Over the past few years, our homes have been getting smarter, thanks to smart speakers that can be used to control devices in your home using just your voice. Amazon has been dominating the smart speaker market since it first introduced their Echo devices back in November 2014.

Fast forward to late 2017 and Amazon introduces their latest Echo devices including the Echo (2nd Generation). I’ve been using the Echo (2nd Generation) for the past couple of weeks, and while it’s an improvement over past models, there are still some things to be done.

Design & Hardware

The Echo (2nd Generation) has a cylindrical design and is much shorter than the original Echo. On the top of the device, you’ll find the trademark ring light for Alexa along with volume up and down buttons as well as action button and a mute button.

On the back of the device, you’ll find the power port and a 3.5mm headphone jack which you can connect it to an external set of speakers. The Echo (2nd Generation) has Dolby audio processing which can deliver dynamic bass through the 2.5” down-firing subwoofer.

The speaker on the Echo (2nd Generation) does sound really good and can get decently loud. You can either play music from your favourite streaming services like Spotify or Prime Music or use Bluetooth to stream from your phone.

The far-field microphone technology has been improved in the Echo (2nd Generation) so it can process wake word easier and faster. However, while using the Echo (2nd Generation), there was a number of times when the device wouldn’t respond when I said Alexa to it, even though there was no other music playing or people talking in the room the Echo was in.

The Echo (2nd Generation) comes in a number of colours in the form of a fabric shell. In Canada, the only colours available are Charcoal Fabric, Heather Grey Fabric, and Sandstone Fabric. The shells for the Echo (2nd Generation) are interchangeable but none of the shells are available in Canada at this point. Some other shells include Oak Veneer, Walnut Veneer, and Silver.

The Echo (2nd Generation) is available now for $129.99 CAD from Amazon.ca, Best Buy, The Source, Staples, Telus, Bed Bath & Beyond and TSC.

Software

The Echo (2nd Generation) has Amazon’s Alexa voice service built-in. Since Amazon recently brought their Echo devices to Canada in December, they also brought along a new English voice for Alexa with a Canadian accent.

The new Alexa voice does sound different than the standard US English one and one that I’m not that big a fan of. It just sounds weird and there’s no real way to change the voice to the US English Alexa voice.

Over the past couple of years, Alexa has been gaining more developers who create more skills for Amazon’s Echo devices. Amazon says that there are over 10,000 skills available for Canadian Echo users but in reality, that’s not completely true.

Some skills available for Canadian users include ones from Air Canada, TD Bank, Telus, CBC, The Weather Network, Bank of Montreal and more.

I have an Echo Dot that I got from the US back in December 2016 and there’s a whole host of more skills available for my Echo Dot that the Echo (2nd Generation). Some skills include the Plex one, which allows you to use your Echo to control playback of Plex.

Even though it’s been like 3 months since Amazon made their Echo devices available in Canada, developers have been slow to update their skills to be compatible with Canadian Echo devices. Hopefully, things will get better over the coming months.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Echo (2nd Generation) is an improvement over previous Echo devices, that sounds good and is cheaper than the new Echo Plus (previously known as just the Echo). However, even with the issues with Alexa trying to understand me or the somewhat lack of skills in Canada, the Echo (2nd Generation) is a good upgrade for those who want to step up from the Echo Dot but don’t want to pay for an Echo Plus.

Pros

  • Cheaper than the Echo Plus
  • Smaller design
  • Sounds good
  • Swappable shells (even though they aren’t available in Canada)
  • 3.5mm audio jack is a nice addition

Cons

  • Alexa has trouble understanding voices
  • Not as many skills available in Canada

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