What Is the Amazon Echo?

Amazon's intelligent assistant explained

Amazon Echo is a smart speaker, which means it does more than play music. With Amazon's virtual assistant Alexa, Echo can tell you about the weather, create shopping lists, help you in the kitchen, control other smart products such as lights and televisions, and a lot more.

What Is Echo?

The primary Echo device is two speakers and some computer hardware wrapped in a sleek black cylinder. It comes equipped with Wi-Fi, which it uses to connect to the internet, and it can connect to your phone through Bluetooth. It also pairs with a variety of accessories to automate your life, shop, watch TV, and play music. The entire Echo lineup is expanding year by year.

Along with the speaker version, Amazon also created several wearable Echo devices that connect to Alexa:

  • Echo Frames are smartglasses that deliver content and notifications through two inconspicuous speakers in the arms of the gadget.
  • Echo Loop is a titanium ring with a button that summons Alexa. It vibrates to alert you of notifications. You can also speak requests into it and hold it to your ear to listen to the response.
  • Echo Buds are in-ear headphones that put Alexa directly in your head. They also include noise reduction, which can help you hear Alexa's voice in a crowded place.

All three of these devices mean that you won't need your Echo speakers with you to benefit from Alexa when you leave your house.

Without access to the internet, the Echo can't do much unless you have Amazon Echo Auto. In that case, the capabilities are a little different. With a home Echo, you can stream music from your phone using Bluetooth, but that's about it.

When an Echo connects to the internet, all its capabilities are available. Using an array of built-in microphones, Echo listens for a wake word to leap into action. This word is "Alexa" by default, but you can change it to "Echo" or "Amazon" if you like.

Amazon Echo 4th Gen
Lifewire / Erika Rawes

What Can Amazon Echo Do?

When you wake up Echo, it immediately listens for a command, which it then does its best to follow. For instance, when you ask Echo to play a specific song or type of music, it uses the available services to find the music. You can also ask for information about the weather, news, sports scores, and more.

Echo responds to natural speech so well that it feels almost like talking to a person. If you thank Echo for helping you, it has a response to that.

Echo also has an associated app for Android and iOS phones and tablets. It enables you to control the Echo without talking to it, configure the device, and view recent commands and interactions.

Can Echo Eavesdrop on Conversations?

Echo is always on and listening for its wake word, so some people worry it might be spying on them. Echo records what you say after it hears the wake word. Amazon uses that sound data to improve Alexa's understanding of your voice. You can view and listen to the recordings that an Alexa-enabled device has made to ensure it's not capturing personal information.

Access your Amazon account online to access data about commands from the Alexa app and view a complete history.

How to Use an Echo for Entertainment

Entertainment is the primary use for smart-speaker technology. Ask Alexa to play one of your Pandora stations, for instance, or ask for music from any artist included in Prime Music if you have a subscription. It also supports other streaming services, including:

The Google music subscription service is absent from the Echo lineup because Google offers a competing smart speaker. However, you can get around this by pairing your phone to an Echo over Bluetooth and streaming that way. Echo can also access audiobooks from Audible, read Kindle books, and even tell jokes if you ask.

The Echo has some fun Easter eggs if you know what to ask.

Use Echo for Productivity

Beyond entertainment, Echo provides information on the weather, sports teams, news, and traffic. If you tell Alexa the details of your commute, it will warn you about traffic issues you might run into.

Echo can also make to-do lists and shopping lists, which you access and edit in the smartphone app. And if you use a service, such as Google Calendar or Evernote, to keep track of to-do lists, Echo can handle that, too.

Echo has a lot of functionality out of the box thanks to Alexa, and you can add even more through skills from third-party programmers. For instance, add the Uber or Lyft skill so you can request a ride without touching your phone.

Other fun and useful skills you can add to the Echo include one that dictates text messages, another that orders pizza, and one that finds the best wine pairing for a meal.

Amazon Echo and the Smart Home

If you're on board with the idea of talking to your virtual assistant, you can control everything from your thermostat to your television by voice. Echo can act as a hub to monitor other smart devices, and you can connect it to third-party hubs that control still more devices.

Using an Echo as a hub in a connected home is a little more complicated than asking it to play your favorite music, and there are sometimes compatibility issues. Some smart devices work directly with Echo, many require an additional hub, and others won't work at all.

If you are interested in using an Echo as a smart hub, the app includes a list of compatible devices and the skills to go along with them.

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