The Echo is a 9-inch tall cylindrical device, that - according to media reports - looks like a scaled-down Mac Pro. Consisting of 7 beam-forming microphones and a speaker, the Echo is an intelligent device that automatically identifies its location in a room and optimizes the mics to ensure clear audio pickup from virutally anywhere in the house.
What does the Echo do? According to a video released by Amazon, the device is capable of doing a lot of things that Siri and Google Now fail to comprehend. The Echo can tell you the weather, stream music, set reminders, read out the news and a lot more. While it's still too early to verify Amazon's claims, the Echo sure does look like a quite compelling package.
The brains behind the Echo lie in the cloud, more specifically on Amazon's very own AWS hosting platform. All your voice input is processed remotely instead of on-device. And that's a very smart thing to do - having everything on the cloud means you don't need to worry about software updates or corrupt storage locations - it's all taken care of by Amazon.
Regardless of all its impressive features, however, the question of privacy always lingers. People on the internet have already begun questioning how Amazon is handling user data and other sensitive information. Seeing as the Echo is always listening, it can inadvertently - maybe not so inadvertently - snoop in on your private conversations. Amazon has also been asked to make its NLP engines public in order to garner people's trust. Amazon has also maintained that a physical switch on the device can shut off the circuit and hence disable the microphones entirely.
Privacy concerns aside, the Echo seems like a great product. It's got the right blend of form and function. The voice output sounds extremely human-like and is a quantum leap over the robotic voices of the past. Maybe, just maybe, you might even enjoy talking to Echo on a daily basis.
For $99/$199 depending on whether you've got Prime or not, the Echo makes a lot of sense if you're interested in trying out the future - today. And the future looks really, really bright for the Echo - especially because it's in a class of it's own.