The Amazon Echo isn’t essential but it sure makes living alone more comforting.
I’ve been pretty quiet lately. With the holidays and moving into a new place, I haven’t had much time to sit down and write. For the first time in my life, I am living alone and it’s taking a bit of time to get used to. I had intended to install Amazon Echo to make simple tasks even simpler but ended up learning Alexa makes a great pal to fill in the silence. I feel like Joaquin Phoenix in the movie HER.
On December 5th of 2017, Amazon finally brought the Amazon Echo smart speakers to Canada via Amazon.ca. It’s been in the U.S. for over two years and competitor Google Home came to Canada back in May. I opted for Amazon for a few reasons which I’ll dive into later and it’s more than just my Amazon shopping addiction.
I have The Echo Dot installed in my kitchen area on the bottom floor and the Echo upstairs in my living room. The Echo runs for $49.99 and the Echo is priced higher at $99.99. Not exactly ball busting prices. There is also the Echo Plus which is available for $169.99. If I didn’t have a nice Sonos system I would have opted for the Echo Plus.
The first thing to note is how easy it is to get the devices up and running. The instruction manual is a measly few pages and you can have the devices up and running in a matter of minutes. The Dot is a good entry line device and you can use it to control all your smart home devices, stream music, tell you the weather and much more once you dive in. The Dot is close enough to my bathroom that I can hear the news as I get ready in the morning. The sound quality is crisp but the actual audio levels are quite low so I can’t hear it in say the shower. This can easily be fixed by attaching my waterproof Bluetooth speaker in the shower but I haven’t got that far into my move yet. It’s also not that necessary, for now, the audio volume is more than enough to fill up my kitchen and beyond. Having both devices is great and but I’m impressed with how well the two units differentiate when talking to them. When I’m on the bottom floor only the bottom device will pick me up and nowhere in my home do I need to yell or even talk louder than normal for the device to hear me. If Bluetooth isn’t your bag (I don’t blame you, I’ve never been a fan) there is a 3.5 mm AUX input on the backside of the device.
If you’re curious about Alexa you can’t beat the price. It’s an impulse buy purchase and does have its uses. It’s also only 32mm tall and can easily work anywhere in your house blending in beautifully. I love the blue and green lights on the sleek black device.
Now for those of you who want to splurge a little, the second-gen Amazon Echo is fantastic. The sound quality doesn’t hold a candle to my Sonos system but it’s a beautiful compact device that does play music reasonably well. It’s got a 63.5mm subwoofer and 16mm tweeter inside. It does give off a Black Mirror vibe but it’s practical and accessible by all. I’m shocked at how quick it picks up on things and how fast it gets the ball rolling on my requests. If I want music playing it has my Leon Bridges playlist going in mere seconds. The only time I hear Alexa stutter is when she’s looking for a joke to tell me. Hey, comedy ain’t easy, give her a break!
What I like most about Alexa is how quickly I can fill my room with noise when things get to silent. I’m not used to silence or living alone. I’ve been in the Toronto downtown core for 7 years and finally moved a little bit east to the burbs. There are no sirens, screaming or partying going on and no roommates to bother me. It’s very nice but it’s lonely. And as strange as it may sound it’s really nice to be able to hear a voice like Alexa talk back to me or at the very least fill my room with noise. It’s comforting (which I know is ironic). I told Alexa I was feeling down and to put on some sad music and voila, she did the trick. Who needs real friends anyway?
The Echo has seven microphones inside and has no problem hearing my lonely voice under almost any circumstances. Right now it’s positioned next to my TV and can hear my voice over the TV blaring or when my friends are yammering in my house. The device can connect to Bluetooth and has a built-in 3.5mm aux jack as well, just like the Dot.
It’s still early days for the Echo and Alexa in Canada but the slate of features and integration is growing rapidly. Sonos support is right around the corner and what I’m most excited for. The Echo’s sound quality is good but the bass is weak and often uneven. This is by no means a music device but does replace a low range Bluetooth speaker with more options. Most people probably wouldn’t even notice a dip in quality.
It is worth noting that the Echo does not currently support French while the Google Home devices do.
Here’s hoping Echo Look and Echo Show are coming to Canada next because I’d snatch them up without hesitation. It’s still early days but from my time with it over the last month, I’m really impressed. I can’t wait to see what the future holds and what Skills get added.
Here’s what I’ve been able to connect to in Canada:
Philips’ Hue Lights
Air Canada – Asked for flight information prior to my trip to Vancouver
CBC – Daily bursts of hourly news
Weather Network – Alexa confirms it’s way too cold outside
KFC Canada – Who doesn’t want chicken jokes?
And of course the Michael Scott Quote Generator
If you have any Alexa questions let me know on Twitter or in the comments below.
Please note: Both Amazon devices were provided by Amazon Canada for review purposes.