The Echo Dot, convenient but not overwhelmingly helpful, is a well-priced tool. Photo by Adam Lux

Echo Dot no longer a novelty, but has its flaws

Sponsored content: The Amazon Echo Dot has many useful features for a college student.

I’ve been using a new piece of tech. For the past couple of weeks, an Amazon Echo Dot, provided for review by U.S. Cellular, occupied my bedside table.
One of the most apparent and exciting aspects of the Echo Dot is how well it mimics a natural human voice and how quickly it responds. While it still has those telltale inflection hiccups inherent in all automated voices, I noticed them much less, especially when sticking to the more common day-to-day functions of the Dot. The Dot’s response time for most queries is surprisingly fast, usually faster than Googling your question, something that for a long time couldn’t be said for most virtual assistants (I’m looking at you, Siri on my old iPhone 4S).
The speaker is about as good as one could expect for a device of the Dot’s size. It is a downward-firing speaker, which means the sound is going to change slightly depending on the surface you set the device on. I ended up flipping it upside down when I was listening to music, which is kinda ridiculous, but it sounded better. If you’re primarily interested in the Echo Dot to play music, I’d highly suggest connecting it to a better speaker. Luckily, it can connect to any Bluetooth speaker and even has a 3.5mm output jack. Wow, how courageous!
The majority of my interactions with the Echo Dot were using it as an organizational tool. It can do all the basic function one would expect a smart home device to do: set alarms, reminders and timers. It can tell you the weather, update you on the news and answer general questions. I can see the Dot being super useful for students who love to cook. Being able to look up a recipe, an ingredient or some dumb imperial unit conversion. Overall, I was surprised how much I used the Echo Dot as a personal assistant. It doesn’t necessarily have any functionality that’s fundamentally different than my phone, but for some reason being able to just ask for something to be added to my calendar makes me more likely to do it.
Despite its many strengths, the Echo Dot has a couple glaring weaknesses. For example, it cannot perform a Google search. Honestly, I was more surprised than upset when I found this out. It seems like one of the simplest and most fundamental functions of a smart device, so it’s an odd thing to be missing. This isn’t as big of a problem as it might seem on the surface though. Through a combination of what seems to be Amazon’s own database and access to Wikipedia, most inquiries will get a response. However, when you do stump it, the Dot will simply apologize and say it doesn’t know, or occasionally it will just not respond at all.
I had a few other smaller gripes. It can’t directly connect to calendars on Samsung phones; you have to go through Google Calendar instead. I use Google Calendar anyway, so this isn’t a huge deal. The Echo Dot also has a lot of trouble in noisy rooms, like “The Collegian” office on a Sunday, though that’s understandable. It can play music through Spotify, Pandora or Amazon Music, but it can’t add a song to a queue, which is a real bummer. Also, it doesn’t quite look as elegant as the Google Home Mini, in my personal opinion.
All things considered, I think the Amazon Echo Dot is a good tool for a college student. At $49.99 MSRP, it’s competitive with the Google Home Mini. At the time of this writing, both are currently on sale for $39.99. The Echo Dot really added a lot of organization and time management to my life. It certainly has its faults, but hopefully many of these can be addressed through over-the-air updates. During my review time, the Echo Dot received an update which lets users with Android phones send texts through the Dot. I would be interested in seeing how the Google Home Mini stacks up to its Amazon counterpart. I think the virtual assistant class of products as a whole has really matured over the last few years and grown from being more of a novelty to an actually useful technology.
“The Collegian” received the Amazon Echo Dot by U.S. Cellular in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way influenced the author’s opinion on the product or its company. The views expressed do not represent the opinions of “The Collegian” or its staff.

Post Author: Adam Lux