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What is Alexa, Amazon Echo and the Dot?

Everybody knows Amazon.com, the world’s largest Internet-based retailer – for years we have been familiar with Amazon’s renowned Kindle, an electronic book reader. However, not all of us are familiar with products like Alexa, Amazon ECHO (called Echo) and the Amazon Echo DOT (called Dot) which is now in its second generation. Let’s put things in perspective.

Technically, the Echo and the Dot are Bluetooth speakers powered with voice-controlled Alexa, your smart and intelligent personal assistant. Having said that, let’s take a closer look at these devices and what they can do.

ECHO – The Original

It is noteworthy to mention that before the DOT, its big brother, the Amazon ECHO was the first smart speaker developed by the company. Amazon made this widely available and has established its branding since its release in June 2015.

Interestingly, the ECHO is a game changing product that surprised everyone with its capability to do things such as play music, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic, news, and other real-time information – all through voice commands.  All of this is possible through Echo’s built-in text-to-speech (TTS) technology via natural language processing (NLP) which processes and analyzes natural language data.  

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The original Echo.  Amazon discontinued the production of the original Echo but a refurbished model can still be sold at Amazon store

With a size of 9.5 inches, the device is powered by 2.5-inch woofer and 2.0-inch tweeter. The Echo promises deep bass and crisp high notes alongside its reflex port that enhances the woofer’s output without suffering from distortion.  Still, don’t expect perfect audio quality from this device.  High-end audio products aren’t exactly Amazon’s strong suit.

LIKES: Beneficial for persons with disabilities.  A smart companion to talk with all the time. 

With that being said, it is not the speaker neither its sound quality that is remarkable and unique but it is more about Alexa – the intelligence behind Echo – that may impress you.


UPDATE: October 11, 2018

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Today, October 11, 2018, is the release date of the Echo SUB, a powerful SUBWOOFER that can be paired with the Echo and the Echo PLUS.   

Amazon addresses the sentiments of many customers who bought Echo due to its low-grade sound quality during music playback. 

The Echo SUB is powered with a 100W deep bass amplifier and 6″ woofer bearing low-frequency response of 30Hz (-6dB) and crossover frequency of 50 Hz – 200 Hz adaptive low-pass filter.

I think this would be the whole package from Amazon.  At least, you can now enjoy music with the punch of impressive bass quality in the threshold.   

ISSUES: Pairing issues with the Echo original or 1st generation.  Limited functionality.  Only works for music streamed on the internet.   Does not support Bluetooth, 3.5mm AUX in, or TV/Video connections.  


ECHO – The Second Generation 

This is the upgrade of the original Echo.  It almost resembles the entire look of the original. It can do all the tasks and abilities that the original Echo does – what is clearly distinctive in this model is its size and looks. 

It is visible that its size shows a dramatic drop from the 9.5 inches of height of the original to a 5.8-inch height with a little difference in diameter from 3.27 inches of the original to 3.4 inches of the second generation.      

Unlike the original, it has a nice visual appeal due to its customizable decorative shells or skins.  You now have the option to change its looks the way you want with colors like Charcoal Fabric, to Heather Gray Fabric, Oak Finish, Sandstone Fabric, and Walnut Finish.  Please note that prices may vary depending on the shell.  

LIKES: With customizable skins and ideal size compared to the original.

Honestly, I find it appealing and hard to resist.  I really like products that can be personalized with our own touch.  I think that is one of the constructive improvements that the company achieved in the second generation of Echo by yielding what we really want.  

Perhaps one of the best aspects of this upgrade is the drop in its price.  The Charcoal Fabric model can be taken out for only $69.00 as of this writing. 

ECHO PLUS – The Smart Home Hub 

There’s not much new about the Echo PLUS.  The “plus” that you will get is the built-in smart home hub alongside with ZigBee that connects with smart home devices such as light bulbs, outlets and switches, door locks and sensors and many more without the need of additional home hubs like Z-Wave and Wink.  Anyway, that is all about the Internet of Things (IoT) that everybody is messing around with these days.

It is also apparent that Echo Plus was able to set right the sound quality by featuring the Dolby Sound improving vocal clarity and extended bass with 360° audio experience.  This rendition produces a better sound experience compared to the original Echo and is thus suitable for average listening.  

DISLIKES: Privacy security issues.  No internal battery and must be plugged in to operate. 

Amazon further addressed its Bluetooth connectivity issues by integrating the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) which supports audio streaming from your mobile device to Echo or from Echo to your Bluetooth Speaker.


