Last week, Amazon launched its new Echo and Echo Dot products in the UK.
The Echo is basically a voice activated control point for either streaming music or for controlling devices in a connected home.
The Echo ( £150) or Echo Dot ( $50) , basically do the same things. They can get information from the internet such as weather or traffic reports, stream music from Amazon, Spotify or TuneIn and interact with the connected devices in your home.
The only difference between the devices is that the Echo has a better speaker Which for me was unnecessary as my home is already wired for sound and the last thing I need is another stand-alone independent speaker.
As a trial, I bought one Echo and have had some good fun setting it up with the other devices in my home.
I’ve set my single Dot device up in the kitchen as its easy accessible for the majority of the family and it acts as a quick and easy radio, particularly arriving downstairs bleary eyed in the morning craving a cup of tea.
The first thing I like, apart from the fact that the default persona Alexa is female and has a soothing voice, is that the Dot acts as a simple voice controlled radio player. Saying “Alexa play TuneIn” will have it playing the latest radio station that you listened to while you fill the kettle and for me usually iron a shirt.
It streams this from TuneIn radio , no login is necessary and you can listen to any station from BBC Radio 2 to more less anywhere in the world that streams.
Saying “Alexa Play Spotify” will play your last Spotify stream or “Alexa Play Spotify David Bowie” will have Rebel Rebel etc getting you bouncing in the morning.
It also has some handy commands such as …
“Alex news” which will give you a news update from your configurable new stations.
“Alexa weather” will tell you the local weather forecast.
“Alexa Traffic” will tell you about the traffic on your route to work.
All handy for when I’m struggling to get going in the mornings.
The Dot, was extremely easy to set up using the Amazon App. Just download the app on your phone or tablet, login with your Amazon account, turn on the Echo Dot, let the app pair with the Dot, add in your wifi details and it resets itself and connects to your wifi.
It then scans your wifi for any connected controllable devices on your network.
I was slightly disappointed that at that point it didn’t find my Hive devices. Hive is British Gas’s connected home system and I have both my upstairs and downstairs heating as well as a variety of controllable lamps around my home.
But don’t let that put you off as it is simply a matter of logging into the Hive skill of the Alexa App, then Alexa was able to scan my Hive and find and control all of my devices.
What I really like then is that although Hive is clever on its own, sometimes its a pain having to set devices or heating individually when you want them controlled as a group.
However, that lovely Alexa allows this and I have my downstairs lamps set up as a group and both of my heating zones set up as another.
I can then say …
“Alexa set Lights on” and it turns the lights on
“Alexa set lights 30 percent” and it set the lights low.
“Alexa set lights off” and all the lights ping off individually with a momentary delay, as Alexa tells Hive to turn them off and this is quite nice to watch.
The heating can be controlled by saying
“Alexa set heating 20 degrees” which will turn both heating zones on.
“Alexa set heating off” … no explanation required
The key point being that using the groups allows more intelligent control of the individual devices and is much more convenient and quicker than using the Hive App directly.
Individual lights or heating zones can also be controlled using the “Ask Hive” clause.
For example ..
“Alexa ask Hive to set TV room 50 percent”
“Alexa ask Hive to boost downstairs heating”
I’m sure that it can do many more things and with other connected home devices such as Phillips Hue etc.
I am slightly disappointed that it does not directly connect to Apple Music, I’m guessing that Amazon doesn’t have an agreement in place with Apple for this as yet.
Actually it’s more likely that Apple are not giving access as they are trying to develop their own connected home application HomeKit.
However, Apple Music can be streamed and controlled from the Dot by pairing your phone or tablet as a bluetooth device and linking the Dot or Echo as a speaker.
“Alexa play bluetooth” will play the last music you streamed from your phone.
“Alexa next” will move to the next song.
Not quite as native with Spotify or Amazon music, but it works.
That may be better on the larger Echo’s built in speaker, but personally, I wouldn’t use that with the Dot as I have a decent music system which already streams Apple Music throughout my home and is controlled from the new model Apple TV.
I thought I’d be clever and pair my Apple TV with the Dot using the Dot as a remote control, but although it connects and would appear to work, when music is played the sound comes from the Dot and not my sound system which was disappointing.
But its early days and Amazon have promised to continue to improve the device capabilities and I’m certain they will add much more functionality.
Possibly the best feature of Alexa is it’s convenience as it’s always on, always listening and available. No more searching for iPads then unlocking, starting the app and then clicking on heating zones or lamps individually.
I’m impressed enough that my own next purchase will be another Dot for my bedroom and a couple of Hive plugs, I’ll then be able to as Alexa to turn the kettle on in the mornings .. that works for me!
Overall I’m very pleased with the Dot, its a great device, plays music, gives local info, personal news, streams music and controls my connected devices.
For £50 pounds its fantastic value for money and good fun too.
Oh yeah, I’m also impressed with how well Alexa understands and adapts to the Glasgow accent.
“See you Alexa, gonnae turn oan ma heating”
“Nae borra big man” 🙂
Update although Apple are advertising Hive on their smart home page with the tacit implication that it works with their HomeKit, It doesn’t.
Hive can be controlled from the iPhone or iPad using the Hive app but not through HomeKit which is quite disappointing.
I’ve had a look at the Apple support page for this and questions from other interested consumers are being ignored which is unacceptable and an indicator that it isn’t in the pipeline.
Even more reason to stick with Alexa.
— Some more things you can do with the Echo