Introducing the Amazon Echo

by smartvoice March 29, 2018

Introducing the Amazon Echo

The wait is finally over and we can all now purchase our Amazon Echo units in Australian stores and online.  The Amazon Echo was released in Australia in February 2018.  While the choice of units is still limited, it is exciting the see the Echo hit our stores.

You can now purchase an Echo from Amazon.com.au, JB Hi-fi, Officeworks and even Catch of the Day!  The Amazon Voice Assistant (Alexa) now comes with an Australian accent and has a growing number of skills for use in the Amazon Australia Skills store.

 

It is a hands-free, voice-controlled speaker which allows you to access Alexa from anywhere in the room, using far-field voice recognition. All you need to do is say “Alexa” and she wakes up. You can also configure her via the Alexa app to respond to “Computer”, “Echo” and “Amazon”. If you see the ring at the top of the device light up in blue, it means that she has heard you.  Alexa can hear you even in a busy environment, thanks to seven microphones using e beam-forming technology and noise cancellation. Beam-forming combines the signals from the individual microphones to suppress noise, reverberation, the music currently playing, and other people talking.

Here at Smart Voice we have a whole bunch of different units in our test labs, all responding to the different names.  Add Google Home and Apple Siri to this and there are a lot of conversations happening here all day.  For fun we even get them to speak to each other!

The Alexa App is compatible with Fire OS, Android and iOS devices. It can also be accessed through your desktop browser.

Devices currently for sale include:

Amazon Echo

This is the standard version of Amazon Echo.  You can use it to stream music, ask questions, check the weather, set alarms and timers, manage shopping lists, consult your calendar, check the traffic and make hands-free phone calls on your mobile: basically anything you can use your smartphone for. It can also be used to control compatible smart home devices such as lighting, AC, AV and blinds using Smart Voice (www.smartvoice.com.au).

Amazon Echo Dot

This is Amazon’s equivalent to the Google Home Mini. Also hands-free, it uses the same far-field voice control as the regular Echo. It lacks the standard Echo’s 2.5-inch woofer which means that the sound is less impressive but it works well for the everyday voice commands and at the price point allows you to have one in every room. You can also connect it to your existing speakers via bluetooth or cables.

This is the upscale model which comes with a built-in smart home hub. “Alexa, discover my devices” triggers the echo automatically finding and setting up lights, smart plugs and switches. On launch, Zigbee-supported lights, smart plugs, and switches will work. It also comes with a larger 0.8″ tweeter. his includes the Philips Hue range, LiFX, TP-link, and Harmony products. Telstra Home.

If you have a bunch of Echo devices within hearing distance, you don’t want them all answering you at once. This is where Amazon’s “ESP technology” kicks in. It will calculate the clarity of your voice to work out which Echo is closest. This feature is smart, Amazon says, so performance gets better over time, continuously improving as you use Echo.

Which one to buy?

 

It depends!  Depending on your use case, different Echo units may make sense.  The Standard Echo provides a decent speaker with all the command functionalities you will most likely need.  If you want to have one in every room, then it makes sense to use a bunch of Echo Dots.  At Smart Voice Services we like the Standard Echo for most functions and are looking forward to the Echo Spot and the Echo Show to make it to Australia.  You could of course by them overseas and ship them here, but the Echo Show does not support the Australian Skills. We will have to keep waiting!

Echo Skills

Alexa is Amazon’s Digital Assistant, built in the Amazon Echo devices.  It connects the Amazon Echo to the Cloud and can hook up to a series of “skills”, which support different activities.  Companies (such as Smart Voice Services) use Alexa Skills Kit to build skills.  There were over 10,000 skills available in Australia on launch and these are growing on a weekly basis.

Some of the local skills include surf reports from Coastalwatch, recipes from Taste.com.au, travel details from Qantas and bank balances from NAB.

Some examples:

  • “Alexa, enable SEEK jobs” lets you go on to ask for SEEK Company Reviews, SEEK Jobs skills and weekly SEEK employment market updates as well as more specific questions, like “Alexa, ask SEEK Jobs for Project Manager roles in Melbourne.”
  • “Alexa, Open Airtasker” will let you post a cleaning or gardening task – by saying something like “Alexa, ask Airtasker to find me a cleaner”.
  • The Telstra Smart Home skill will let you to control Telstra Smart Home compatible lights, smart plugs, and Zen thermostat.
  • Amaysim has a skill that lets you find your mobile phone by triggering a call.
  • ” Alexa, ask hipages to find me a plumber” will let you search and contact the right tradie for your job
  • Energy Australia has a skill where you can say “Alexa, ask EnergyAustralia how much is my latest bill?”, “Alexa, ask EnergyAustralia, when is my account due?” or even “Alexa, ask EnergyAustralia, how can I reduce my electricity bill?”
  • There’s also “Alexa, ask Westpac how much money I have in my savings account”
  • “Alexa, please place my favourite Domino’s order” is also a reality, as of February 1

There are also news updates from  Ten News, Sky News Australia, SBS, and Fox Sports. “Alexa, what’s the news?” and “Alexa, read my flash briefing”

She also knows the weather – both locally, and anywhere in the world. “Alexa, will it rain tomorrow?”, “Alexa, what’s the weather in Melbourne?” and “Alexa, what’s the weather in Tokyo this weekend?” are all valid questions she will have the answer to.

There’s hands-free calling and messaging – you can talk to anyone else with an Echo device, or even the Alexa app. And you can send messages via voice or text, too. “Alexa, call Mum,” and “Alexa, send a message to Kylie” will both be understood, loud and clear.

You can also talk to other people in your home – wherever there’s an echo device. It’s called the “Drop-In” feature, and is basically room-to-room calling. “Alexa, drop in on the kitchen/bathroom/bedroom/lounge room” makes this happen

Okay, okay, this is all very handy – but what about the proper Aussie stuff?

You know by now you can ask Alexa almost anything – famous people, dates, places, calculations, conversions, spelling – and that includes Australian trivia too.

“Alexa, who is the Australian Prime Minister?”, “How long is the Sydney Harbour Bridge?” and “Alexa, what’s a sausage sizzle?” are all in there, and the classic “Alexa, tell me a joke” has been given a local twist, too.

Alexa knows her Aussie sports now, too! She can give you live scores or scores for completed games, tell you when your favourite team plays their next game, that kind of thing. Tennis fans can just ask, “Alexa, when is the Australian Open final?” or cricket fans can ask, “Alexa, when does the Australian cricket team play next?”

One of the common uses for Alexa is as an alarm clock and a timer. You can set up multiple alarms and timers with your voice – including setting repeating alarms. “Alexa, wake me up at 6am tomorrow morning, “Alexa, how much time is left on my timer?” and “Alexa, set a repeating alarm for Tuesday at 9am” are all useful requests.

Alexa can also manage To-Do and Shopping lists. Just say “Alexa, add Vegemite to my Shopping list,” or “Alexa, put ‘change oil’ on my To-Do list.”

Alexa can also sync to your calendar – only one at this stage, although she can read shared calendars – to add or read events. “Alexa, what’s on my calendar tomorrow at 9am” and “Alexa, add an event to my calendar” or “Alexa, add ‘shopping’ to my calendar for Saturday at 10am” are examples of what can trigger this skill.

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