What is Amazon Echo?

The Amazon Echo is a smart home device that you can control with your voice. It connects you with ‘Alexa,’ Amazon’s voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant service. You can ask Alexa to look up train times, for example, read a recipe aloud to you, play music, read the latest news headlines, and so much more.

One of the most impressive abilities of the Echo is how it can integrate with other smart devices in your home. When connected to your smart lighting system, for example, you can control your lights with your voice. Ask Alexa to dim the lights, switch them on or off, or even change the colour (if you have the appropriate light bulbs fitted), and hey presto! Your will is done.

As the ‘Internet of Things’ (another collective term for smart-connected devices) becomes more ubiquitous, the potential of smart home devices like the Amazon Echo will only get greater.

Read more about smart lights.

How does Alexa work?

The Amazon Echo is, essentially, a Bluetooth speaker that, like any other smart device, connects to your home wi-fi network. Once you’ve connected the speaker using the Alexa app, the speaker waits for your voice command, and once received, translates it into an appropriate internet search or command. Alexa then plays the results back to you, whether that’s a song you asked for or the latest football scores.

Once it’s set up, the Echo is always on and listening for your commands. By default, you simply initiate a command by saying ‘Alexa,’ but this can be changed to other selected words. You can mute the microphone using a button on the top of the speaker if you don’t want to accidentally trigger a search. If you’re talking to someone called Alexa, for instance, things might get a little confusing.

What can the Amazon Echo do?

Some of Alexa’s key features include:

  • Music playback – radio and streaming services
  • Internet search
  • Play audiobooks
  • Manage to-do lists
  • Hands-free calls and messaging
  • Control compatible smart devices e.g. smart lighting and thermostats
  • Set timers

How close to the speaker do I need to be to issue voice commands to Alexa?

Amazon claims that the Echo’s ‘far-field voice recognition,’ enabled by its seven multi-directional microphones, allows you to issue commands even in noisy environments or while loud music is playing. The light ring at the top of the speaker handily lights up when it recognises the wake command, making it easier to tell if your voice has been registered.

What are Alexa Skills?

Alexa Skills allow the Echo to connect to partner services to fulfil even more voice commands. Partner news networks, for example, allow Alexa to read news headlines back to you, while you can order from certain restaurants and takeaway chains using the services enabled by Alexa Skills. These operate like any other voice command; the magic happens in the background.

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