Test and review of Amazon Echo: "Alexa – we have to talk"

While this text was being written, in early 2017 it was out: the test phase has ended. Now Amazon Echo and Echo Dot are available to everyone – instantly. Do I really need the digital assistant? No. But so far it has been a lot of fun and can sometimes even be useful.

I found again and again that although many manufacturers – especially from the smart home segment – advertise their products with: “communicates with Alexa”. In many cases there is not much behind it. Products can then only be switched on and / or off using a voice command via Alexa. Or the manufacturer offers voice commands for Alexa, but they do not work with the commands specified by the manufacturer. As a user, I then search the net to find and test the “right” voice commands. It’s frustrating.

Marketing is one thing – and digital voice assistants like Alexa or Cortana offer many manufacturers the opportunity to reposition their products. But then please put something behind it.

At the end of January 2017 Alexa is in the form of the Echo speaker in my living room.

In order not to make any mistakes, I also brought everything I suspected of needing the installation close to me.

On the living room table were:

Unpacking is quick. The speaker, the power supply and three small pieces of paper. That’s it. A place is also quickly found, since the radius from the socket is limited by the 173 cm long power cable.

Now comes the moment when a new car owner starts the car for the first time. The plug goes into the socket – and the top ring on the loudspeaker begins to glow blue.
After 60 seconds I get nervous. Because now Alexa should greet me for the first time. It takes almost 90 seconds for the circling ring to change from blue to yellow and Alexa speaks to me for the first time with soft background music: “Hello! Your Amazon Echo can now be set up. Just follow the instructions in the Alexa app.”
Video shortened:

Said and done. The app for mobile operating systems can be found in the following app shops

The minimum requirements for the mobile operating system for the Alexa app are Android 4.4, iOS 8.0. and Fire OS 3.0. Alternatively, the app can also be reached via the standard browser at https://alexa.amazon.de.

The WiFi integration also takes place via the app. Access is in the left navigation area under “Devices”, “Set up new device”. Then the action button on the top right of the speaker must be pressed for five seconds. The light ring changes color from blue to orange, indicating the connection mode.

“You have connected Echo. Now continue the setup in your Alexa app”, the speaker confirms the positive trend. At this point, Amazon also offers me to save all of my WiFi passwords on Amazon. But we prefer to leave that.

The project is: to control several garden lamps by voice command.
Lessson learned: Always read the compatibility carefully before buying a product. My first generation Echo does not have all radio standards, such as Zigbee. That was also very small in the product description.

For me, this incompatibility unfortunately only turns out after the cables that connect the lamps to each other have already been buried in the garden and the technical installation has started. I therefore decide to make the detour via a Philips Hue Bridge, which of course means additional costs.

The technical installationAfter the garden lamps can be controlled via the Hue Bridge using the Zigbee standard, Amazon’s Echo must still be connected to the Hue Bridge via the app in order to address the lights using Alexa voice control. This works in the Alexa app, as usual, via “Add device.”

The garden lighting can now be controlled either via the Alexa app on the smartphone, via the Alexa voice control or via the Philips Hue app on the smartphone. But what strikes me is that as soon as my Ledvance (formerly Osram) garden lamps are on the power grid, they glow slightly – so draw electricity. The solution: The additional purchase of an external socket to which the lamps are now connected and which can be switched on and off by shouting: “Alexa, switch external socket on / off.”

After completing this extensive installation, most of the commands work – including the “scenes” already supplied on the Philips Hue, such as sunset lights or reading lights. However, in this case I decided to control the garden lighting more conveniently via smartphone via the Hue app, because Alexa does not understand all scenes by voice command in the test.

The following amateur video shows the function via Alexa voice command:

Incidentally, it does not make sense for all devices to control them by voice command. An echo loudspeaker standing in the apartment, to which one shouts from the garden: “Alexa – Gartenlampen Abendrot”, could cause surprise in the neighborhood.

I start the first function test with music. Purely in the Alexa app and under Settings, Echo can be connected to the music service Spotify. My first wish for music starts.

In this context, it occurs to me that as a Prime customer I could also access free music offers from Amazon. So I also make this connection. For the next few minutes I let Alexa search for and play music tracks, playlists and radio stations across the border. In the back of my mind, I wonder which service the speaker uses to call up the music if I don’t tell it: “Alexa is playing the playlist XY from Spotify”, but I just want a title without a source. But no matter, the main thing is that it works.

The sound sounds good for a single speaker that, according to the manufacturer, fills the room with a 360-degree sound, and I treat myself to a music evening. Alexa changes the volume on demand with the commands “Alexa: louder” and “quieter” or but with the numbers 0 to 10. If the volume is very high, it also means “Alexa !!” literally yelling to get their attention.

Because of the personalization that has worked well so far, I am continuing to access my audio books at the Amazon subsidiary Audible. Under “Music and Books” in the Alexa app, however, I only find a single book that I had exceptionally loaded years ago not on a PC but on the go using my smartphone.

I still try using a voice command. Here’s the answer:

So I log in to Audible and go to the bottom of the page for the apps. There I find a note about my problem under the Amazon devices: “Why isn’t my audiobook playing on the Echo?”

Danger: It is important to know that Amazon Echo cannot work with old Audible accounts that still log in using username and password. Before doing so, the user must connect their old Audible account to their Amazon account.