3 reasons you'll love Amazon Echo (and 1 you won't)

After a two-month wait, CIO.com reviewer James A. Martin finally got his hands on an Amazon Echo. There's a lot to love about the Bluetooth speaker and virtual assistant, but Echo has a long way to go before it's truly useful to the average consumer.

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It took me two months to become an Amazon Echo user, from the time I clicked the "Buy" button until the day it landed on my doorstep. Was it worth the wait? Yes ... mostly.

Last fall, when Amazon first announced Echo, its Bluetooth speaker and virtual home assistant, it caught many tech journalists and gadgets geeks by surprise. Some were impressed right off the bat. For example, Mike Elgan wrote that Amazon Echo is the future of every home, on Computerworld.com.

I agree with Elgan. Echo, while far from perfect, feels both fresh and inevitable.

Anyone who's interested in the "smart home," or just what's next in technology, should consider ordering one — especially if you're an Amazon Prime subscriber. Prime members can get Echo for $99; for everyone else, the device costs $199.

I've been using my Echo for a week. Here are three reasons why I love it.

Amazon Echo is convenient

Looking up the current weather, or other information, on your smartphone isn't exactly a laborious process. Echo is hands-free, however, so you can do other things while getting information via the new device.

For example, the other night, while I was hurriedly getting ready for dinner with friends, I saw a news headline about Harrison Ford's plane crash. Curious, I asked Echo (using its wake word, "Alexa"), "What's the current news on Harrison Ford?" Echo immediately played an NPR news report about Ford's plane crash, which fortunately wasn't fatal. I caught up on that particular piece of news while rushing around the house.

Amazon Echo mobile app adds value

Amazon released a helpful Echo companion app for Android, including Amazon Fire devices, and iOS. The app lets you customize some Echo settings. It keeps a chronological record of your queries and the associated answers, so you can get more context and information. You can create shopping and to-do list items, too, and they show up in the Echo app.

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Echo looks cool and sounds good

When you say Alexa (or change the wake word to "Amazon"), a ring of bluish-green light illuminates the cylindrical, black top of Echo. The light means Echo is alert and ready for your commands, such as "Alexa, play some jazz music," or queries, such as "How far is Boston from San Francisco?" (Answer: 2,690 miles.)

Speaking of jazz music, Echo sounds pleasantly rich when listening to casual music. It's not going to power a big party, but that's not its goal.

So what's not to love?

Echo is an early-stage product and, as such, it's notably limited. Want to know what's on your calendar tomorrow? Echo doesn't have a clue. Wondering how many stars a local restaurant has on Yelp? Or better yet, want to make a reservation? Echo is of no use there, either. Need to find out what time a movie is showing? Echo's response starts with "hmmm," followed by an (embarrassed?) admission that it can't find the answer.

That said, Amazon is developing an SDK to encourage developers to integrate their apps with the device, so Echo's usefulness should increase.

I'd also like to be able to create my own wake word. Alexa is OK, but Amazon feels downright creepy. Speaking of creepy, what's Echo learning about me from my queries and commands, and how might that information be used by Amazon or third parties? That remains to be seen.

Regardless, I've demonstrated Echo to three friends, each of whom is very familiar with new technology, and all were impressed. If nothing else, Echo is a fun thing to show off to buddies. It's already more than that, but it could be much more in the near future.

(Disclosure: I sometimes consult for a company that has Amazon as a client.)

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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