Get All Access for $5/mo

Why Amazon's Voice-Activated Speaker 'Echo' Isn't Worth Your Time or Money The device officially goes on sale to the masses today. And... yawn.

By Jason Fell

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Amazon

Echo, the voice-activated speaker that Amazon announced last November, is officially going on sale today to the masses. A limited number of the devices became available earlier this year by invitation only. I was one of the lucky few who have been using Echo over the last several months.

If you ask me, at $180, it's not worth the money. And the "Perfect 10," 5-star ratings that appeared on Amazon this week? Well, I call bullshit.

For those of you who haven't heard of Echo, it's a cylindrical speaker device that not only plays music but allows you to speak to it. Connected to the Internet via a Bluetooth connection, all you have to do is say the name "Alexa" out loud to wake up the device. You can ask Echo, or Alexa, to do any number of things and she will respond.

Here is Amazon's goofy promo video for Echo:

Related: This Gadget Makes Your Entire Kitchen 'Smart'

If you are an Amazon Prime member and you regularly use the service to shop for everyday stuff, you can ask Alexa to add items like ice cream or toilet paper to your shopping list. If you're a person who relies heavily on to-do lists to keep track of your days, you can ask Alexa to add tasks to your personal to-do list. You can use Alexa to check events on your Google calendar. Want to hear the news? It can give you a rundown on the day's big events, courtesy of NPR.

Some tasks work very well on the Echo. Other things, not so much.

As a Prime member, I purchased Echo for $99. My fiancee has two young boys so I thought, of course Echo would be fantastic. In addition to their homework, Echo would surely be the perfect tool to answer all of their crazy questions. All you have to do is say "Alexa" and ask a question. And Alexa is supposed to say the answer.

Simple right? Well, not so simple for Alexa, apparently. I can't tell you how many times we've asked Alexa questions to which she responds, "Sorry, I didn't understand the question I heard." Over and over and over and over again. It misses more questions than it gets right -- by a wide margin. It is so ridiculously frustrating and disappointing.

Related: Your Next Family Member May Be ... A Robot

To the device's credit, Amazon says it continually learns a user's speech patterns and preferences. Therefore the problem isn't that Alexa can't understand what we're saying. It's that it relies on Microsoft's Bing search engine to find answers to all of our questions.

After trying again and again to ask Alexa a simple question for which she can't understand or doesn't have an answer, I finally open my phone and ask Google voice search. The result? My phone either tells me the exact answer I was looking for or serves up Google's usual, helpful search results.

Thanks for nothing, Alexa. Our dreams of the household virtual assistant of the future have been dashed.

I suppose it's worth noting that Amazon recently updated Alexa's software so that it can be used to control Belkin WeMo and Philips Hue smart-home devices. That would be really cool, but if you don't have those particular devices then you're out of luck. In my house, my Piper home security system manages our smart switches, etc., anyway.

To Amazon, Echo is a means for customers to more easily spend money via their Amazon Prime services. For customers who are also people who aren't constantly ordering from Amazon, Echo should be a helpful voice-activated search engine and assistant. Unfortunately it fails at that, in my experience.

After our first month or so testing Echo, my fiancée would occasionally ask Alexa about the weather. I'd only ask her for sports scores (which technically I already have on my wrist thanks to my smartwatch). Now that I think about it, Alexa is sitting on a table in our living room, completely unplugged.

As the Echo goes on sale today for nearly $200, I can't recommend to anyone that it's worth money or the frustration.

Related: OMG Yes: A Smart Mattress Cover That Can Brew Your Morning Coffee

Jason Fell

VP, Native Content

Jason Fell is the VP of Native Content, managing the Entrepreneur Partner Studio, which creates dynamic and compelling content for our partners. He previously served as Entrepreneur.com's managing editor and as the technology editor prior to that.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Business Culture

Add Over 500 Famous Artworks to Your Office for $32

Dreamscreens can turn your TV into a 4K digital art gallery via a simple USB plugin.

Business News

Jack Dorsey Says It Will Soon Be 'Impossible to Tell' if Deepfakes Are Real: 'Like You're in a Simulation'

Dorsey said we will "not know what is real and what is fake" in the next five to 10 years.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Business News

50 Cent Once Sued Taco Bell for $4 Million. Here's How the Fast-Food Giant Got on the Rapper's Bad Side.

The brand suggested that 50 Cent change his name to match its "Why Pay More?" value menu promotion prices. The rapper was not amused.

Business News

Some Car Dealerships Are Selling Cars the Old Fashioned Way Following Massive Cyberattack

CDK software services an estimated 15,000 dealerships in the U.S.

Business News

Apple Is Working on Making Its $3,499 Vision Pro More Affordable — and Mainstream. Here's How.

Apple's product is at least three times more expensive than Meta's version.