I’m not sure even Amazon expected the Echo to be as popular as it is. Originally released as a Prime-only deal in 2014 and then released into the wild in 2015, the Echo is an intelligent speaker with some neat features. It may look monolithic, but it’s smarter than the average device.

The Amazon Echo contains the Alexa digital assistant that can respond intelligently to voice commands. It’s a neat system that has been steadily refined over the past couple years into an intelligent and useful feature. There are lots of skills (Amazon’s term for apps) built-in and several thousand available from third-party developers so the scope is huge.

Amazon Echo design

The Amazon Echo is a black or white Bluetooth speaker that sits 235mm high and 83mm wide. It’s a tall cylinder with blue trim and for once, company branding is absent from the bits we see. As mentioned, it is a little monolithic but at least it looks good too.

There are two buttons on top of the speaker, a mute button and a Listen button. The first switches Alexa off so ‘she’ doesn’t listen to your conversations and the second wakes it up. The top ring is actually the volume control which you twist to turn the speaker volume up or down.

Overall it’s a neat little package and the fact that the blue trim glows when you talk to Alexa and flashes while it is working on your request is cool. That trim turns red when you mute Alexa too so you can be sure it isn’t listening.

Using the Amazon Echo

Once you have unboxed your Echo and switched it on, you will need to connect it to your Wi-Fi network. You will need the Alexa app on your smartphone to pair everything together. It is actually a quick and easy process that takes only a couple of minutes.

train it to your voice. There should be a card included in the package that contains a few commands to get you used to talking to an inanimate object and to train Alexa to your speech pattern. It’s a good idea to run through these suggestions for both of those reasons.

Alexa Skills

I mentioned above that skills are Amazon-speak for apps and they are where the true power of Alexa come to the fore. While the default apps are pretty good, it is the thousands of extras that will really give you the richest experience. They can let you do everything from check stock prices in China to control an entire smart home with your voice.

There are thousands of skills available, but only a couple hundred are worth checking out. Like any open app store, the majority of the skills available are pointless at best. It’s fun trying them out though!

Amazon Echo is a great gadget that can be as much or as little as you want it to be. With decent built-in skills and huge scope for expansion. Whether you use it for the novelty or as a smart home hub, it is definitely a worthy purchase.