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Thread: Amazon Echo Dot Review

  1. #1

    Amazon Echo Dot Review

    Elsewhere on this site there was some discussion of this device so I thought others might be interested in my experience with it. Bear in mind that I am not a professional reviewer nor is this intended to be an in-depth review of this device. Simply things I discovered in my first two weeks with it.

    I received my Alexa Echo Dot (3rd Generation) several weeks ago as a freebie.

    It is about the size and weight of a hockey puck and relatively easy to use. Plug it in, download the corresponding app to your smartphone and you're off and running. The app is used to set preferences and settings since the Dot top controls are very limited (there are just 4: volume up/down, mic on/off and attention).

    I use the Android app so comments below may or may not apply if you are an iPhone Nazi.

    The interpretation of voice commands work pretty well. It accepts my voice without problems and that of my 8-year old granddaughter and foreign-born daughter (who has a fairly strong Romanian accent). It does not handle compound instructions very well though. Keep your request to a single command and it works much better. I am told it accepts both English and German although my high school German is way too old to test.

    I do not live in a 'smart' house so I did not test any of the remote device management capabilities (turn on/off lamps, unlock/lock doors etc.) nor did I use it for things like creating shopping lists. Although Alexa can provide local traffic reports my 'Droid app from a local TV station is much faster.

    I suspect the most common use will be playing music (a trial period of Amazon Music comes with (I don't intend to renew at $3.99/month) but I have found that full of shortcomings:

    1. Requesting a specific song might get you the original or it might get you a re-recording of the original.
    2. A request for an album or genre will probably result in unwanted repeats of a single song (also happened with NPR News summary as well).
    3. Amazon claims to have 50 million songs out there but there are a ton of common titles that I have never heard of and there are many popular personal favorites missing.
    4. Requesting something like "play Hawaiian Instrumentals" results in vocal recordings and a request to play harp music was not understood. Not sure what's up with that. I'm amazed at how good its vocal interpretation is but it is still a long way from perfect.
    5. And the WORST shortcoming - the audio level is very inconsistent between songs. Playing the Echo Dot on your bedside while trying to go to sleep results in songs barely heard to the next one blasting you off your pillow. Very irritating! And, the volume buttons on top of the puck are not lighted and hard to find if the room is dark.

    On the plus side it does a reasonable job of finding a specific song or album (played in shuffle mode) and you can build your own personal playlist(s) if you wish although I did not try this as I already have a device that does this much more efficiently.

    My granddaughter is going to be pleased with it because she loves to give it math problems. Saves her a bunch of time doing homework. It is also useful as a clock radio (wake to music of your choice) but its rumored ability to record everything around it might not be what you want in the bedroom (especially if your girlfriend's name is 'Alexa'). You can shut the microphone off but I'm unsure if that actually does what you would think. You do have the choice of replacing 'Alexa' with one of three other choices - none of which would be your girlfriend's name.

    I did notice that with unit not used for several days, even with the mic and notifications turned off, it starts blinking - irritating. I could not get it to tell me why it was blinking or what it might have wanted (other than general attention). This isn't an issue during daylight but at night in the bedroom the Echo puts out enough light that it will wake you up. Telling it to stop (the normal command) didn't work nor did threatening to dunk it in a bucket of water. I ended up unplugging it for a day or two and that finally killed it.

    It does have a mini stereo jack connection so earbuds do work and you do get full stereo out of the earbuds. The internal speaker sounds mono but it isn't bad at low audio levels. It will reportedly connect via Bluetooth to an external speaker although I did not try that. You can also set 2 Dot's up to create a stereo speaker although I understand there may be issues getting that to work correctly.

    I usually watch the local TV news while eating breakfast but if you don't do that this gadget will give you the news from several optional sources while you eat. I did notice it repeats stories from time to time and appears to be caught in a loop. I never found it very useful because not very many news sources are available. Caveat: constant changes are being made to the Echo Dot so you might find differences between my version and the latest versions.

    IMHO is it much more of a toy than a useful gadget and not worth the money it costs (somewhere between $40-$100 on the open market although I have seen it as low as $29 recently). People with smart homes might find it more useful.

    Interestingly, I could not convince anyone else in my house to try it out. My house consists of a tech-challenged wife (of appropriate age), a 30-ish daughter (and smartphone guru) and an 8-year old granddaughter (who is also comfortable around tech equipment). The granddaughter spent about 10 minutes with it then stated "It's boring!"
    Illegitimi non carborundum

  2. #2
    The Dot is the cheapest model and I've seen them for sale at Best Buy and Amazon for as low as $19. I agree with your grand-daughter. It is boring. Nothing visual. They're used to some kind of visual stimulus. None there with the Dot.

    As with most Amazon products, they prefer you to be an Amazon Prime subscriber. That connects you into the Amazon Music system. I am not, although I do have a standard Amazon account, which I use for my Fire TV device. It can be Alexa-controlled, but I have not enabled that part. In that way, you could tell your TV to change stations. The new Comcast remote has a similar function.

  3. #3
    I think this is a fair and accurate review. There are a few cases where a smart assistant in my home might be useful - but I do mean a FEW. Mostly cases where I would be replacing a remote control with a voice command. I could see myself saying "Alexa, open the garage door" when I'm taking out the trash.

    It does not seem to me that the convenience of being able to say "Alexa, play Journey" and thus saving all of 8 seconds over unlocking my phone and opening a music app. Similarly, CBS and NPR (and probably others) publish their hourly radio newscasts as a podcast which can be retrieved at any time from any podcast app. Which is not substantially less convenient than the smart speaker's flash briefing.
    "Its music what makes a radio station, and at Live FM, we play the last music around."
    After receiving that copy, I quit the VO industry.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by TheBigA View Post
    As with most Amazon products, they prefer you to be an Amazon Prime subscriber.
    I forgot to mention that during my "test" I was a Prime subscriber although I did let my sub expire. I did not notice any difference in the music system or availability as a result of membership or not.
    Illegitimi non carborundum

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by landtuna View Post
    I forgot to mention that during my "test" I was a Prime subscriber although I did let my sub expire. I did not notice any difference in the music system or availability as a result of membership or not.
    The other option is to be a subscriber to Amazon's Music Unlimited service. $9.95 a month. Or else they route you through someone's free server.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by TheBigA View Post
    The other option is to be a subscriber to Amazon's Music Unlimited service. $9.95 a month. Or else they route you through someone's free server.
    Perhaps that explains why I asked for John Denver and instead got Willy Nelson.
    Illegitimi non carborundum

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