UPDATE: October 19, 2018

As of September 2018, there is a new release of Echo PLUS 2nd Generation which is now available at Amazon. 

It features a better look, more elegant and more sophisticated design whilst taking over almost the same functions and skills with the first generation.  

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DOT – Small But Terrible

The DOT outperforms its other competitors due to its far-field voice recognition with an array of seven microphones. These utilize beamforming or spatial filtering technology,  a signal processing technique used in sensor arrays for directional signal transmission which enables the device to hear you from any direction even in noisy environments.  

LIKES: Cheaper than the original Echo.  Amusing user experience with Alexa.

This simply means that you don’t need to be near the device all the time.  I like its noise cancellation enhancement which makes it easier to talk even better with the Dot at any instance. 

Simply put, the DOT is the small package of the big ECHOs, possessing the same skills as its other siblings, except that ECHOs offers better sound than the DOT.

DISLIKES: Poor sound quality.  Not user-friendly for most.

If you prefer to have better sound, you can pair the DOT with any Bluetooth speaker in your house.  If you don’t have one yet, you can choose from our select lineup.

With the lesser price, the DOT is a sure bargain by Amazon for everyone who wants to enjoy and live with the conveniences offered by Alexa.


UPDATE: October 21, 2018

This is just an update of the 3rd Generation DOT from September 2018. 

It has a well-rounded-shape similar to the of the Echo PLUS 2nd Generation. There is not much new as it performs similar to the original DOT. 


Introducing ALEXA

Nope, this isn’t “Alexa PenaVega” from 2016’s “Ms. Matched” film. If you have a neighbor named Alexa, this is not her either.

Jokes aside, Alexa is the virtual voice assistant inside the ECHO and the DOT as well as other Amazon devices such as Amazon TAP,  Amazon Echo SHOW, and the Amazon Echo SPOT.

“Alexa was inspired by the computer voice and conversational system on board the EnterpriseStarship in science-fiction TV series and movies, beginning with Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation.  The name Alexa was chosen due to the fact that it has a hard consonant with the X and therefore could be recognized with higher precision. The name is also claimed to be reminiscent of the Library of Alexandria” – WIKIPEDIA

In the same context with Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana, Amazon’s Lab126 in California finally developed and formulated “Alexa” with the capacity to translate your voice into commands and perform tasks for you.

These tasks include weather information, news, stream music from Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify and other streaming services like Apple Music and Google Play Music (all required accounts).

Alexa can also manage voice-controlled alarms, timers, and even do shopping through Amazon store (eligible for Amazon Prime members).

Alexa also features home automation and is able to interact smart home devices such as Belkin Wemo, Insteon, LightwaveRF, Nest Thermostats, Philips Hue, SmartThings, and Wink just to mention only a few. The list of Amazon’s partner manufacturers is still growing.

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The Amazon Echo SPOT model 

It all works through wi-fi connection within the range of your home since Alexa works with cloud-based internet data. So, please don’t expect Alexa to respond if you have no internet connection.

With its rapid gain of smart functions since its release in the first quarter of 2016 up to the second quarter of 2017, Alexa’s ability accumulated from 135 to 15,000 functions (now called “skills”) which are all available for download through its Alexa App in Amazon Appstore, Apple iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.

TIP: If you have difficulty in searching for Alexa App because you might be confused by third-party developers of Alexa App, just Google and type the keywords “Amazon Alexa App” and direct links will be shown to download Alexa App.

It’s overwhelming to mention all of those skills one by one.  We can’t imagine how much more improved Alexa will be in the next few years to come.

To date, interaction and communication with Alexa are only available in English (US and UK) and German.  Other languages might also be possible in the future.

Basic Commands

Rule No. 1 – Don’t forget the wake word “Alexa” because Alexa won’t work at all or response on your queries unless you wake her up.   Alexa switches to idle so please wake her up every time you need her service. 

You can change the wake word “Alexa” to “Echo”, “Amazon” or “Computer” through Alexa App.

One gripe would have to be is the inability to rename her with your favorite pet or any other preferred words.

Here are some commands you might want to give a try: 

ALARM. Alexa can be set as an alarm.  Simply say:  “Alexa, wake me up at 6 in the morning.”  You can also command her to cancel the alarm you set if you don’t want your sleep to be disrupted:  “Alexa, cancel my alarm for 6 in the morning.”

WEATHER.  Alexa has the ability to forecast the weather at any time of the day or a week:  “Alexa, what is the weather today,” or “Alexa, what is the weather going to be this weekend.”    

