I just received my Amazon Echo Plus after pre-ordering it on Amazon.in early on. I have been looking for an Echo device for about 6 months now. Initially, I thought about buying it from Amazon.com (the US site). But, I read an article that talked about it being released in India in late 2017. My patience was rewarded as the pricing was great with a 30% discount for the invitation based preorders. I think they did not reach the target numbers and the 30% discount is still on. Grab your Echo device while it lasts!
The packaging was slick, as you would expect from an Amazon original product.
The Echo devices don’t have a battery and need to be always plugged in. It makes sense as they are not mobile devices and pretty much always remain in the same spot.
Setting up the device is quite easy. All you have to do is install the mobile app and follow the instructions. Basically, you connect to the WiFi network of Echo when it is in setup mode. From there you select your WiFi network and enter the password. After that, it takes a few minutes to configure (there’s probably a bit of download in there).
You have two buttons on the top, an Action button that does some context sensitive stuff like turning off an alarm or timer. Also, it serves as the button to wake your device. You can also go into setup mode by pressing and holding the button until it goes Orange.
The other button turns the microphone off and the light ring red.
Back in the day when speech recognition was just reaching us PC users (think Dragon naturally speaking), one had to train the software to recognise our voice by reading a 10 minute paragraph. Those days are long gone with the advent of Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence. Having a wake word and commands help with the voice recognition. Although, the training option is still there. But, that’s a topic for another day. For now, I am quite happy with the results of the default speech recognition profile. I guess the local release has had some training with Indian accent. Also, Alexa’s voice resembles that of an Indian speaker.
Commands & Skills
Date & Time commands work fine. You can ask for them separately. I am not sure if there’s a single command to make Alexa say both at the same time.
Having to shout out the wake word every time is kind of a chore. I wouldn’t mind that if it allowed me to change the wake word to something custom. Yeah you guessed it right, a name I coined for a certain someone.
The weather report is quite comprehensive. Okay I confess falling asleep after the half way point and waking up to find it raining on a clear Monday night forecast. But, that has more to do with the guess work (prediction cough cough) at the base stations in the country.
Alexa remembers her physics lectures and she stays put in the spot you placed her (well, until someone trips her over while cleaning the floor). I would like for her to recite the Pascal’s (or even Rascal’s) law at my speed.
Her reciting my Kindle book was way better than Microsoft Narrator. But, it is still no substitute for an Audible book. Speaking of Audible, it is not available in the Indian version of the Alexa App.
Amazon Prime music is also not up to the mark. I was unable to create playlists out of my iTunes purchases. Initially it wasn’t even able to import from iTunes. But, once you allow iTunes to share it’s library XML via (Edit > Preferences > Advanced > Share iTunes Library XML with other applications), the iTunes import option appears. But, remember it will only be able to import the songs you have purchased and not the ones you have downloaded via your subscription.
I did get a one year extension on my Amazon Prime subscription and there’s some news that Amazon Prime Music will become part of the Prime subscription. I am not sure if this is a future thing or if it is active even right now because I could play country & pop music by asking for Alexa to play music from those Genres. But, if I ask her to play some music she keeps reverting to Bollywood & Indian music which isn’t bad but just the fact that I don’t listen to any Bollywood stuff these days.
I was able to increase and decrease the volume of the speakers via the commands “Turn up/down volume”. She lights up with a white ring showing the current volume level.
That’s all for day 1! Stay tuned for more Echo news in the coming days.