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Amazon Echo review: Well-equipped, but you’ll want premium accounts

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £149
inc VAT

Amazon's Echo laid the groundwork for digital assistants, but it's no longer on sale


  • Great design and clever voice-recognition software
  • Great sound quality
  • Compatible with smart home kit


  • Works best with an Amazon Prime membership
  • Occasionally mixes up words

Amazon Echo review: Using Echo

The key to using Alexa well, though, is learning how to talk to it properly. While it’s certainly very good at picking up natural rhythms of speech, such as “Alexa, how’s my commute looking?” or “Alexa, what’s the news this morning?”, there are times when you still have to be quite specific.

For instance, to get news from The Guardian (because it’s a skill rather than built-in), you have to ask Alexa to open The Guardian and then go through its instructions. Likewise, it can sometimes mistake words or phrases for others – “news” instead of “Muse”, or “lifeline” instead of “Lang Lang”.

Trying to get Alexa to restart a particular album can be quite tricky too. “Alexa, restart” will work if you’re already playing a song, but other times the same command will only repeat that particular song. “Alexa, replay this album” also tends to repeat only the song. There are a few commands in the “Things to Try” section of the Alexa app, to be fair, but it isn’t an exhaustive list.Amazon Echo

Of course, once you’ve figured out the quirks, it becomes second nature, as you’ll already know how to phrase things correctly. It just takes a while – especially if, like me, you’re used to having a lot of information in front of you on a screen the whole time.

Remembering what you do and don’t have in your music library off the top of your head, for example, is quite a different thing to just clicking on a playlist on your PC. However, at least Prime members have the added advantage of being able to listen to anything available on Prime Music as backup if it isn’t something they’ve already bought.   

Amazon Echo review: Verdict

So will Echo be staying put in my home? Maybe. It’s certainly easier to use than other voice assistants I’ve tried in the past, and the fact it’s already sitting there on a shelf means I don’t have to spend time getting my phone out to check the news or weather; I can simply ask a question and Echo will give me an answer. It’s also a pretty good speaker, and simply voicing my playlist requests is much simpler than trying to connect a laptop or phone over Bluetooth.

The real test will be how it functions as a smart home controller, since its potential to draw together all these fairly disparate services could be one of Echo’s greatest achievements if it does it right. As mentioned previously, I’ve yet to test Echo with any smart home kit, but I’ll update this review accordingly once I’ve been able to do so.^ The Echo Dot is a much smaller, cheaper version of Echo, which you can use together with the main unit

And once Amazon launches its smaller, £50 2nd-Gen Echo Dot devices on 20 October, you’ll be able to use Echo from anywhere in your home, further extending its appeal. These are smaller, cut-down versions of Echo without the built-in speaker, but you can still use them to send audio to other speakers by pairing them over Bluetooth or using an auxiliary cable. I’ll be adding my thoughts on Echo Dot once review samples are available.  

Amazon’s Echo certainly does plenty right. You’ll get more out of it as a Prime customer – and a Spotify Premium account holder, for that matter – but if you like the idea of having a virtual butler at your beck and call to manage your shopping list, read your kids audio books, play music, and generally have something to show off to your friends, then Echo is well worth its £150 asking price – especially if all you want is a fairly cheap Bluetooth speaker to put in your living room.

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