PLAY MUSIC.  You can also ask Alexa to play music:  “Alexa, play some music.”  Or be specific as to what music you want:  “Alexa, play music by [artist].”  To adjust the volume, just simply say:  “Alexa, louder,” or “Alexa, set the volume down.”  You can also able to replay the music and request: “Alexa, restart” or “Alexa, replay”.  

CALLS.  If there is someone calling on your phone, you can stay where you are and let Alexa answer.  Just say: “Alexa, answer” or “Alexa, hang up.”  Alexa can even read your messages by saying:  “Alexa, play messages.”  

PAIRING DEVICES.  Alexa knows the devices around and can do the pairing.  You can say:  “Alexa, pair”, “Alexa, Bluetooth”, or “Alexa, disconnect from my phone.”   

As you see, there are many sweet surprises in the chocolate box that is Alexa and you may never know what you get.  Don’t be afraid to ask Alexa whatever you want.  If Alexa did not respond, try other words and rephrase your question or request.  

There are no perimeters, just be kind and gentle. It’s a hit and miss.  After all, you will not be reprimanded if you say something wrong.  Communicate with Alexa through questions and she even may respond with humor.

You may need some time to train Alexa with her skills and adapt to your voice.  The more you use and interact with Alexa, the more you will know about its intelligence and limitations.

Practical Uses

We have seen the ability of Alexa to make our lives and daily tasks a little bit easier.

It’s practical because voice command is hands-free and you don’t need to type a word on your keyboard or mobile phone every time you want to make a request or query.

Alexa can also be of great use and help to Persons With Disabilities (PWDs).

One review from Amazon stands as a testimony to how Alexa brings comfort to a disabled patient.

“My brother Robert who has been bedridden and paralyzed with Multiple Sclerosis from his neck down for more than 30 years now has a new friend named Alexa!  He was in tears with happiness when Alexa played 70’s music, played Jeopardy, answered all his questions and wakes him up every morning.  Thank you, Amazon for giving my brother a new bedside companion.  Happy Holidays.” –  Roy.

It is just one of the ways of how Alexa can change how we see assistants and intelligent software.

The Bottom Line 

There is no doubt that through devices like the Echo and smart assistants like Alexa, daily living has become a bit more easy.

Kudos to the teams and brains behind Alexa who were able to develop such an intelligent and useful piece of technology!

Based on the recent survey by emarketer in May 2017, Amazon controls 70% of the voice-enabled devices market and its usage is still growing up to 130%.

With the ever-increasing talents of Alexa, Amazon has an ace up its sleeve that will keep the company as a dominant player in the world of AI digital assistants.

How about you? ECHO and Alexa are the future, and it would be a missed opportunity to not be able to experience such advancements in technology, be it for personal use or for sharing with friends and family.  It’s fun, entertaining and most of all, you have someone to talk with and do the necessary tasks if no one else is around.

About the author

DEL

Del is an affiliate marketer and has a personal interest in web design. His quest is to find remarkable consumer electronic devices and determine its capability and usefulness. Though serious, he is quite funny and curious. Good attitude, fairness, and simplicity are characters that matter to him most.  

29 Comments

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  • I really appreciate the thorough review on Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Dot. I had no idea Bluetooth speakers have come so far and found it to be very exciting at all the various things they can do.

    I have a small Bluetooth speaker that will just play music, never had any ideas they could give you a to-do list much less have programmed the Alexa option. I also found it interesting how Alexa can even shop for Amazon’s prime members.

    I think that you have a good selection of devices that you gave a pretty good review on.

    • Thanks Neil for gratefulness.  

      It is just a matter of information to be keep informed in the drift of technology. 

      We still have a lot of things to discover and we are here to guide our readers to give the latest mechanics in the field of consumer electronics.  

      Hope to see you again.

  • Hey there,

    Alexa always seemed like a cool and innovative concept in my eyes, therefore I am happy that I’ve stumbled across Your review so I can finally learn how it operates and see what’s the all fuss surrounding it about, haha! 

    After reading Your review, I have to say- I am fairly impressed by Alexa. First of all, the new design of the Echo is sleek, futuristic and professional-looking, very nice! 

    The build quality is also great which is another huge plus for me. 

    As far as its functionality, performance and practical use goes, it delivers awesome results in my opinion. These commands which You can use here are truly useful and practical, and cover crucial daily routine aspects, which is why I see Alexa being beneficial each day (for me at least). 

    Thanks for such informative and detailed review, I really enjoyed reading it and learning something new, keep up the great work 😉

    • Hello Evald!

      Technology today evolves faster than in any period of our history.  

