Amazon filed patents for the Echo speaker in 2010 and there was a lot buzz surrounding them all over the internet. Amazon then went to work on them and refined the product and they hit the global market in 2014. They have had a great reception the world over since then. The Echo range has taken three full years to land in India. We spent a week with the Echo Plus which is the top end model in the lineup and here are our thoughts on the device
Initially there was an impression that there was going to be a heady mix of AR and AI on the echo devices. Amazon very wisely scaled down or cut out the AR part and sharpened the AI aspect to make it a very clear and practical product. We are very happy that Amazon went down this route. The final Echo is very good as a product. The heart of the Echo – Amazon Alexa, the AI engine that runs the device is the hero for sure.
Let us talk about the Echo Plus device first. It looks classy on a table or anywhere you put it. The cylindrical shape and the speakers placed in the lower half of the device help in giving it a futuristic and premium look. It certainly makes heads turn when people see it in your home. We got a lot of curious looks and questions and Alexa even answered all of them for us. So in the looks and build department, it is a device that looks, feels and literally sounds premium.
The Echo Plus is a hands-free, voice-controlled speaker that allows you to access Alexa from anywhere in the room with far-field voice control. It has an array of seven microphones that use beam-forming technology and noise cancellation so it can clearly hear you from across the room. Echo Plus can stream music directly from popular music services such as Amazon Prime Music, Saavn, TuneIn, and more. Echo is also Bluetooth-enabled so you can stream music directly from your phone or tablet. We tried speaking the wake word “Alexa” when the room was really crowded and even had a TV running full blast and it caught the activation in a jiffy.
Installing or setting up the Echo Plus was simple affair. You just plug the device to power, install the Alexa App on your phone, connect to the Echo Plus from the App. Then there are very simple steps to follow on the app to configure wifi and set up the Alexa Assistant. Remember to ensure that your marketplace is set to India on your Amazon profile. This ensures that you have access to the Indian skills and libraries on the device and the Alexa instance is customized correctly for you.
Alexa is the brain behind Echo—since Alexa runs in the cloud, the service is always getting smarter. Just ask, and Alexa will answer questions, play music, read the news, set timers and alarms, check the calendar, provide sports scores, control lights at home, and much more. With Echo’s far-field voice control, you can do all this from across the room using just your voice. Alexa delivers a customized Indian experience, including an all-new English voice with local pronunciations and intonation; support for music titles, names, and places in additional non-English languages; local knowledge; and local skills from Indian developers.
Echo Plus makes connecting to compatible smart home devices easy. Just say “Alexa, discover my devices,” and Echo Plus will automatically discover and set up compatible lights, without the need for additional hubs or apps. This simple set-up works initially with a variety of ZigBee-supported products from Philips Hue. We set up a few Philips Hue lights in various rooms of the house and they were all discovered and connected very easily. From there on, controlling the lights was entirely voice based.
The three years that Amazon spent in Indianizing Alexa has actually paid off. The Echo Plus that we got understood various Indian accents effortlessly. We had people with very different accents talk to her and she was able to pick every one of them very easily. We then tried asking her very Indian things, like recommendations for tandoori and biriyani places. She handled that too very effortlessly. When we say this, we mean the whole breadth of the Indian experience. From understanding Indian Filmstar and Politician names to even getting the titles of Bhojpuri songs and artists right, Alexa has it nailed down. She can very easily understand dialogues from your Saas-bahu soaps too.
In India, Echo Plus with built in smart home hub also Includes 1 Year Prime Membership when you buy it from Amazon at an introductory price of Rs 10,499/- against a regular price of Rs 14,999/- And you get access to Amazon Prime Music Service too along with it.
A wide range of Indian skills have been provided, from ordering food, to following sports to getting local news delivered. Alexa also is a smart assistant who can take down to-do lists, reminders and alarms down for you and remind you about them quite well. It was very useful as a study tool for students at home when they wanted to get information from Wikipedia for their projects and things like that. All you ever need is a good internet connection with requisite data and just ask away. It is like you are Iron Man and have a Jarvis at home!
Amazon’s Echo Plus and Alexa together give you your own AI Assistant who understands India and having them at home does make daily routines a lot easier and entertainment a lot more interesting . Life will never be the same again!