When Amazon announced the Echo Flex at its September 2019 event in Seattle, the product received a mixed, if muted reception among the tech press and Echo/Alexa fans. Some saw it as another example of Amazon just throwing a bunch of crud up against a wall (which, ironically, is where this thing goes) to see if it would stick, some didn't pay it much attention at all, and some thought it was possibly the most important product announced at the event.
If you're wondering "what the heck is the Echo Flex anyway?" then let me back up a step. The Echo Flex is basically a souped-up smart plug that is meant to bring Alexa functionality to those spaces in your home that are not conducive to placing a larger smart speaker or similar device. It plugs directly into any standard wall outlet and allows you to make queries of Alexa and hear her responses.
My initial feelings on the Echo Flex were somewhere between the "throwing stuff against the wall" take and a "technological singularity" moment. Now that I've finally had some time to plug in the Echo Flex and put it through its paces in my own home, have my thoughts crystalized any further? Let's find out.
Now that's a smart plug!
Bottom Line This is a true utility product, and as such, I believe that just about everyone can find a use for it in their home.
- Can fit anywhere there is a standard outlet
- Great starting price to get Alexa in your home
- USB port to charge devices
- Available nightlight or motion-sensor attachments
- Attachments are an additional expense and more than half the price of the device itself
- The speaker is not suited for music
- Can't be used as a smart plug
Amazon Echo Flex What I like
The Echo Flex is a product that I've been waiting on for a long time. As an early Alexa convert who purchased the very first Echo in late 2014, I always thought it would be great to have one of these in my garage for when I'm not inside but still want access to Alexa. And you know what? I was right, I use this thing all of the time!
Just the other day a reminder popped up on my Echo Show 5 to clean out the garage, and I was like groan! But when I remembered the Echo Flex was out there, it wasn't so bad. I got my Flash Briefing while I broke down a bunch of Amazon boxes — we can address my problem at another time, okay? — then I listened to a little holiday music while I swept the garage floor, and even asked Alexa to remind me to finish this article while I took out the trash. And I may have ordered more Topo Chico when I glanced in the garage fridge, but don't tell my wife!
The Echo Flex works just like any other Echo, with an easy set up in the Alexa app, and all of the same functionality you've come to expect from other Amazon devices. It has a speaker, albeit underpowered, and two microphones so that Alexa can hear your requests. You can use the device to control your smart home, answer questions, set reminders and timers, and even listen to audio entertainment in a pinch.
|Size||2.8" x 2.6" x 2.0"|
|Wi-Fi||Dual-band Wi-Fi; 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks|
|Bluetooth||A2DP and AVRCP support|
|USB connectivity||1 USB-A port to charge devices at 7.5W|
|Line in/out||3.5 mm line out|
|Speakers||0.6" mini speaker|
|Privacy features||Alexa wake word
Ask Alexa to delete recordings
The "Flex" in the Echo Flex name obviously stands for flexible, and Amazon was smart to build this thing with attachments and accessories in mind to make it even more flexible. I purchased the nightlight attachment and found that it works really well for my needs. I had some simple nightlights in my garage, and this literally outshone those older ones quite well. It attaches to the bottom of the Echo Flex via the USB-A port, and is set to turn on/off when it detects darkness or light. You can ask Alexa to turn it on or off for you or to change the color of the light, or you can create routines from within the Alexa app to dictate when you want it to turn on or off.
Amazon also offers a third-party motion sensor for the Echo Flex, whose motion-detection can trigger routines to control various tasks in your smart home. You can create these routines from within the Alexa app. To me, this is ideal for places where you might want hands-free control over lights, such as a utility room, hallway, or even the garage.
As for my Echo Flex wish list, while I appreciate how Amazon is leaning into their privacy features, I would still love the ability to call out to Alexa to mute the microphone, just as I can now ask her to "forget what I just said" or to delete my conversation history. The logical extension of this privacy feature is that you'd then have to physically press the mute button to umute the Echo Flex. Not only would this be more convenient when you're in a place where your hands might be occupied or dirty, but I think this might go a long way towards continuing to build trust in Amazon's privacy features, and make folks a little less paranoid about plugging these devices around their homes. Actually come to think of it, they should enable something like this on all Echo devices.
I hope the next generation of the Echo Flex brings more smart attachments.
I also really hope to see Amazon or its partners continue to come up with innovative solutions for that USB-A port on the Echo Flex in the future. Perhaps they could come out with an attachment with a better speaker, or one with a mini-LED display. Or maybe even a true smart plug attachment for the ultimate wall warrior!
Amazon Echo Flex What I don't like
Okay, I'll start off with the low-hanging fruit here: the speaker is not great. I know, I know, that's not really the point, but this is an obvious area in which they can improve in future generations. Another area for improvement is the microphones. In my regular-sized two car garage, I didn't find that the Echo Flex had any trouble understanding me, but if it was in a bigger or noisier space, I could see the device having some problems hearing a person. I almost put my Echo Flex in our laundry room, and our dryer can get really loud sometimes, which would have made the Flex all but useless during those cycles. Adding a couple more microphones might really make this product even more useful in utility spaces.
While I do think the available attachments are practical and are the perfect launch accessories, they strike me as a little pricey at their full retail price of $15 per device. That's over half the price of the Echo Flex itself, and could possibly turn off some people from picking up what are otherwise really great additions to the product.
Don't panic, but the AI is physically spreading everywhere.
Finally, and this is the biggie, I get mixed feelings about Alexa's ubiquity. On the one hand, I totally see the value in having ready access to Alexa wherever you might need her. The garage, utility room, kitchen, etc are all places that having a hands-free smart assistant can be valuable. Whether you are changing the oil on your car, doing laundry, or chopping onions, the last thing you want to do is stop what you're doing to get a simple question answered, task fulfilled, or music playing.
And yet, I can't help but feel like this is not only the next logical step towards artificial intelligence taking over our lives, it is part of a bigger, longer stride than ever before. Putting smart virtual assistants in spaces where we didn't think they could (or should) previously go means that there practically isn't any respite from them. Is this a good or a bad thing? I guess we'll find out!
Should you buy it?
Okay, so that got dark quickly, but I didn't really mean for it to! I still lean towards seeing the positive side of having smart virtual assistants like Alexa in our lives, but I do think we should all continue to talk about how this relationship between smart humans and smart assistants should evolve.
As far as smart virtual assistants go, I think that they can be most helpful in our utility spaces, and that is just what the Echo Flex is for. If you are interested in smart home technology or automation at all, then the Echo Flex is a great little device to have where you need it. It is not perfect and it still has some room for improvement, but it's a first-generation product that I'm sure will get even better and more useful in the years to come. If you have a garage, laundry room, or mud room, I recommend you pick one up along with one of the attachments to make your life just a little bit easier.
Plug and play
The Echo for every (other) room
The Amazon Echo Flex is an Alexa speaker that can plug into any standard outlet and is perfect for transitional or work spaces like utility rooms, hallways, bathrooms, or garages.
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