      The competition of digital assistants thru Artificial Intelligence will become a touchstone in the days to come.  

      I think, this is the right time for us to experience the interaction with the digital world.  At least, it is not too late to get acquainted in the trend of technology.  

      Thanks for your appreciation.  

  • Thanks for the great overview of Alexa, Echo and Echo Dot.

    I actually have 4 Dots now and I love them.  I use them as intercoms, to control my lights and what not and for basic information such as what’s the weather, setting timers, alarms and reminders and so on.

    From time to time I’ll play music with them but, the sound is just OK.

    I think Amazon has a leg up on Google and Apple (hard to say as I’m an Apple guy) with all of their integrations and devices that work with them.

    I highly recommend them.

    Thanks again.

    • Thanks Scott for sharing your experience.

      Due to the developing skill of Alexa, it is somewhat to beat down by its competitors.  But the competition is just beginning.  

      We are still looking in the future how Cortana of Microsoft and Siri of Apple will boost  their brains in the years to come.   

  • Hey Del, Thank you for nice information. You described  each side of the Alexa and using it to the fullest extent of their talents. I am dreaming that I need one. But I have to analyze more on different model and price so that I can afford one. This time there is no such product in my country and what you describe about this is awesome. I hope I will buy one soon.

    • That would be one of the issues in other countries that Amazon must address.  Some of their products ships in most part of the world but not all.  

      We hope that Amazon will do a development for that in the future since they are now the biggest online company in the planet.   

      Thanks for dropping by. 

  • Its kind of ironic that only a few days ago my wife and I were talking about Alexa because of a commercial we saw on TV.  She said she wants one.  Well my wife is the kind of lady who wants all new technology.  I told her I would look into it.

    Well here I am looking into it.  Personally I think its cool and you do a great job on the review.  I just think its kind of crazy that our days have become so busy that we cant turn on our own music, answer our phone or set our alarm.  

    I think its great for people with disabilities.  I say what I say but my wife usually wins these battles so once I show her this review I’m sure we will have an assistant in our house.

    Once again this was a great and very detailed review,  Thank you for taking the time to make us aware.

    Dale

    • Thanks Dale for having a great time on reading my post. 

      Though Amazon’s line up of ECHO devices should serve best for persons with disabilities, you could also have a happy and techy experience to interact with Alexa.  

      We are now on the verge of Artificial Intelligence era.  I think It is just how our future goes.

  • Hey there! How are you doing? I’ve really enjoyed reading this post a short it contains lots of valuable information. I have one question regarding Echo – The Original. I’ve checked the refurbished model on Amazon but it does not have any warranty. Why is that?

    Thanks in advance for answering my question. I’ll visit this page back to check your answer. Thanks a lot for posting this.

    • Hi AV!  Everything is going fine.  

      I believe there is a 1-year limited warranty and service included in the product.  Even refurbished models offers a return policy just like they do with the new items.  

      To cast doubt, you can personally ask for their customer support. 

  • Alexa is simply amazing! I would really love to have one. 

    I first found out Amazon Echo while watching a TV series wherein the lead star who lives alone bought one of these so he could have someone to talk to all the time. I mean, isn’t that cool! And the best part as you mentioned is Alexa’s ability to make our daily tasks a lot easier. I’m willing to bet that Alexa will be able to do more as technology continues to advance.

    My only concern is that people might use Alexa for something else other than a friendly companion and listener. It’s scary to think that bad people can use technology to take advantage of, or worse, harm others. What’s your take on this?

    • Hi! Alice.

      The privacy risks and issues about the ability of Alexa to store personal data are matters that need to be resolved by the authorities.  

      On my personal take, just simply put OFF the microphone button to disable Alexa from “always listening” to any conversations being done. 

  • I’m happy I was able to read this informative article. Coincidentally, I won an Echo Dot for donating blood. I was excited about owning one, but unfortunately I’ve never learned how to use it. Apparently, it’s not that great. 

    My kids have Echo products and love them. I knew they could play music and audiobooks, but I didn’t think of streaming podcasts or using it as an alarm. And I certainly wouldn’t have thought of using to make a do-to list. What will they think of next? I just love technology.  I would love the Echo Plus. Maybe that will be on my Christmas list. Thank you!

    • Thanks, Holly for dropping in.  

      I am sure you would love to have an Echo PLUS.  The Echo PLUS has a better sounding quality compared with the Echo DOT but quite more expensive.  If you can afford to pay for additional bucks, you won’t regret to have one.  You can also take advantage the smart home hub feature of the Echo PLUS.  

