Since Amazon's first announcement of the Echo spot in September of last year, I've been dying to get my hands on one. This is unusual for me - I enjoy new technology but it's very rare that something brand new and exciting is released within range of my student budget - so when the Spot was finally released in the UK last month for just £119.99, I immediately hit the Order button.
The Amazon Echo Alarm Clock
The Spot is, if we're being straightforward, essentially a smart alarm clock. It's speaker may be slightly beefier than that of the Echo Dot, but its 2.5" screen isn't particularly useful for viewing visuals from across the room.
And that's fine.
The Spot lives on my bedside table, meaning I have access to Alexa while in bed. That's what's important. When my partner and I are at our absolute laziest, we can call upon Alexa to set alarms, read us a book, or tell us fart-related jokes interlaced with highly realistic fart noises.
When I first started using the Spot as an alarm instead of my mobile phone, I definitely noticed a change in my sleeping patterns. For the worse, though, unfortunately. It turned out that sleepily mumbling "Alexa, stop" is significantly easier to do than reaching for your phone and turning the alarm off with your actual fingers, and thus it was much easier to fall back asleep.
The secret is to set a song that you don't mind waking up to as an alarm, so that you're less hasty to turn it off. Alexa's near-flawless integration with Spotify makes this really easy to do, without getting into the pattern of waking up to the same song every day.
(Side Note: I ruined ELO's "Mr Blue Sky" for myself by making this mistake. This was over a year ago, but sadly I still haven't recovered. I can however recommend "Crystal Blue Persuasion" by Tommy James and the Shondells, to which even Flick enjoyed waking up to this morning, without being aware of its ties to Breaking Bad.)
The Amazon Echo Radio
I've owned an Echo Dot for a while - courtesy of my lovely ex-housemates - which has served primarily as a Spotify adapter for my Hi-Fi, and secondarily as a hands-free kitchen timer. With the Spot comes the delightful ability to extend this functionality throughout the apartment, simply by saying "Alexa, play Spotify everywhere." Being able to do housework and not lose my music as I move between rooms is a surprisingly enjoyable feature.
It's a shame that this "everywhere" feature doesn't appear to work with Audible yet. I'm a newcomer to the concept of audiobooks - the natural next step after podcasts, to which I listen constantly - but particularly enjoy sitting on my bed with my laptop and working while listening to a book through the Spot. It's a shame, therefore, that I can't get the Dot to also play, so that I don't lose my place when I go the kitchen to make a cup of tea.
This is an excruciatingly First World problem, I know, but at least it's one that I can hope to see solved in the near future. One of the greatest things about Alexa and thus the Spot is that functionality is constantly being added.
The lack of support for podcasts is very upsetting. TuneIn, Amazon's apparent choice of Podcast service, is severely limited. My favourite podcast, Hello Internet consistently seems to have the most recent episodes missing from TuneIn's stream, and some of my other favourites (such as RelayFM's entire catalogue) aren't on there at all. What trumps the lack of podcasts however is the Voice Interface itself, which makes it incredibly difficult to navigate between episodes, almost impossible to navigate within an episode, and which offers no bookmarking.
Admittedly, this is a complaint mostly aimed at TuneIn, but I also resent Amazon slightly for their pushing of this seemingly incompetent service. As with anything software-related when it comes to Alexa, however, I can hope for the situation to improve in the not-too-distant future.
The Amazon Echo Webcam
The Spot has an in-built camera! It's... Well, it's okay. It's pretty low-res, especially when compared to the front-facing cameras on most modern smartphones - and the frame rate is noticeably low, though this may be caused by a weak Wi-Fi connection.
The angle at which the camera points makes calling slightly difficult. From it's position on my bedside table, I find I either have to be laying across my bed, kneeling on the floor, or standing more than three metres away in order to get my head into frame.
Echo devices - with their impressive far-field microphone arrays that make the whole voice control thing viable - are super for speakerphone conversations. However, with the size of the Spot's screen, and the viewing cone and resolution of its camera, it's not as practical to conduct video calls with your family while going about your business as adverts for Amazon's larger-screened Echo Show make it look.
You're probably better off just sticking to using your computer or smartphone for video calls for now.
The Amazon Echo ... TV?
People keep asking me why I want an Echo with a screen. "What does the screen give you that voice interface didn't already?" is the most common question.
It's nice. That's all there is to it.
I enjoy being able to check the time when I awaken briefly in the night, without blinding myself with my phone, whose brightness level I forgot to turn down before turning in for the night. Being able to watch the BBC headlines in the mornings as well as hear them is pretty neat. The screen also allows me to check out the name or artist of a song that I'm listening to without interrupting it by asking Alexa for the information. As the icing on the cake, the Spot can function as a sort of electronic photo frame while not in use.
Sure, the range of available clock styles to choose from is pretty embarrassing, and sure, very few skills actually utilise the screen in any way, but it's nice to see the extra details about the weather that would be incredibly annoying for Alexa to read out, and to be able to watch your timer count down without having to ask Alexa how long is left.
In my opinion, the Amazon Echo Spot is a cute, gimmicky Alexa-enabled alarm clock that will hopefully soon benefit from a similar accelerated uptake as the Echo and Echo Dot did, leading to the development of a greater range of voice and graphic skills. Afterall, the more people adopt the Alexa ecosystem (or "echosystem", perhaps? Amazon, call me), the more useful it will become.
It wakes me up in the morning, it allows me to control the lava lamp from my bed, and allows me to listen to my music and audiobooks wherever I am in the apartment. Above all, I get a little burst of happiness whenever I look at it upon walking into the room, so I guess it's doing something right.