Product Review by Sam R
On October 31, a mere 6 days from now, Amazon will release and ship the new Amazon Echo 2nd generation smart home speaker. Not only are they releasing one new device they are releasing 3. The Amazon Echo Dot 2nd generation and the Amazon Echo Plus. I will discuss the other two new products in a different posting but they all have Alexa built into them and they all have improvements from the original Echo products.
So Amazon has taken the number one home voice activated smart home system and improved it while making it cheaper than the first generation product which is a win for everyone. While Echo is new and improved there are things, I wish they had improved. Read on to learn more.
Amazon made five main changes to the product. They
- Improved the sound and microphone performance
- They made the product so you can change its cover and therefor its looks and the looks available are quite striking. I really love the new look and I think you will too.
- Add Alexa Routines which allow you to group actions together (I’ll explain more later)
- They improved the ability of Alexa to know your voice. It is a bit difficult to setup but it makes using the system to control your home or shop even easier.
- They are adding new capabilities and devices to make the system help you in ways you never thought possible (see info on Alexa Cam & Key and Alexa Look)
So let us explore the details of the brand new Amazon Echo 2nd Generation Smart Home Speaker.
FUNNY SKIT ON ALEXA FOR SENIOR CITIZENS FROM Saturday Night Live (SNL)
|Size||5.9” x 3.5” x 3.5” (148 mm x 88 mm x 88 mm)|
|Weight||29.0 oz. (821 grams) Actual size and weight may vary by manufacturing process|
|Wi-Fi connectivity||Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks. Does not support connecting to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) Wi-Fi networks.|
|Bluetooth connectivity||Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) support for audio streaming from your mobile device to Echo or from Echo to your Bluetooth speaker. Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP) for voice control of connected mobile devices. Hands-free voice control is not supported for Mac OS X devices. Bluetooth speakers requiring PIN codes are not supported.|
|Audio||2.5” (63.5 mm) woofer and 0.6” (16 mm) tweeter with Dolby and 360º Sound.|
|Alexa App||The Alexa App is compatible with Fire OS, Android, and iOS devices.|
|Warranty and Service||1-year limited warranty and service included. Optional 1-year, 2-year, and 3-year extended warranty available for U.S. customers sold separately.|
Improved Sound and Microphone Performance
Amazon says that they have added Dolby processing and made improvements to the sound quality. However, the sound quality of the Echo 2nd generation is better for voice communication it has more high frequency content and is thus clear. Dolby processing helps improve the imaging and its 360º sound field is better than 1st generation speaker is. However, the bass response on the speaker when playing music is not improved and is even more lacking than before. One of the main complaints of this speaker in generation 1 was that music playback was not good enough.
Therefore, the consensus among audiophiles is that if music sound quality is important, go with a Sonos One Speaker or the Harmon Kardon Invoke speaker. These other speakers have Alexa built in and sound better. Another alternative is to buy the Echo Dot at a lower cost and add it to your current home speaker system from the audio output jack. They have added an audio output jack to the Echo Speaker so you can improve sound quality by plugging it into your home system too.
The Microphone array is improved and has better far field performance and voice recognition in general. However if you have a TV playing loudly near the speaker, it still has difficulties in filtering it out and listening to your voice only. The Google Home is better at filtering out room noise and therefore has an easier time understanding you when the room has a lot of noise in it.
The Amazon Echo Audio Rating for me is a B. Sonos, Harmon Kardon and even Google Home products rate higher than this.
Changeable Covers and aesthetic look.
For me this is the biggest change they made in the product besides price. The 1st Generation product was not a work of art, it was functional. The new Echo with all of its smart home automation will most likely be more visible in the room – so how it looks matters. The different fabrics, textures, and colors mean it will look great no matter where it is, whether it’s in an all-white kitchen or an eclectic living room. So the ability to customize the look is a new key feature and a reason to upgrade your speaker from the Generation 1 version of the product.
