Bob asked: I’m thinking of getting an Amazon Echo. I want to know what the benefits are over Siri on my phone or even Google Now. What’s the best application, or best device to use this voice activated feature on the Internet?
What do you want the Echo for? Because an Echo is not really a Siri or Google Now replacement.
Amazon makes the Echo as a speaker with a built in smart assistant called Alexa that it hopes will become the center of a smarthome hub. That may or may not work, some products already work with Echo, but right now every smarthome product company seems to have their own hub that doesn’t necessarily play nice with anybody else’s, so short term some smarthome products do work with Echo, most notably some SmartThings and InsteOn products, some do not. Long term… who knows?
A way in which Echo is significantly better than Siri and Google Now is that it sounds better. The volume actually goes up to 11, for those times when you feel like playing the Spinal Tap soundtrack.
Alexa, Echo’s assistant, is reasonably competent for what you can expect of a digital assistant, but obviously don’t expect much. Echo can also play Pandora, iHeart Radio, TuneIn, and others. Not surprisingly you can use Echo to buy things on Amazon, listen to Audible books (owned by Amazon), get weather information, and set alarms.
Now, frankly, compared to Siri and Google Now it pretty much wins in sounding better and being able to hear you from farther away… but that’s about it. A digital assistant is far less useful when it’s not in your pocket and always within reach, and Echo’s Alexa has to tell you things, it can’t pop up a graphic to show you the chance of rain for the coming week, or a grid with the movies playing around you so you can watch the trailer or tap and buy tickets.
Amazon hopes it will lead you to buy more stuff from them, and that you’ll use it to turn on your smart lights, which you can buy from Amazon. Buy it if you want a) want a smarthome controller that’s always listening, or b) you want a $180 speaker that can get pretty loud, by all accounts sounds pretty decent, and as an extra sort of somewhat useful feature it has a smart assistant that we suspect you’ll likely forget about most of the time.
As for what the best voice assistant is, the truth is that it’s whichever one you find most useful, that probably means that it will be the one on whatever smartphone you use, since they’re all fairly comparable and you always have your phone on you wherever you are.