The Ergohacks Verdict

The Amazon Echo came out in the UK in September last year and we had one on day one. We’ve since expanded to a couple of Dots and a couple of Google Home devices so when Amazon announced a new version of the Echo we were interested – although running out of rooms!

If you’ve never used a personal assistant before you’re probably wondering why you’d want one. I admit with the exception of playing music there still isn’t much that you can do with an Echo that you can’t do with any normal mid-range smartphone. The difference is one of simplicity. It takes a bit of getting used to but asking for your music, calendar or news is easier than getting your phone out and Alexa’s voice control is good enough to be reliable. Out of the box she’ll give you personalised news reports, play music, give you the weather, act as a to-do list and shopping list manager, set timers and alarms, look things up for you on Bing and control any smart home devices you’ve got.
There’s also a range of new abilities that have been added in the last six months or so. You can message friends who also have Alexas, create routines – single commands that string together multiple actions and use multiple Alexas to create a multispeaker system. Multiplay is particularly impressive as it’s startable from any Alexa but can be individually volume controlled. Extendable apps called skills have proliferated although frustratingly most of them are aimed at the much larger US market and aren’t available in the UK. Perhaps the best I’ve found in the UK are Mastermind that lets you SMS, 7-Minuite-Workout, a white noise generator and IFTTT.

So what does the new second generation Echo look like? It’s a clear evolution of the previous version and now is shaped less like a Pringles can and more like a kitchen roll – a bit shorter and a bit wider. Rather than being hard plastic, it’s fabric covered with a plastic top with the controls. It keeps the LED ring that gives you a little visual feedback and the mute button and action buttons but does away with the spinnable volume ring replacing it with volume up and down buttons instead. Aesthetic beauty is subjective but the new form factor does say home a little more than tech and with a range of colours it’s likely to be able to fade into the background a little more.

The bottom line is that the 2017 Alexa is a spruced up and prettied up version of its predecessor. It’s just as responsive and perhaps slightly better from a music perspective but the difference is fractional. Their abilities are identical and while there might come a time where the 2017 model gets an ability the older doesn’t that’s not on the horizon anytime soon. The 2017’s big advantage is cost – down from a price around £150 to £90 which makes getting one a lot more appealing. If you’ve already got an Alexa you’re happy with, stick with it – the new model won’t give you much worth paying for but if you’re new to the market or want to add units to other rooms the new model is very compelling.

Ergohacks Essential

Buy it from Amazon  

Price: ± € £90 – 100
Included: Amazon Echo with attached shell, power adaptor with 1.8m cable, quick start and things to try cards.

Specification

Product dimensions: 14.8 x 8.8 x 8.8 cm
Item Weight: 820g
Colour: Heather Grey, charcoal fabric, oak fabric, sandstone fabric,  silver, walnut finish
Speakers: 2.5″ Woofer and 0.6″ Tweeter
Microphones: 7 mic array
Lineout: Yes 3.5mm
Bluetooth: Yes A2DP and AVRCP supported
Wifi: 802.11 a/b/g/n – does not support peer-to-peer
App: Android, iOS and FireOS and web access

Warranty: One-year limited warranty

Requirements

The Alexa needs mains power and a decent wifi signal. It also needs access to an Amazon account which does not need to be a Prime account. Some services such as Prime Music require a separate account or paid subscription.

educationalergonomicBuild quality

About Amazon

Amazon probably needs little introduction to any internet user. The company started selling books online in the late 1990’s and expanded to fill the market and began reselling almost everything else you can possibly think of. They started their own electronics arm making the Kindle which iterated to become the dominant e-reader and then expanded to a small range of other electronic devices based on Android including tablets, a phone and media streamers.

 We based our Ergohacks Verdict on 2 weeks of testing and playing with the 2017 Amazon Alexa. This product is still in regular use today. It was provided by Amazon in October 2017.  This article was first published on 9 November 2017