Picture of the Amazon Alexa Echo Gen 1 smart speaker, front view.

Amazon Echo Best Features List




The Amazon Echo speakers, including the Tap, Dot, as well as the original Echo feature are jampacked with an ever-growing list of helpful features and skills; all to help make our hectic days a little less so.  Some of the most useful features we’ve discovered with our two Echo Dot speakers follow. This piece describes the original Amazon Echo speaker specifically.

 

Best, Most Useful Amazon Echo Features

  • Very small size.  Modest foot print and lightweight.  At just over two pounds (36.9 ounces to be precise) and smaller than a modest cheeseburger (9.3” X 3.3”), the Amazon Echo speaker packs much function into a surprisingly little form factor.  Indeed, with the cloud-based infrastructure support that comes with the speaker, size these days is by no means any indication of just how capable this device is or could be.
  • Includes powerful AC adapter.  The switching power adapter delivers 15 volts at 1.4 amps; roughly 21 watts.  Amazon apparently wanted to make sure that this power supply is beefy enough to provide for all that rich bass that the Echo speaker is revered for.  The Echo speaker demands too many watts for a universal USB adapter.
  • Bright multi-color status ring.  This bank of LEDs that circle the outer top edge of the speaker, light up when you ask Alexa questions, indicate status of internet connection, and processing activity.  The ring even shows you which direction it hears best your voice from, as you speak to it.  This helps in figuring out the best placement of your Dot for the widest coverage and least error-prone understanding of your speech.
  • Pilot lamp feature.  This tiny yet quite visible LED glows anytime the unit is powered up.  It also indicates Wi-Fi network connection status.  White means that the speaker is currently connected to a Wi-Fi network.  Steady orange means that the speaker is not connected to a wireless network currently. If that orange is blinking, this means that the unit is currently connected to a wireless network, but cannot access the Alexa service on the internet.
  • Top-mounted controls offer access to basic Echo functions. The mic off and action functions can be activated with these two buttons. There’s also a volume control ring located on the sides of the speaker, near the top.  With the action button, you can reset the Wi-Fi connection, stop a sounding reminder alarm, and wake up the speaker without actually saying the wake-up command.
  • Mic Off feature.  Disable the built-in microphone by pressing the Mic Off button.  This mutes the mic so that the speaker stops listening.  The light ring glows red while the mic is off, reminding you that Alexa can neither hear nor answer  questions, until you enable the mic by again pressing that Mic Off button.
  • Far field microphone system.  They fit a lot into this tall soup can sized Echo speaker, including seven (count ’em, SEVEN) microphones, that provide much improved voice intelligibility over a single mic.
  • The closest Echo responds.  With the built-in Echo Spacial Perception (ESP) technology, if you have many Echo speakers throughout your home, the system determines when you speak, which speaker is closest to you, and then issues the responses from that speaker.  Though not entirely perfect, ESP vastly improves the wrong-Dot-response situation.
  • Rapid Alexa response.  She generally answers a question in a few seconds or less, although times may increase with heavy internet or Amazon server traffic.
  • Great monophonic sound.  While the flagship Echo speaker does not play in stereo, it’s perhaps the best sounding mono speaker system we’ve ever heard.
  • Accessible.  Primary setup and control functions are accessed via the Amazon Alexa App, which you install on an iOS or Android tablet or other mobile device.  Also, since Alexa can read text sources aloud, she can be an invaluable companion for blind and vision impaired users.
  • Lots of online documentation available.  Amazon offers extensive help files that explain how to set up and operate this device in detail.  See the  Amazon Echo Speaker Support Page  for extensive descriptions of this speaker.
  • Answers lots of questions by default.  Ask Alexa for the current time, weather, news, and traffic reports as well as to sing Happy Birthday, tell you a joke, or engage in rudimentary conversations with her.  We expect this capability to improve as artificial intelligence and machine learning are further integrated into the Alexa AI infrastructure.
  • Alarm clock and timer.  Your Echo speaker features a smart alarm clock and kitchen timer.   You can set multiple alarms over many days, as well as multiple timers for times such as Thanksgiving dinners, when you need to time multiple foods cooking.
  • Uber and Lyft support.  Skills to request rides from Uber and Lyft are available, and controllable with your voice.   Order a taxi just by asking Alexa for one.
  • Order a pizza from Dominos!
  • Getting smarter every day.  Thousands of free skills have been developed already with many more in the works.
  • Programmable wake command.  To get Alexa’s attention, you choose from three possible words to say to your speaker (Amazon, Echo, and Alexa).
  • Links to your Amazon account.  Your Echo speaker can link to the various subscription services in your Amazon account, such as Prime Music and Music Unlimited.  Alexa can also place orders for millions of items for you right from Amazon.  Amazon even offers discounts for some items if you voice order them through your speaker.
  • Plays many internet radio stations.  The Echo speaker offers access to the thousands of Internet broadcast streams from iHeart and TuneIn radio services; many of which are free to play
  • Get local news, traffic, sports, and weather reports.  Through the Alexa app, you can customize your “flash briefing,” to play the news and information sources you desire, in the order you desire.
  • Shopping and to-do list keeping supported.  You may add items to these lists with your voice, and then have your speaker read them back to you later, or access them on your mobile device via the Alexa app while shopping.
  • Supports many content providers.  Reads Audible books, plays podcasts, can access your Amazon music library, and hourly news broadcasts.  You may also play short news segments put together by thousands of radio and television stations around the world.
  • See what movies are playing near you.
  • Thousands of skills.  News briefings, recipes and cooking tips, smart home device controllers, music service subscriptions, traffic monitors, banking voice apps, and fact checking skills are just a few among Alexa’s prolific library of available skills which you can access through your Echo speaker.
  • Smart home enabled.  Through the Echo speaker voice service, you can control popular smart home devices such as the Nest and Honeywell internet-enabled thermostats, and multi-colored WiFi-enabled light bulbs, power switches, and wall outlets.
  • Room filling sound in small package.  Though smaller than a traditional table radio, the Echo speaker offers louder, higher fidelity sound.  Provides plenty of volume for bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, and garages.
  • Pandora, iHeart, and TuneIn radio access.  The Amazon Echo speaker can stream thousands of internet radio stations from these services.
  • Google calendar access.  Add events to your Google calendar.
  • Easy to purchase.  Get it on the Amazon website as well as the Home Shopping Network et al.  Current price is $179.99.

This is but a very small list of Echo speaker capabilities; and it’s shrinking every day as the total list grows longer and longer.  We’ll add more here as we discover and try them out.  Take care.

 

References

Revision History

  • 2017-01-20: Originally published.