The choice to buy an Amazon Echo was mainly for the home automation aspect and its ability to connect with the SmartThings platform. I was intrigued by the idea of controlling different aspects of my home automation through voice commands. Also, the idea of it being a bluetooth speaker was a factor in purchasing because if it failed in the voice command category, it still had a function. I have been skeptical of voice commands since my experience with Siri has not been a positive one. The basis of my review of the Echo has to do with home automation and what it allows you to connect and control.
When I started using the Echo it was turn on a light with my voice, which was nice for a while but then I took advantage of my home automation system and using the motion sensor there really wasn’t a need to use the Echo and speak to turn on and off the lights.
I continued to add to my home automation and the next system that I bought was the Rachio, a smart sprinkler system. The Rachio also connected with the Echo and I thought this was a cool idea but quickly found the commands got to complicated and I needed to remember what each sprinkler station was called. It became easier to use the Rachio mobile app for this.
By this point the Echo was failing and it just become a speaker to play music and a device that my kids could get some random fact or joke from. The coolness factor was slowly dying.
I decided to purchase an Ecobee3, a smart thermostat for my home automation. At this point the Echo became less of factor in what I would add to my home automation system. If it happens to work with it, that is a bonus, and since it does I got that set up with the Echo and started testing it out. I quickly found that this had a little more use in using the voice to control the thermostat. The Ecobee3 can control itself but there has been many times where I would speak to increase or decrease the temperature right from the comfort of my coach or where ever I was. With people always in and out of my house I like the freedom of quickly changing the temperature and using voice commands actually makes it easier. The use of the Echo started to come back.
The next item that I connected to my smart home system was a dimmer switch for my family room lights. The Echo has proven itself here as well. I can speak to turn down the lights or turn them up, again, from the comfort of my couch. We might be watching a movie and so we want to turn the lights down. Sometimes we need to take a break in the movie and we can quickly speak to turn the light back up.
Soon after that I was able to get my garage door working with my home automation and, with some complicated hacks, I can now control opening and closing my garage door with the Echo. This also has proven a big win for the Echo.
Beside the home automation aspect of it, the Echo has been nice when you have a quick question and don’t want to get on the computer to look it up. The “always on” idea is great and makes it a lot easier to use compared to Siri that isn’t always on and doesn’t understand anything you say.
Even though the speaker was always a secondary item to me, It has been nice to have a bluetooth speaker that we can connect devices to so we can play music. I also have it connected to my Mac but there seems to be some issues with the bluetooth connectivity from the computer because it is very choppy in the playback, but I don’t use it enough for that to really complain about it.
Having used the Echo for a few months now it has proven it’s worth but there are some things that I wish it would do. The biggest thing I want it to do is provide feedback and alerts, especially related to my home automation. If a door is opened I would like it to give an alert. If someone comes home I would like it to give feedback on who it is. It our home is alarmed either when we are home or away, I would like it to be a siren or alert to what is going on if an event is triggered.
Another great thing about the Echo is that it works with about everything. If you want to listen to Pandora or Spotify, you can set it up to play from there. If you want to connect it to other smart home platforms, it’s going to work. They have also made the platform so others can develop upon it and create what they call “Skills”. If you want to order a pizza or call a car, simply install that skill and now you can speak the commands.
Overall, I am impressed with the Amazon Echo. I have grown to love it as it relates to home automation and think there are some exciting things coming in this space. If I hadn’t combined this with the home automation system, I don’t think I would have bought the Echo.
Also published on Medium.