A Brief Tour of Amazon Echo
While I was in Atlanta over the holidays, I got an email notifying me that the Amazon Echo was officially for sale. I wasn’t really all that serious about getting one, but I looked over the description again… and it ended up being an impulse buy.
It sells for $199, but if you’re an Amazon Prime member (I am), you could buy it for $99. I decided to pull the trigger and decided what the hey.
It ended up arriving when we were in Frankfort, and Bob was kind enough to pick up the thing on his way back home. I didn’t end up cracking it open until later in the day, when I arrived in Indianapolis for Christmas.
The setup process wasn’t terrible – it involved syncing with a mobile app, and required a WiFi connection to access the Internet. After that, it was all voice commands.
The Echo comes with a nice guide, listing out some sample things you can ask it. “Alexa” is the default wake word, and any time you say this name… the Echo will activate, and await your instructions. You can issue commands in the following manner:
“Alexa, Wikipedia: Abraham Lincoln.”
“Alexa, what was the first album by Nirvana?”
“Alexa, how old is Tom Waits?”
The Echo is remarkably good at dates. In addition to telling you Steve Jobs’ birthday, or the end of World War II, both answers come with a day of the week.
You can also ask it to play music, by naming either an artist, an album, or a genre. If it’s available on Amazon Prime Music, it will play; if it’s not available, it will play a sample and give you an option to purchase the song/album.
You can also ask it to tune to a radio station, which is a nice feature. Or, if you want to get a rundown of the top news stories in various categories, you can customize the settings via your app and the Echo will play NPR news, BBC news, and then read off the headlines in a variety of categories.
As you’re making these requests, everything is logged as a “card” and sent to your mobile app. If the Echo doesn’t understand what you’re asking, it sends a search engine link to your mobile app.
When I first tried out the Echo, I was in Indianapolis with my niece and nephew. They took great delight in asking Alexa a ton of questions, and I had just as much fun watching them laugh the whole time.
Tip 1: You can adjust the Echo’s volume settings by saying “Alexa, louder” or “Alexa, Volume 5.” The volume range goes from 1 to 10.
Tip 2: If you have a nephew who yells “Alexa, Volume 10” while a song is playing… the music will be so loud that the Echo will be unable to hear you scream “Alexa, stop!”
For me, it would be nice to have some programmatic way to copy over some of my music collection over to Amazon Prime Music. Currently, Prime Music only has about 1 million songs (which isn’t much, compared to what iTunes/Spotfiy/Rdio have).
Still – I’d like to be able to mirror my Rdio collection (whatever is available) on Prime Music, without having to manually go through my entire collection and search each artist one by one, adding each album one by one. That seems overkill, and entirely the wrong way to go about handling this.
While there’s a way to get all my artists and albums via Rdio’s API, there doesn’t seem to be any way to interface with Prime Music – at least, that I’ve found.
There’s something called the “Amazon Music Importer,” but all this app does is scan your computer for MP3 files. Even then, there’s a limit of 250 songs that Prime Music will allow you to “store,” which is really not at all what I want to do.
Right now, it’s easy enough to play music by requesting it. Usually, I’ll ask Alexa to play an artist or an album, and more often than not… she finds it on Prime Music.
Prior to purchasing Amazon Echo, I never really thought much about Prime Music. It was a pale contender to what Rdio was already doing well for me. Now that I have a device that can access Prime Music, I’d like to find some way to keep everything in sync (but only have to manage music through one interface).
Side note: I can connect my computer or iPhone to Amazon Echo via Bluetooth, and play my Rdio music that way. It’s not ideal, but it does the job. Just not quite as cool as playing music on command with your voice.