If you’re tempted to buy an Amazon Echo device - or maybe have no idea what one is - you’re not alone. I used to fall into both categories!
I took advantage of an Amazon sale to test out the world of AI assistants, and Amazon's massive 2023 Cyber Monday sale - now live to shop on both Amazon and Amazon UK - has up to 60% off the hi-tech devices.
Amazon Echo: My experience and review
I had no idea what I was in for when I first bought the Echo Show 5 (£49.99 / $39.99 - SAVE 50%), which features a touch screen display, so I could communicate ‘face to face’ with my elderly parents who lived far away.
But over time I eventually committed to the AI-assisted smart home experience with three Echo Dots (£21.99 / $22.99 - SAVE 50%) for my home office and bedrooms.
These days I use my devices as everything from a household intercom to a voice-activated control for lighting – I never have to walk into a completely dark home again.
It also helps me to go to sleep at night with a wind-down routine, including turning down my lights and playing sleep sounds.
A few years ago I would have never believed I’d fall in love with these easy-to-use high-tech devices, but they’re now kind of like family pets - they have different names, voices and accents: Alexa, Ziggy, Computer, and Echo. They even recognize the voices of the members of my family for more tailor-made functions.
There are over 100,000 Alexa ‘Skills’ - from telling jokes to recipes - and Alexa Guard, which turns them into security devices or turns your lights on and off when you’re not home to fool potential burglars. With so many possibilities, I’m always discovering new uses.
All of the skills and functions can be controlled with the Alexa app from your smartphone, and you can mute or block the device with ease if you want it to disengage.
What is an Amazon Echo?
An Amazon Echo is the easy voice-activated plug-in device, equipped with high-quality speakers and in some cases, a touch screen, that works with Alexa, Amazon’s AI assistant service.
I find I primarily use my assistants for just the basics:
- Time and task management: timers, alarms, shopping list, Amazon package arrivals
- Skills and Routines: Sleep routine to wind down at the end of the day and "Alexa, start my day" with traffic and weather updates - like warning you if you’ll need an umbrella - what’s on my calendar, and a news briefing
- Music: I love to listen to Spotify and Amazon music via the Echo - they have good quality speakers, and you can connect all of them to play at the same time for an immersive music experience throughout your home.
- Smart home controls: For this I bought two things - Alexa-compatible light bulbs on one hand, and also some smart plugs, that you literally just plug in the wall for instant voice control of whatever appliance is plugged into it. For now I use it mostly for the lights, but I have future plans - eventually I’d love Alexa-activated blinds for my windows, and I haven’t ruled out an Alexa-enabled robot vacuum, or automating my coffee maker with a smart plug.
- Communication: Voice or video calls with friends and family who have Alexa devices - or chatting between rooms of my home
So, how did I end up with so many Echo devices?
My journey from owning zero Amazon Echo devices, and not really understanding what they are, to owning four of them started when I came across a promo for the Echo Show while shopping for something else on Amazon.
At the time I was looking for a way to keep in better touch with my ageing parents. After doing some research, which included calming my security fears, I thought an Echo Show would be the perfect solution - the voice-activated AI assistant, famously known as Alexa, had a compact but decent-sized 5-inch screen for easy video calls.
I waited for a Prime Day deal and bought one for my parents and one for myself.
My elderly parents, who were in their 70s at the time, were hesitant when I first bought them the device, but once they realized it was so easy to use, it became their favorite tech.
Mom started saying, “Alexa, play Motown” whenever she wanted to hear her favourite songs. Dad’s go-to? Asking it for the weather or for the latest sports scores. And of course, all they would have to say was, “Alexa, call Karen”, and they’d be able to have a FaceTime style call with me from the comfort of the living room, keeping up with the family gossip over a cup of tea.
After loving the Echo Show, I bought an Echo Dot for my home office, then found it so useful I went on to get one for every room.
For the smart home experience, I also bought smart light bulbs and plugs. I love being able to tell the device to turn the lights on or off in any room without having to go around flipping switches.
Is Echo Show good for the elderly?
When I got my parents their own Echo Show, it was before my mum was diagnosed with early-stage dementia - little did we know how handy the Echo devices would be in the coming years.
When mum started forgetting her phone, she knew she could get in touch with us with Alexa's help – Alexa was always in the same place. My sisters and I were also able to set our parents' device to allow us to ‘drop in’ without them having to answer so we could check how they were doing.
Available in the US only, Amazon has launched the Alexa Together remote care giving service, with activity-based alerts to let you know your loved one is well and an Urgent Response team on call 24/7. You can try it for 30 days for free.
Echo Dot vs Echo Show - pros and cons - which to buy?
If you can't decided which Alexa device is right for you, maybe my experience will help.
The Echo Dot
The Echo Dot is the voice-controlled speaker-only device, which can come with or without a clock face. The Dots have all of the same voice-activated functions as the show, just without the screen.
Compact and stylish, it's the perfect AI assistant - you can set it to alert you when your Amazon package has arrived, or warn you if you’ll need an umbrella when you go out.
As an office assistant, I use it for time management and my calendar; in the bedroom I use it for all things comfort - telling me the room temperature, playing sleep sounds, dimming lights, alarms and more.
- Pros: So easy to use, just plug it in and after a brief set up you’re ready to go.
- Cons: If you want to just be able to see the time, rather than asking Alexa, the Echo Dot with a clock display (£31.99 / $34.99 - SAVE 40%) is a better choice.
The Echo Show
The Echo Show has both a touchscreen display and voice activation.
- Pros: Amazing for keeping touch with others “face to face”, and controlling smart devices in the living room. Plus it’s so handy to have when you need any kind of info. It fits into any decor - you can set the screen to be a digital photo frame or clock.
- Cons: The Echo Show was a game-changer for me, although I have to admit I haven’t used some of the features - like the ability to stream Prime Video to watch my favorite shows. To me, the Echo Show's 5-inch screen is too small for streaming, but you can buy the larger size Echo Show 8 (£59.99 / $49.99 - SAVE 50%) with an 8" screen, or the wall-mountable Echo Show 15 (£209.99 / $279.99) with a 15.6" Full HD screen.