This week Amazon revealed how well they did at Christmas. The online retailer had their biggest three months of sales ever, and one of the stars of the show was the ubiquitous digital assistant, Alexa.
Alexa is now available in various guises. Tall, short with or without screens and even on gadgets not made by Amazon. However, perhaps the most useful of all versions for those looking to equip their home with the smart speaker features is the new Echo Input.
This new gadget looks like a cross between an ice-hockey puck and a small smart TV box. The Input weighs just 79grams and measures just 80mm across meaning it will slot in unobtrusively around the house.
The Input doesn’t have its own built in speakers. Instead, it has a 3.5mm jack-plug to connect to your existing hi-fi or speaker set-up with the provided cable. It will also connect to Bluetooth speakers leaving the whole set-up wire free.
As well as the speaker socket, on the back is a USB power socket for the mains power adapter. On the top of the Input is an Action button and a useful microphone mute button. There’s also a small blue LED light which glows when Alexa is listening to you.
Amazon have perfected the Alexa set-up and using the Alexa app I connected the Input to my wifi network and it was online in five minutes. Then I downloaded the additional Alexa skills. In my case that was Nest for my heating and Fitbit for fitness monitoring.
Of course using an Alexa device is straightforward, just talk to her. The skills I installed worked immediately and soon I had the heat on and my feet up as Alexa played one of my books from the Amazon owned Audible.
This miniature version of Alexa worked perfectly out of the box and operated just as speedily as the more powerful but expensive devices. I had connected the Input to my hi-fi set-up though, so hearing Alexa answering or reading my books was a new experience. The booming sound you get from your high quality speakers is wonderful, and it makes using
Prime Music or Spotify a completely different, and more rewarding experience than through the smaller speakers on other Alexa devices.
The four built in microphones could hear me from across the room, but I needed to position the device under the TV for best effect. Also, the Echo Input is quite like the Echo Dot. The similar functionality of the Dot for a bit less money seems a little odd.