Amazon Echo now available for pre-order, no invitation required

amazon echo

Amazon's Echo virtual assistant.

Credit: Amazon

The Amazon Echo is a speaker merged with a digital assistant. I got mine back in late January and wrote a post about it shortly thereafter. The take-away at the time was that I really liked it.

The only drawback was that you needed an invite to purchase an Echo. This week Amazon finally lifted that condition and you can pre-order an Echo for $179. Amazon plans to have stock on July 14, 2015.

I figured it'd be a good time to offer an update on our on-going use of the Echo. We used it like crazy at first but I have to admit over time the novelty wore off. I still sometimes ask it to read me a news update when I'm making my coffee in the morning, and we use it constantly as a hands-free timer (ours is in the kitchen which still seems like a good place for it, given that your hands are generally busy and possibly wet or dirty while you're in there), but that's pretty much it.

Part of the drop-off of use is seasonal. In winter I was always asking it what the weather was like and that's less of a concern in summer. Plus in the winter we were just in the house more.

I do think you need to make some effort to get maximum use out of the Echo, and we've been slacking a little bit (we also have an old iPad mounted on our refrigerator which offers the Echo some competition). The good news is that Amazon is constantly improving the device. They just recently added the ability for it to read you audiobooks, for example. They added support for WeMo and Philips Hue devices and the ability to check your calendar. It'll give you sports scores and give you a traffic update before leaving the house. And of course it still plays you music, now from more sources.

But the addition that has the most potential, I think, is integration with IFTTT, a service designed to link up other online services in various ways (it stands for "If This, Then That"). You don't even have to create your own IFTTT recipes; there's a page that lists some to get started and they say you can connect the Echo to 125 IFTTT channels.

So is the Echo worth $179? I think it is but only if you're willing to put some work into integrating it into your routine. The news that anyone can order one has inspired me to set up some IFTTT recipes so that we get more use out it. It's worth noting the device has a 4.5/5 star rating on Amazon with almost 20,000 reviews. That probably means something (though I admit I'm a little bit skeptical of Amazon reviews).

One last note. About a month ago a line of thunderstorms swept through our power went on and off a few times. When the storm passed the Echo was dead. I contacted Amazon support, they told me it was probably the transformer (on the end of the power cable where it plugs in) and they sent me a replacement 2nd Day Air at no charge and without requiring me to send the bad one back. I was pretty happy with the support I received, in case that kind of thing matters a lot to you.

Even though it doesn't feel like we use the Echo a lot these days, we both really missed it during the few days it was out of commission. We had to set timers by hand, like we were cavemen or something!

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