A comprehensive Amazon Alexa review should be your first stop if you're thinking of entering into the world of smart assistants. And even more so if you're leaning towards the Amazon Alexa eco-system.
In a bid to challenge the (often jargon heavy) smart tech world, we've written a range of reviews that strip smart assistants back to their basics. And first up, is Amazon Alexa.
Not totally sure what (or who?!) Alexa is? No problem, we've covered that in our handy guide, alongside an overview of what she does and how she compares to other smart assistants on the market. To do so, we've enlisted the help of TechRadar's James Peckham. So sit back, relax, and get ready to discover what Amazon Alexa is really about...
New to the world of smart assistants? You might find our beginner's guide a handy read. Plus, don't miss our pick of the best smart speakers – you'll need one once you've decided which smart assistant is for you.
What is Amazon Alexa?
Amazon Alexa is one of the easiest to use voice assistants on the market. It’s also one of the most accomplished as it got out of the gates earlier than a lot of the competition and Amazon’s collective brain has been tinkering away on extra features and improvements since its launch in 2014.
Alexa is built into the whole Amazon Echo range of products including:
- Amazon Echo
- Amazon Echo Dot
- Amazon Echo Plus
- Amazon Echo Show 5
That’s not all though – there’s a huge range of third-party gadgets of speakers, sound bars and more that also tote the voice assistant.
For example, some of the top-end speakers in the Sonos range come with Amazon Alexa built-in, as well as speakers across the JBL, Ultimate Ears, Libratone and others. Browse our guide to the best soundbars to find out more.
Plus some other smart appliances, such as smart fridges, are Alexa enabled so that you can look up recipes on your fridge via your smart assistant. Mind-blowing.
Is Alexa the smart assistant for you?
The first step to building a smart home system is ensuring you have a smart speaker that allows you to communicate with your smart assistant. This is essential to controlling the rest of your smart home set-up.
Often, in choosing a smart speaker, you end up choosing a smart assistant by default. The most popular options include Google Assistant (available on Google Home Hub products), Siri (on Apple products) and Alexa (on Amazon products).
While you won’t necessarily buy a product because it's Amazon Alexa compatible, you do need to think about what other smart home tech you'll want to control via your smart assistant, in future.
After all, you won't be able to switch eco system further down the line without incurring unwanted costs. So, ask yourself: does Alexa cater to the smart fridge/smart thermostat/smart plugs I've got my eye on? Or would Google or Siri-enabled smart assistants be a better choice?
Amazon Alexa standard features
Amazon Alexa has always been built around smart speakers, and the fact it has been out in people’s homes for almost five years now means it’s one of the most fully fledged voice assistants you can invest in. Here's everything Amazon Alexa has to offer, in terms of default features:
- Smart home control
- Timers and alarms
- Weather forecast
- Access to Spotify, Amazon Music Unlimited, TuneIn (which can be used to play the radio) and Audible (for audiobooks) as part of Amazon Alexa's impressive audio offerings.
Do Amazon Alexa's basic features work?
Ask Alexa to play a track and it will immediately be able to find the music you want directly from your preferred streaming service. If you also ask for it to play from Spotify, or another service, specifically it’ll be able to do that.
Timers work accurately, lighting turns on and off on demand, alarms are easy to set and it’s easy to ask about the weather too. Essentially the default features for Amazon’s Alexa work exactly how you’d like them.
In addition to Alexa's standard features, there are a whole host of extras, also known as 'skills' available to users, too. According to most recent statics, there are over 70,000 to choose from, though this is constantly increasing. Some of our favourite examples include:
- Ask for answers for questions that come directly from the internet.
- Listen to Ted Talks or catch up on BBC New headlines.
- Guided meditation and audio based workouts.
- Fitness tracker.
- Create heating or lighting zones to complement your smart home set up.
There are thousands more Skills that you can download easily from the app and the likelihood if you’ll be able to find yourself a variety of skills you want to install on your smart speaker immediately.
Do Amazon Alexa Skills work?
More and more of these search options are getting better with stronger contextual information, but for the time being Google Assistant is a touch better at answering more questions with more depth.
If you’ll regularly be asking for information like this, you may want to look at Google Assistant as your voice helper of choice.
The thing with all voice assistants is they will continue to improve with time. Alexa will be better a few hours after this review is first published as Amazon is continuously working on it, and the same thing goes for Google Assistant and Siri on smart speakers.
Amazon Alexa review: the verdict
You’ll find that Amazon Alexa works with a lot of the top-end services you will use to make your dream smart home a reality. Here's everything you need to know:
- Amazon Alexa works with both iOS and Android phones, and we’ve found the app easy to control.
- Alexa will also be able to control most smart home products you may want to buy. Including Philips Hue, Hive, Ring, TP-Link, Nest, August Smart Home, Logitech Harmony and many more.
- You can connect in your smart home devices with ease, via the app, making any setting alterations required.
When you’re buying smart home equipment, you’ll spot a logo with a blue icon that says 'works with Alexa' next to it. That’s how you’ll know it’s compatible with your speaker.