Internet of Things

Amazon Echo: The smart person's guide

Amazon's smart speaker dominance may be facing a challenge from Google, but the Echo line is still on top. Find out all you need to know about it in this smart person's guide.

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Image: Amazon

Amazon's Echo smart speaker was a game changer when it launched in 2015. Since then it's continued to lead the IoT hub market in spite of increased competition from Google. The Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Tap can be found in homes, offices, businesses, and anywhere else internet connectivity allows Alexa, its onboard digital assistant, to reach the web.

The Echo may seem like it's designed for the smart home, but there's no reason it can't be used in a smart office as well. If you've been seeking a hub for an IoT-connected office, it's well worth your time to investigate the Echo to see if it's a good fit, and TechRepublic has all the info you need right here.

TechRepublic's smart person's guide about Amazon Echo is a quick introduction to Amazon's smart speaker, as well as a "living" guide that will be updated periodically as new software is released and new hardware is developed.

SEE: Check out all of TechRepublic's smart person's guides.

Executive summary

  • What is Amazon Echo? Amazon Echo is an internet-connected smart speaker. It comes with Alexa, Amazon's digital assistant, and is able to serve as an IoT hub, a music player, an internet search engine, and anything else that a Skill enables it to do.
  • Why does Amazon Echo matter? Echo is, so far, the leading smart speaker on the market. Google Home is a close second, but Amazon's two-year head start has made Echo and Alexa the platform to beat. Anyone interested in smart home technology will likely be making a choice between one of those platforms.
  • Who does Amazon Echo affect? Echo affects anyone who wishes to turn their home or business into a smart IoT-connected one. Echo can serve as a hub for a variety of IoT devices, as well as serving as a digital assistant like Siri, Cortana, or Google Assistant.
  • When is Amazon Echo happening? The Amazon Echo was released to the public in June 2015, with the Dot and Tap being released in September and March 2016, respectively.
  • How do I start using Amazon Echo? The Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Tap are all available on Amazon.com and at major electronics retailers. Using an Echo is as simple as installing the smartphone app and following the onscreen instructions.

SEE: Cracking Open the Amazon Echo cloud-connected speaker (TechRepublic)

What is Amazon Echo?

It's hard to be on the internet nowadays and not have heard of the Echo. Amazon's smart speaker and IoT hub has sold over five million units since its launch in 2015, making it the easy leader in the smart speaker market.

The Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Tap are all internet-connected speakers that come with Amazon's Alexa digital assistant. Alexa can control IoT devices, purchase goods from Amazon, play music, and perform a variety of app-like tasks called Skills, which can be installed from inside the Alexa app or Amazon's Alexa Skills page.

All three members of the Echo family can be woken with a voice command, which is set to "Alexa" by default. The devices each feature some limited control buttons for volume, mute, and wake, but the products truly shine when their far-field microphones and speech recognition are used to make requests from the next room.

Additional resources

The Echo family tech specs

Amazon Echo

  • Size: 9.3" x 3.3" x 3.3"
  • Sound: 2.5" woofer and 2.0" tweeter
  • Wi-Fi: Dual band, dual MIMO antennas, 802.11a/b/g/n support, no ad-hoc/p2p network support
  • Bluetooth: Full support for streaming audio from a device to the Echo and for voice control of mobile devices.
  • Power: Requires standard wall outlet
  • Battery life: n/a
  • Setup requirements: Needs Wi-Fi connection and compatible control device (Fire OS, Android, iOS, or web portal)

Amazon Echo Dot

  • Size: 1.3" x 3.3" x 3.3"
  • Sound: Single built-in speaker, 3.5 mm stereo jack for connection to external speaker.
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11a/b/g/n support, no ad-hoc/p2p network support
  • Bluetooth: Full support for streaming audio from a device to the Echo and for voice control of mobile devices.
  • Power: Requires standard wall outlet
  • Battery life: n/a
  • Setup requirements: Needs Wi-Fi connection and compatible control device (Fire OS, Android, iOS, or web portal)

Amazon Echo Tap

  • Size: 6.3" x 2.6" x 2.6"
  • Sound: dual 1.5" drivers, dual passive bass radiators
  • Wi-Fi: Standard Wi-Fi compatible, 802.11b/g/n support, supports mobile Wi-Fi hotspots
  • Bluetooth: Full support for streaming audio from a device to the Echo and for voice control of mobile devices.
  • Power: Charged via docking cradle
  • Battery life: 9 hours continuous playback
  • Setup requirements: Needs Wi-Fi connection and compatible control device (Fire OS, Android, iOS, or web portal)

Why does Amazon Echo matter?

The smart speaker/IoT hub marketplace is currently caught in a dual platform war, as is often the case in technology. This time it's Amazon vs. Google, and the latter has a lot of catching up to do.

If Amazon's digital assistant supremacy—and by extension the Echo's market lead—continue, it's likely anyone getting into IoT will have to make a choice between two platforms: Amazon's and Google's.

Amazon's two years of additional sales time has given it a huge edge on the number of available Skills and smart home partnerships: It greatly outpaces Google in both of those areas.

Additional resources

Who does Amazon Echo affect?

Curious about the Internet of Things? Then the Echo affects you. Smart homes and smart offices need a main device that operates the thermostat, turns on the lights, streams video to the TV, controls the washing machine ... the possibilities are too numerous to name and keep growing all the time.

The Echo isn't just a smart home hub—it's also a digital assistant designed to do a lot of the same stuff as Siri, Cortana, and their relatives. It can set timers, add items to a shopping list, get movie reviews, book restaurant reservations, and do a lot of the stuff you used to have to find your smartphone for.

Whether you want an Echo to set the thermostat, lock the doors, shut the blinds, or just keep a shopping list, it can do it.

Additional resources

When is Amazon Echo happening?

The original Amazon Echo was released to the public in June 2015. The Tap joined it in March 2016, and the Dot came to market in September 2016.

New Skills and IoT partnerships are released fairly regularly, and large announcements can be expected at most major trade shows like CES, which Amazon Alexa dominated in 2017.

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Amazon Echo competitors

There are a number of third-party smart speakers that aren't manufactured by Amazon but partner with them so that they can use Alexa. I'm not including them here since they aren't direct competitors.

Amazon Echo's main competitor is Google Home. The hardware specs for the Google Home are similar to the Echo, and functionality of the device is very similar as well. The Google Home is a bit cheaper, though: $129 versus the Echo's $179.

The Dot can be purchased for $49.99, and the Tap matches the Home's $129.

Additional resources

How can I start using Amazon Echo?

Interested parties can purchase all of the Echo family on Amazon or at major electronics retailers.

Once you purchase an Echo it's simple to get it going. Just install the app, turn on the Echo, and follow the onscreen instructions. Connection errors are infrequent, and as long as you don't move the Echo outside of Wi-Fi range you shouldn't need to deal with any problems.

Additional resources

About Brandon Vigliarolo

Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.

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