48 Hours with the Amazon Echo Dot
November 29th, 2016
Over Thanksgiving weekend I bought both the Echo Dot and Google Home. They were both scheduled to arrive this Monday but the Google Home is yet to show up (thanks Fedex). I've had the Echo for 48 hours now and here are my initial thoughts.
It's fun. I was in bed last night and I wanted to know the time (I don't have a clock besides my phone). Being able to say "Alexa, what time is it?" while lying in bed with my face in the pillow put a smile on my face. Plus, the answer was correct.
It feels new. Using the echo reminds me of the first time I used Snapchat. I wasn't fully sure what the point of Snapchat was so I had to guess, experiment, screw up and eventually figure it out. The Echo feels the same way. I don't know what the best way to interact with it is. I'm trying different things, seeing what works and enjoying the process.
The device is nice. So far the hardware seems perfectly suited for the job at hand. It's simple and does the job. Plus the lights on top are fun. They go off whenever Alexa speaks giving it a slight sense of humanity.
Using Alexa to play music works well. Being able to just say "Alexa, play the Beatles" is pretty awesome.
Alexa responds quickly. I was expecting a decent lag between asking a question and hearing a response. I'm pleasantly surprised at how fast Alexa is in answering. There's still room for improvement but pretty good start.
Being powered all the time works. It's subtle but it changes completely the interaction model. While I was getting dressed this morning I was able to ask "what's the weather" without wondering where Alexa is, if it's on or what's in my hands.
Still skeptical of ordering by voice. This isn't super rational as I buy almost everything on Amazon so why wouldn't I be ok with ordering by voice? I'm not sure why but I'm still not. Maybe this will change with time but I still have the "I need to check out prices / reviews" before I buy mindset which isn't geared too well for voice.
The So-So (nothing is really that bad):
Alexa needs to get smarter. At the end of the day Amazon isn't Google yet. The answers Alexa gives aren't as good as a Google search. TBD on how good Google Home is there, but there's definitely a host of knowledge that Alexa needs to acquire. This includes questions like what's on TV tonight and how many points did Russell Westbrook score last night?
Alexa doesn't understand conversation sequence. Alexa is good at answering simple questions like "where was Tolstoy born." Following up with "when was he born?" gives me nothing. Alexa doesn't understand continuity of questions yet, a problem that's been pretty well reported to date.
Repeating "Alexa" within the same conversation is bad UX. Alexa should better handle conversations. I get a quick response when I ask "Alexa, what time is my first meeting tomorrow". When I follow up to the response it's annoying to have to say Alexa again, especially if my response is within ~2 seconds of the answer. I get that there're privacy concerns and that it'll get complicated if my next sentence is to someone else in the room. Still, this is something Amazon needs to tackle.
Third party integrations (skills) aren't great. When you use them you can tell they were developed by developers outside of Amazon. I tried the 7 minute workout skill. Starting a workout worked great. I spent the next 10 minutes trying to figure out how to cancel the workout midway (Alexa Exit, Alexa Home didn't work).
Packaging and setup need work. I got Alexa up and running quickly but I know Apple would've made the setup process 10x simpler and the packing 10x nicer.
Bottom Line: I'm really happy and excited by the Echo. It has a ton of potential and I'm excited to see how it continues to become a part of my daily life. I think it actually worked out for the better that I didn't get the Google Home and the Echo on the same day as I'll be in a better position to compare each one now.
Who wins? Kudos to Amazon for coming out with this. I think Apple could've released the same product at the same time as Echo with a pretty comparable user experience. Big stumble by Apple. My gut says this comes down more to Amazon vs Google than anything to do with Apple. The question is can Amazon become Google faster than Google can become Amazon? Specifically, can Amazon get its search results to Google's level before Google finds a non advertising way to monetize voice search outside of e-commerce?