa, pay my electricity bill” to get started.
For existing Amazon Pay users, Alexa will retrieve the amount due for bills from their registered Amazon account and ask for customer confirmation before processing the payment. Customers can enable a voice pin on the Alexa app to make transactions more secure. Once approved, Alexa will complete the transaction using Amazon Pay, and send a notification to the customer’s registered mobile phone number, confirming the transaction. For new Amazon Pay customers, Alexa will send a link to register their bill details on the Amazon shopping app before proceeding with bill payment.
In addition to making payments, customers can ask “Alexa, what’s my balance?” to know the amount available for purchases in their Amazon Pay wallet. To top-up the Amazon Pay account say “Alexa, add ₹500 to my Amazon Pay balance” and Alexa will send a link to the registered mobile phone to complete the transaction.
Amazon Pay provides an array of payment facilities on one platform. This new feature on Alexa will further help in reducing payment friction as customers will be able to complete their payment transactions with just their voice command. Amazon Pay also offers various cashbacks and EMI options, which enable its customers a purchasing power at the lowest possible cost.
Alexa is now multilingual – supports Hindi and English simultaneously.
Amazon recently announced that Alexa can now understand customers speaking to her completely in Hindi or Hinglish, in multiple contexts, and varied regional accents and dialects. You just had to select ‘हिन्दी’ in the device language settings.
With this feature, customers will be able to switch between English and Hindi when talking to Alexa without changing the language setting from Hindi to English and the other way around every time. For example, if a customer asks about the festival of Diwali in Hindi, Alexa will reply in Hindi, e.g. “Alexa, Diwali ke liye kitne din bache hai?” and when they ask for information in English, Alexa will understand and respond in English e.g. “Alexa, why is Diwali celebrated”. This multi-lingual mode can be useful in Indian households where users speak both Hindi and English interchangeably.
You can ask Alexa to answer questions, play music, read the news, set timers and alarms, check the calendar, provide sports scores, control lights at home, use over 30,000 English skills and much more. In Hindi, you can enjoy asking Alexa for diverse content such as jokes, shayaris, games, Kabir ke dohe, Panchatantra stories, Bollywood dialogues, more than 500 Alexa skills, and even spellings of words in Hindi. Get started with commands such as “Alexa, Bollywood ke latest gane sunao”, “Alexa, cricket score batao”, “Alexa, sher ki aawaaz sunao”, or “Alexa, apne baare mei batao”.
Setting up Alexa’s multi-lingual mode
Existing Echo customers can change their device language to English/ हिन्दी via the Language options inside the Device settings on the latest version of the Alexa App.
Users of Echo Show and Echo Spot devices can also swipe down from the top of the screen to access the settings section and change language, once they have latest device software. If you are unable to see English/ हिन्दी or हिन्दी/ English as a language option in your Device settings, make sure you have the latest software update by asking “Alexa, check for software updates”
Additionally, you can also ask, “Alexa, how can I setup multi-lingual mode” for help with the setup
Let’s now talk about sound quality here. On tracks with intense sub-bass content, the speaker delivers solid bass response, and at top volumes, does not distort. The experience is not entirely bass-forward as one would expect from gym headphones. The high-mids and highs are boosted and very well sculpted, and the deep bass is a tad bit dialed back in comparison with many other speaker options. What this means is that he quality of sound is top notch and there is no distortion even at high volumes. The bass though is not really bone-pounding but deep enough. There is also noticeable and very good separation – this means that ever instrument in your track is audible and crystal clear. Even for long runs and particularly prolonged use, the quality is consistent and great. I am not saying that the speaker is perfect, but it is very nearly there.
Let us now get to the final verdict here, the new Amazon Echo costs ₹ 9,999 and that is perfectly solid value for money when you consider the whole package that is being delivered here. The thing that impressed me the most is the fact the Amazon Alexa is now slowly getting very close to my benchmark of Jarvis. I am all in favor of buying this useful, reliable and quality smart speaker.