      We are excited to hear your experience with the product in the future.  

  • Yes, I have befriended Alexa because my sis owns one. It had me wide-eyed, open-mouthed the first time I was introduced to Alexa. The kids really couldn’t get enough of it. 

    ECHO and the DOT are somethings I have never heard of until I read your article. But seeing the pictures of the products, I think the Alexa that my sis owns, comes with the DOT, it looks rather familiar.

    I have learnt much from the information here, and I love how the second generation ECHO looks. Going to check it out some more. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Joo for sharing your experience with the product.  

      Please let me know if you have some questions.  I will be glad to answer your query.  

  • Hey Del, nice article. You described every aspect of the Alexa and using it to the fullest extent of their abilities. I always wanted one but I always felt they were too expensive for my taste but I do the practicality of having one around the house. You know, this sort gives me a good Christmas gift to myself and it’ll really be worth the money. I’ll keep your page in mind because I’m going to do more research on it but I definitely will buy one in the future. Good job!

    • Thanks, R.J.   

      In my humble opinion, the ECHO DOT is a good gift and reward for yourself or for someone else that is close to your heart.  It is the cheapest among the lineups of Amazon Echo devices.  It could be a simple gift that worth for every penny.  A gift always make us happy especially when it comes from loved ones.    

      Just take your time if you really need to try one.

  • Thank you Del. 

    That’s simply amazing! I want.. I want.. I’m an older guy and not so tech savvy. But you had me hooked by the time I got to the Echo Plus, then you introduced Alexa. I must say I fell in love. 

    I am a star trek fan from many years ago, these products are dragging us, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century, and it’s about time. 

    I absolutely love your article, I just have to check out my finances and I will return. 

    All the best.  Jim

    • Hi Jim, 

      It is gleeful that you like my article.  There is nothing more rewarding that someone is pleased for what you have did.  

      You will also be cheered if you wanna take a try and have some personal interaction with Echo and Alexa.  You won’t regret if you get hold the second generation Echo DOT.  It is the best bang out of our pockets.  

      See you soon!  Thanks.

  • Alexa is really cool!

    It’s helpful not only for PWDs but also for seniors especially if they live by themselves.

    And of course for busy people like us.

    Life becomes easier each day.

    We just have to discipline ourselves by using it when we really need to, otherwise, we will just be tempted to sit and stay in our favorite spot of our house without moving and our heath will suffer.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Marita

    • Nice to hear from you Marita. 

      I agree with you.  Technology makes our lives like a breeze and make things a little bit easier.  

      Echo and Alexa is just part of our future that technology could be beneficial for everyone if it is done with good intention and purposes.  

      Thanks and have a great day! 

  • Thank you for writing this great review on Alexa and other Amazon technology products.

    Amazon is new to my country and their brand name products are increasing in market share rapidly.  The ability for these products to take voice instructions and then create to do lists is really good. It is definitely a time saver in today’s busy world.

    It’s amazing that Amazon controls 70% of the voice activated market and growing. What is mind-blowing to me is that these devices are becoming a staple part of everyone’s homes just as quickly as that…..wow! It’s really interesting that when new technology takes hold that offers benefits to people, how quickly consumers flock to the product and buy it. 

    I was just wondering what your #1 favorite feature is of these devices?

    • Thanks Glenys for your comment and question.  

      Alexa is the dominant feature of Amazon Echos.  If you will ask which Echos is my favorite, I preferred the second generation Echo as my personal choice.  

      Its size is ideal since it ranges in between the smaller Echo Dot and the Echo Plus.  It is not too small and not even too big.  What is more appealing is its customizable skin.  It is lovable and hard to resist. 

      I was even more excited to have the new Echo Sub (subwoofer) which now can be sold separately to be released by Amazon this coming October 11, 2018.  Echo Sub can only be paired with second generation Echo and Echo Plus.  

      With the new Echo Sub, we can now truly enjoy a superb music with the Echos.  

  • Ever read the book or watch the movie – 1984, by George Orwell?

    I’m a bit paranoid about something listening in on me 24/7, but I never considered that this could be great for someone with a serious disability.

    I may eventually set aside my paranoia and try the Amazon Dot since it can do so much.

    • It is nice to hear from you Alexander. 

      I did not actually read the book or watch the movie 1984 but I know little of English novelist George Orwell.  I think what is your point is about secret state surveillance.  Probably that is the issue of privacy nowadays.  

      Anyway, you can have the option to simply put away Alexa by turning off the device and switching on whenever you want.  It is just a matter of preference of how we use technology for the better of our lives.  

      Thanks.