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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 Amazon Echo IoT devices.

Cracking Open: Amazon Echo

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. This Amazon Echo resource guide will be updated periodically as new software is released and new hardware is developed.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's smart person's guides

Executive summary

  • What is Amazon Echo? Amazon Echo is an internet-connected smart speaker that comes with Alexa, Amazon's digital assistant. It 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; newer Echo units with screens also make simple video calling a reality for businesses and consumers.
  • When was Amazon Echo released? The Amazon Echo was released to the public in June 2015, with the Dot and Tap being released in September and March 2016, respectively. Amazon revamped the Echo line with a new version of the Echo in September 2017, along with these new products: the smart home-centered Echo Plus, the tiny Echo Spot, and the Echo Connect, which allows you to connect Alexa to a telephone landline.
  • How do I start using Amazon Echo? All of the various Echo products are 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: Internet of Things policy (Tech Pro Research)

Image: Ry Crist/CNET

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 Plus, Echo Dot, Echo Spot, and Echo Show 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 of the various Echo devices can be woken with a voice command, which is set to "Alexa" by default. The devices feature 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

Tech specs for Amazon Echo devices

Amazon Echo (new Sept. 2017 model)

  • Size: 5.9" x 3.5" x 3.5"
  • Screen size: n/a
  • Sound: 2.5" woofer and 0.6" tweeter
  • Camera: n/a
  • Wi-Fi: Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks.
  • 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 Plus

  • Size: 9.3" x 3.3" x 3.3"
  • Screen size: n/a
  • Sound: 2.5" woofer and 0.8" tweeter
  • Camera: n/a
  • Wi-Fi: Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks.
  • 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"
  • Screen size: n/a
  • Sound: Single 0.6" speaker, 3.5 mm stereo jack for connection to external speaker.
  • Camera: n/a
  • 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 Spot

  • Size: 4.1" x 3.8" x 3.6"
  • Screen size: 2.5"
  • Sound: 2.5" speaker
  • Camera: Front-facing for video calls
  • Wi-Fi: Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks.
  • 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 Show

  • Size: 7.4" x 7.4" x 3.5"
  • Screen size: 7"
  • Sound: dual 2" speakers
  • Camera: Front-facing 5MP camera for video calls
  • Wi-Fi: Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks.
  • 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)

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--continues, 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.

SEE: Special report: Harnessing IoT in the enterprise (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

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 similar technology. 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, the device can do it.

Additional resources

When was Amazon Echo released?

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

SEE: Alexa builds a growing army to invade the digital home (ZDNet)

Amazon revamped the Echo line with a new version of the Echo in September 2017, along with these new products: the smart home-centered Echo Plus, the tiny Echo Spot, and the Echo Connect, which allows you to connect Alexa to a telephone landline." Echo Buttons were also released, which function like gameshow buzzers for playing Echo games.

Additional resources

Image: Ry Crist/CNET

Who are Amazon Echo's 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 newest version of the basic Echo is a bit cheaper, though: $100 vs. the Home's $129.

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

Additional resources

How can I start using Amazon Echo?

All of the Echo devices are available on Amazon and 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

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