There are six colors available
- Heather grey fabric
- Charcoal grey fabric
- Sandstone fabric
- Silver metallic finish
- Walnut simulated wood
- Oak simulated wood
The fabric covers look soft and plush, the metal and wood ones look slick and modern. Whatever your décor you should be able to match the look you want.
The one complaint is that it is tall and may not fit on your shelf but if that is the case put it on the table and let everyone see its beauty and be envious.
The Amazon Echo design and look for me is an A. Google Home and others are not as easy to change colors or styles.
The changes they have made to Alexa also make it an improvement over the 1St Generation product. The new feature called, Alexa Routines makes controlling smart devices easier than ever. You can use one voice command for a series of actions, simplifying what is done and when.
For instance, say “Alexa, good morning” and she will turn on the lights, turn up the thermostat and turn on the TV. All you have to do is set up what actions go with what command or you can set a schedule, say every weekday at 9 am, and Alexa will do the rest.
You can now group devices, instead of unique device names for every device. For instance, you have two lights in a living room and two AC smart switches. You group both lights and when you say turn on “living room lights” or if you have an echo in your bedroom, walk in there, and say turn on the lights, Alexa will know what room you are in and be smart enough to turn on those lights.
Additionally, Alexa works with Samsung SmartThings Hub, Philips Hue Hub, ZigBee, GE, Nest, Kwikset and other brands. Its ability to control most home automation devices and networks makes it the leader in the industry. The Amazon Echo Plus comes with a built in hub so you might not need a 3rd party smart home hub. However, the Echo Plus does not have Z-Wave capability and some of the home devices out there have Z-wave communication so you would still need a smart hub with Z-Wave capability if you bought an Amazon Echo Plus. Z-wave is a person that speaks Korean and ZigBee is a person speaking Chinese. They share some of the same characters and words but the two people cannot communicate together.
The Amazon Alexa ability to control your smart home system is an A. Google Assistant, Siri and others are not as integrated or have as many 3rd party devices that work with it.
Alexa User Recognition
You can teach Alexa who you are. It is not easy to do this and it is a bit cumbersome to do it but it can be done. The advantage is that it then can control which account to use and charge and also only allow authorized purchases your voice is like your finger print.
To enable this feature, each user needs to go into the amazon app on their phone and train Alexa by reading a list of phrases to it. The down side to this process is every user has to use their own phone or tablet to do this and they have to be logged into their Amazon account.
I tried this in the 1st Generation product and it did not work well. I have not tried it on this generation of product. I am hoping it will be better. I have also read that Google Assistant has better sound processing technology and therefore it could be better on user recognition then Alexa is.
Until I see more reviews on this and test it myself, my rating for User Recognition is Undetermined.
Things to do with Alexa
Here are some details on what you can do with Alexa. You can click on each item to see the details.
- What’s new?
- Echo Show
- Ask questions
- Ask for recipes
- Check your calendar
- Connect Bluetooth devices
- Control music
- Control smart home devices
- Control the color of smart lights
- Create lists
- Discover music
- Drop In – Alexa’s Intercom System
- Enable skills
- Find local businesses and restaurants
- Find traffic information
- Fun and games
Adding new services and capabilities
Amazon is adding new capabilities and services. On October 25, 2017, Amazon announced the Amazon Cloud Cam and Amazon Key. I have detailed out what this is on another post, please read about it here.
Amazon Look allows Amazon to critique and comment on the clothes you are wearing.
Amazon is creating more and more apps and services to be more integrated into your life. They believe in their mission of being the “Everything Store” and they are well on their way in creating this new reality.
My rating for Adding New Services and Capabilities is A+.
But one note here is that it comes with a price and that price might be less privacy in your life. I leave it to the readers to settle this debate for themselves. However, I would love to hear your opinions about this below. Just leave a comment and let us create a forum to discuss this.
I recommend purchasing an Amazon Echo 2nd Generation or other Echo Product.
Overall, Amazon has done a great job on the 2nd Generation of Echo products. They have improved the product in performance and look, lowered the cost and expanded its capabilities. What more can we ask for? Choosing Amazon Alexa products as the brains of your smart home system will give you a great smart home system and will make it the best smart home system for you.