I've used a lot of "connected" gadgets. The Amazon Echo is the only one that's actually getting better all the time.
The Internet of Things is still a mess. Few would argue that. There still are too many "standards." Google's Brillo/Weave solution is still in its infancy. Apple's HomeKit is a nonstarter for me or the obvious reason. "Works With Nest" works, I guess, but it still only goes so far. I've never messed with my router too much and am loving the simplicity of OnHub. For a person who does what I do, you'd think I'd be willing to put up with more difficult home tech. But, no. It's gotta be simple for me, for my wife, and for my kids.
Between the Nest and the Ring doorbell and the OnHub and legacy Dropcam and all the other stuff I've dragged through the house (NAS, Xbox, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, Canary, to name a few), I've had a lot of stuff come and go. Some I liked more than others. Some I still use.
But of all the connected tech I've brought into my house and into my family's life only one continues to get better all the time. That's the Amazon Echo. And if you have to choose just one piece of connected tech to buy, it's what I'd recommend.
My Echo — Alexa, as the family refers to her — lives in my kitchen. It (she) resided, for a time, in my eldest daughter's bedroom. (When I was a kid we had to have imaginary friends. Now mine just hang with Alexa.) Every morning at 6 a.m. (if not sooner) I trudge out and start the coffee. "Alexa, gimme the news," I mutter in her general direction. That's usually enough. I probably could be a little more polite to her, or address her a little more directly, but whatever. She's a connected speaker.
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So, news. I get the latest update from NPR via TuneIn Radio. Then the BBC. Then the weather, all in the time it takes me to make my coffee and get the kids' breakfast going. It's maybe not my first human (OK, almost human) interaction of the day, but it's close. (I do generally give my wife a squeeze first.)
Once the kids make an appearance, someone usually asks her what the weather is going to be that day. Sometimes this is met with a little frustration, depending on how our 5-year-old's annunciation is doing that day. (And you've got to admit that hearing "Awexa, what's the weather wike" is cute as hell.) She then might ask Awexa "What time is it in Spain?" (Because guess where Dad's going next.)
And that's all before 7 a.m. Any number of questions may get shouted Alex's way throughout the day. Sometimes she doesn't have answers, but usually we get something back. It's maybe not quite as deep a knowledge pool as Google Now, but it's getting really good.
I still don't have any connected light bulbs — that's next, maybe, and is well-supported by Echo. Nest integration is pretty rudimentary through IFTTT, but it works. (And my house isn't that big anyway.) The Echo is now tied into my connected sprinkler system though, which is a good thing since the first-gen Rachio doesn't actually have a manual on/off switch. I've been testing the Ring doorbell and it'd be nice to have Echo ring when someone's hit the button. For for now, nothing.
And then there's music. Echo's an Amazon product, of course, and that means Amazon Prime Music. It's not as full a catalog as Google Play Music or Apple Music (which my wife and I use, respectively). But I did hear Shannon cranking some Phil Collins the other night. (There's a new Deluxe Edition of Face Value, apparently.) But there's more than Amazon Prime Music. Pandora. I Heart Radio. And Spotify was just added.
The biggest reason for an Amazon Echo, though, is that the vast majority of these features I've mentioned weren't even on the platform at launch. It's been about a year since I reviewed the Echo. And as Russell pointed out in his follow-up review, a lot has changed since then. And the Echo platform continues to grow. Every week Amazon sends out an email with new features, added seamlessly to the Echo. (I don't even have the Echo app on my daily driver.)
Echo is, in a word, the easiest connected device I've used thus far. And it's only getting better.