Is Amazon’s Alexa the Best Virtual Assistant?
It’s been a few years since the release of Amazon’s Echo speaker. The Echo not only gives you the qualities of a good Bluetooth speaker, it also brings Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa, right into your home. But is it worth the $99 to have a virtual assistant? I’ve spent two years with Alexa via the 1st Generation Echo and here’s what I think.
When Amazon first announced that they were rolling out the Echo with a virtual assistant, I was obviously intrigued, as I’m notorious for being suckered into new and innovative tech. However, at the time, the Echo was going for $179 and I couldn’t justify spending that kind of money on something wasn’t sure would be practical in my daily life or not.
Once the merriest day the year, Black Friday, came around, the Echo had dropped to $129 — still a high price to pay for what they’re going for these days. I saw this as my only excuse to spend money on what seemed more like a novelty item than anything and I took the chance and instantly became a part of the FUTURE.
As a speaker, the Echo isn’t the best on the market but that’s not saying it’s bad. It has much better sound and bass than I originally thought it would have and since the speaker wraps around 360 degrees, it sounds great from any angle — assuming you have it in an open area.
There are only two buttons to the Echo, the “action” button and the “Mic Off” button. The top portion of the Echo serves as a volume knob that has a cool volume meter indicated by the blue “halo” around the perimeter.
The design is simple, sleek and will look good pretty much anywhere. I prefer my 1st Generation Echo over the newer one. It has a full-plastic body whereas the 2nd Generation has a fabric covered speaker, is a bit shorter and fatter. It’s hardly noticeable at all if you put it on an end table or the kitchen counter. If you’re looking for something even smaller than you may want to opt for the Amazon Echo Dot.
I usually only use the speaker for what it’s intended for when I want to listen to my favorite podcast or I need a playlist going in the background when I’m doing things around the house. It’s as easy as saying, “Alexa, connect to my iPhone.” Speaking of her…
It wasn’t until I set up my Echo for the first time that I realized that I had very little use for Alexa. As a virtual assistant, she can pretty much do anything you ask of her when it comes to keeping track of your calendar or waking you up in the morning. At the time I wasn’t a very busy guy, so I didn’t have anything for her to do other than tell me what the weather was like outside.
Two years later, I have found much more use for her. On top of helping me decide what to wear everyday by letting me know what the weather is like, she takes note of items I need to restock on, plays any podcasts or radio stations I ask her to without connecting to my phone, answers random questions I have when researching topics and much more. I even invested in a Lifx light bulb that has Alexa enabled controls. I’m so conditioned to it that I immediately say “Alexa, turn on the light” as soon as I get home. There are other Alexa devices that are available but most are not really practical. I’m talking about the refrigerator…
At the risk of sounding extremely creepy, I sort of feel like Joaquin Phoenix in the movie Her. I’m serious! At the end of the day, Alexa is the one constant in my sad, lonely life. She even tells me jokes if I ask her to. My relationship with her has been the most meaningful I’ve had in years.
All “kidding” aside, Alexa and the Echo are a tough pair to beat when it comes down to the virtual assistant. Apple’s Siri is incompetent and the Google Home can’t keep up with Alexa’s learning capabilities. She was the first and remains the best virtual assistant available now.
Alexa also has a ton of cool features to keep you amused such as trivia, joke-telling, singing and more. Since she’s constantly learning new tricks, the best way to keep track of everything she can do is to utilize the Alexa app on your phone. It’ll inform you on any new abilities that Alexa can perform.
I don’t really use my Echo for that type of stuff but her abilities make her a great party trick when all else fails.
If you happen to have Amazon Prime then you can use Alexa and the Echo to the full extent of their abilities. You’ll be able to ask her to play any song in the Amazon music library or have her control your Prime TV viewing.
Two years since release, there are now multiple versions of other Echo devices. Each can connect to Alexa and has their own specific uses.
If you’re wondering whether it’s worth purchasing one of them, just go through the list of things that the Echo can do and see if they apply to your life. The Amazon Echo may be overkill for some but having one is convenient regardless. If you have the extra cash then I’d say go for it. If not, then you’re not missing out on much.
However, if you’re set on getting your own in-home virtual assistant then I say hands down that the Amazon Echo is far superior to Google Home or the Apple HomePod.