Smart is the new way of living and smart speakers seem to be the perfect bridge between consumers and smart devices. Although smart devices can be controlled using their respective applications, configuring them with a smart speaker makes these smart devices just a voice command away. Amazon has been super active and has been constantly expanding the offerings, making smart speaker experience accessible to everyone. The All-new Amazon Echo that was introduced late last year, has turned out to be a great virtual companion, especially during the lockdown. From commanding it to play songs to uplift my mood to asking it to turn off the room light when I am too lazy to move, to wake me up in the morning to remind me about my meeting schedule, I would say it has helped me a lot in sticking to my daily schedule.
Pretty nifty looking, this medium-sized cylindrical-shaped speaker is wrapped in mesh casing. Available in four colours - white, black, grey and blue - it can easily blend with the room's interior. The uppermost part of the speaker has four physical buttons for volume control, mute and action. This physical mute button disables Alexa from listening, an important must-have feature for personal conversations. The circular ring that turns blue, red and orange indicates the status of the speaker. Using the four microphones, it was able to pick my voice from almost any corner of the room. Inside the cylindrical shell are a 3-inch woofer and a 0.8-inch tweeter that gets all the credit for the great sound it offers. At the rear are the power port and the 3.5mm audio input or output (can be configured using the Alexa app).
Amazon has done a superb job when it comes to smart speakers - from setting one up to list of compatible devices and skills to understanding and responding to Indian dialects. For me, the setup was rather simple as when I launched the Alexa app, it prompted me to add an Echo speaker, connect it to the preferred WiFi network and select the room where I would be placing the speaker. For a first time user, following instructions should set up the speaker in just a couple of minutes.
What makes speakers smart intelligent are the smart assistant onboard. In this case (and all Amazon Echo range of devices), its Alexa. This voice assistant can not just interact in Hindi but can also understand Indian dialects. Alexa is quick to understand questions as well as commands and adheres to the same in real time. For instance, be it fetching the news updates, playing songs or controlling paired smart appliances, it responds spontaneously.
Most commonly used for playing music, it supports various music streaming services such as Amazon Prime Music, Jio Saavn, Apple Music, tunein, Hungama, Gaana and more. However, if you are addicted to Spotify, you might be a little disappointed as it is not yet supported. However, as always, it quickly fetched the songs I requested for and brought a smile on my face. I already have a smart home setup which includes smart LED lights and plugs, air purifier and more. As I configured the new Echo using my existing Alexa account, I was instantly able to control all these using voice commands. Be it turning off the smart LED bulbs or switching off the mains of the TV connected in the smart plug, it complied diligently with all my requests. However, new users will have to activate the skills they wish to use from the Alexa app. For instance, if you wish to connect a Xiaomi smart bulb, just activate the Mi skill from the app. This would also require signing up in your Mi account.
While most of the new IoT-enabled devices support Google Home, Alexa-powered Echo devices and Apple's Siri, Amazon had the first-mover advantage and the catalogue of Amazon's partner skills is huge.
Alexa also fetched the latest news for me, helped me with cooking recipes and setting up timers, cross-check facts, added items to my Amazon shopping items, and more with voice commands. The new Echo turned out to be a great companion, especially during the current lockdown due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
The weakest point of most of the smart speakers is the average sound output. However, the sound turned out to be strong on the new Echo. As compared to the other speakers in this price category, the all-new Echo offers superb sound. The vocals are crisp and I could experience deep bass. I streamed songs across genres and I wasn't disappointed for once. The volume is loud enough for a small room can even suffice a small house party.
If you are a music buff and plan to invest in a smart home, the all-new Echo is a great buy.
Price: Rs 9,999