How To Use Echo, Amazon’s Digital Assistant

By Kacey Kroh, Abshier House, Abshier House

Amazon Inc. has recently come out with a new device in their Fire OS lineup — the Amazon Echo. The device is preloaded with a custom build of Amazon’s new operating system (Fire OS). Also known as “Alexa,” the device offers voice-only features unless paired via Bluetooth to a smartphone or tablet.

[Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/exdez]

Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/exdez

The Amazon Echo was designed to perform as a standalone or companion device. The new device, Alexa, is built into a canister form, similar in size and shape to a coffee mug. Since the Fire Phone and other Amazon products lack a “real” DPA (digital personal assistant), Amazon chose to create this device instead of implementing a new DPA update to the handheld/mobile version of Fire OS.

Alexa performs in the same manner as most DPAs where you can activate the canister by either pressing the listen button on the top of the device as well as simply saying its name — Alexa. The device also can be called Amazon or Echo, and the product will start listening just as it does when called by her human name.

When the product hears you say one of its three names, a ring of lights will illuminate on the top of the canister indicating that it is ready to be asked a question. While this device does not come equipped with any other input methods besides voice, the Echo is limited in what it can do.

Alexa comes built with seven high-power microphones and a Bluetooth speaker allowing connections from other Bluetooth devices as well as extra controls from an application you can download to Android, Fire OS, and iOS products. Without the control app, Alexa can perform only simple cloud based tasks.

For instance, the Echo can perform such tasks as follows:

  • Play music

  • Get weather forecasts

  • Set timers/alarms

  • Read from websites

If you want to use this device as a means to make to-do lists, set reminders, and place phone calls, the device needs to be paired either by a smartphone’s Bluetooth or to the control app available to most mobile devices. (All except Microsoft’s Windows Phone!)

Although Amazon Echo was designed for use as a companion to mobile devices, it can be used as a standalone unit or Bluetooth speaker. Keep in mind that the speaker built into the echo is optimized for voice purposes and does not offer a rich sound experience when playing music. Often the sound is muffled when music is played at high volumes not to mention a total lack of bass. (It’s all about the bass, after all.)

Alexa is flexible in what devices it can connect to and what tasks it can perform, but the product does not come with a battery option and must be plugged into an electrical outlet at all times, which limits the Echo to where and how it can be used.