Amazon Echo (shortened and referred to as Echo) is a brand of smart speakers developed by Amazon.com. The devices connect to the voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant service Alexa, which responds to the name “Alexa”. This “wake word” can be changed by the user to “Amazon”, “Echo” or “Computer”. The device is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic and other real-time information. It can also control several smart devices acting as a home automation hub.
Amazon Echo had been developing Echo devices inside its Lab126 offices in Silicon Valley and Cambridge, Massachusetts since at least 2010 in confirmed reports. The device was part of Amazon’s first attempts to expand its device portfolio beyond the Kindle e-reader. The Echo was prominently featured in Amazon’s first-ever Super Bowl ad in 2016.
The first-generation Echo was initially limited to Amazon Prime members or by invitation, but became widely available in the United States on June 23, 2015. Press speculated that it would make its Canadian debut in mid-to-late 2016, after Amazon posted job listings for developers for Alexa and co-hosted a hackathon in Toronto. The Echo became available in the United Kingdom on 28 September 2016. Additionally, the Alexa voice service is available to be added to other devices and other companies’ devices and services are encouraged to connect to it.
Alexa (named after the ancient library of Alexandria) is Amazon’s voice-control system. It lets you speak your wishes to an Echo smart speaker and see them fulfilled—at least simple ones, like dimming your lights or playing music tracks. This guide covers how it all works, what it’s capable of doing (and where it still falls short), privacy concerns you may have, and how to pick the right Echo for your home. (We also have separate guides to the best Alexa-compatible devices and how Echo compares to Google Home.)
What sets Alexa and Amazon Echo apart from first-generation voice assistants is responsiveness. There’s no activation button to press. Simply say the trigger word (either “Alexa,” “Echo,” “Amazon,” or “Computer”) followed by what you want to happen, and it will usually be done—as long as you’ve set up everything properly and are using the correct command. Once you get used to the quirks, using Alexa feels much more natural and responsive than speaking to a phone-based voice assistant like Apple’s Siri. As a result, you’ll likely find yourself using your phone less frequently when you’re at home.
Echo has provided inconsistent responses when asked common questions to which users would expect better answers. Echo sometimes confuses certain homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings, such as where/wear/ware)