Amazon’s Alexa has only just become available in Australia in the past few months, trailing behind Google Assistant. Along with it comes the Amazon Echo Plus and Amazon Echo Dot, both voice-controlled ‘smart’ speakers. Alexa offers hands-free access to music, weather, news and other information through these devices.
We’ve been putting the duo through their paces for the past few weeks and they’re remarkably fun to use. Let’s start with the Amazon Echo Plus, it’s tall cylindrical body housing 2 speakers and 7 microphones. Played at low volume the sound isn’t bad but it’s not a speaker you’d want to be blasting for a party. Up to about 60% volume, the speaker is actually able to pick up your voice, but beyond that, it struggles a bit. Our neighbour must be wondering why we keep getting mad at this person called Alexa.
The Amazon Echo Dot is a much smaller, compact speaker. It’s really a peripheral device to give you more microphone coverage, rather than another speaker for music. Perfect for the bathroom, you can use it to turn on the heater while you’re in the shower, ask it for the weather forecast and even set a timer so that you’re not late for work.
When it comes to the internet of things, Amazon’s Alexa can basically do anything – with over 25,000 skills to add, it’s the smartest digital assistant on the market. These skills can make tasks around the home a lot faster. Asking it to book an Uber is as simple as saying “Alexa, ask Uber for a ride.” This means being able to continue getting ready without launching the app. While on the way to the beach for a swim, Alexa can check surf conditions and the current weather forecast ahead of time. Amazon’s Alexa will continue to automatically update through the cloud and will learn new skills and features as they become available.
Alexa can also set up individual voice profiles so it knows who’s speaking. By training Alexa to recognise a certain voice, it’s easy to make phone calls to the right person in your contacts list. This is really helpful for families when there are multiple people in the home.
We didn’t test Amazon Music or Video because we don’t have an Amazon Prime account, but music was easy to play through our Spotify account. With the volume up high, the quality was a bit distorted on the Plus so it’s more suited to Sundays cleaning the house or a civilised dinner party. If SONOS is set up at home, Alexa is a great way to voice control the music through those speakers.
The Amazon Echo Plus has built-in technology that can discover and connect to things like smart power points and smart light switches without having to buy a separate hub. Just telling Alexa to “discover my devices” will let it find compatible devices around the house. An awesome feature is that it’s possible to group areas of the house together and turn all the lights on or off instantly, for example. There won’t be any delays either – in fact, the response rate is faster than Google Assistant. That means there won’t be a delay when walking in at midnight to a pitch black room.
In our opinion, the Echo Plus and Echo Dot aren’t as nice to look at as the Google Home and Google Home Mini. The Echo Plus tends to stand out rather than blend in and the Echo Dot could do without the Amazon badge.
The Amazon Echo Plus costs $229, whilst the Echo Dot is only $79. Amazon’s Alexa does a fantastic job of taking the hassle out of controlling a smart home. If connectivity to a large number of devices is important to you, then this digital assistant is the way to go. Also note that, the SONOS ONE speaker will soon be able to support Alexa in Australia so that could be a great alternative as it will give you the functionality of Alexa with better sound quality.