As soon as you turn on your Amazon Echo, you’ll meet Alexa. Alexa is the Voice Service employed by the Echo, which has finally been launched in the UK.
The voice controlled hands-free device is a cylindrical speaker with an array of seven microphones at the top. Rather like the Star Trek computer, Amazon’s experiment in AI is being pushed as an omnipresent service that all homes will come to rely on. The design is sleek, in-offensive and would fit nicely into any space. The Echo would look right at home in any bachelor pad. The power cable is quite short and it needs to be plugged in at all times, so once set up the Echo will in all likelihood stay in one place.
Officially, Alexa’s capabilities range from playing music (Spotify is one of Alexa’s ‘skills’), to providing news, weather and information, checking sports stuff, and giving a helping proverbial ‘hand’ with life admin such as list making and setting alarms and timers. It’s also ideal for controlling Smart Home devices like a Hive thermostat.
There’s no doubt that Alexa has potential, but when testing it out earlier the GQ team did find that it wasn’t quite as easy to use as it seemed in the Amazon demo. You had to be standing really quite close for Alexa to pick up your commands and questions, and there were a few things we asked for which she just didn’t have an answer. That being said, we were really impressed with the way that Alexa used Bing search technology. Alexa is certainly the most intelligent voice-controlled device without a screen that we’ve come across.
Alexa did pass the crucial “what is Snoop Dogg’s real name?” (answer: Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr.) and proves handy for music, responding quickly to requests to play a certain song or adjust the volume. But, there were occasions when perhaps it was a little too loud for her to hear our requests, as she chose to resolutely ignore us more than a couple of times. Alexa can also do other vitally useful things such as request you an Uber, book you a take away from Just Eat, share a Jamie Oliver recipe with you or check train times via National Rail Enquiries.
The product has done fantastically well in America – there are millions already in homes over there – thanks to the thousands of skills available making life for the average couch-potato even easier. Alexa is built in the cloud, so she’s always getting smarter and can learn new skills. The more you use the Echo, the more it adapts to your speech and personal preferences.
Alexa did have to be adapted for a UK audience because, you know, we need our speaking computers to be able to know what the Chelsea score is – clever Alexa recognised our bluff and assured us that, whilst there’s no Chelsea match today “Chelsea will play on Saturday against Hull City” – and to just generally understand our culture. Alexa can reference Monty Python, and when asked what the “meaning of life is”, true to Douglas Adams, she confirmed that it’s forty two.
Now she’s here, you’ll probably be hearing a lot more of her. The “Alexa” technology is being built into cars from BMWs to Fords, into Samsung fridges and into Sonos products, to name a few.
Alexa is a cooler, more intelligent and less annoying Siri. It’s fun, in a kind of creepy, fear-of-the-future sort of way. Oh, and as if she couldn’t get even more British, she also has a huge repertoire of what might well be the worst Dad jokes ever recorded.
The Amazon Echo is now available for £149.99