The Amazon Echo is not a smart home product that is reliant on a mobile device to operate. Once set up, the Echo is entirely voice activated and it's very good at it. You simply use the app to pair it to your WiFi, adjust settings and add or remove skills.
OK, so there's a good amount of interaction through an app, but you don't need the app to make it do things throughout the day. And the best thing of all is that Amazon has a web app for Alexa that does everything the Android and iOS apps do. So you can use an Echo with Windows 10.
Which Amazon Echo should you get?
The first big difference between them is the price. The Echo Dot is $50, the 2nd generation Echo is $100 and the Echo Plus is $150. The Spot is $129 and Show is $229, with these two also having a display (Show has a big rectangular screen, Spot's is little and round), not just audio-based features. The Tap is the red-headed stepchild — a $130 portable Alexa-enabled speaker, not one that's dedicated for use in the home.
The Echo Plus tops the range of the speakers because it's also a built-in smart home hub, and it's basically the same form factor as the original Echo. The new 2nd generation Amazon Echo is smaller, has fabric finishes in its lineup and has improved sound powered by Dolby.
The Echo Dot hasn't been refreshed as yet, but for $50 you get all the same Alexa features as the other two in a teeny tiny package. It's not so hot as a speaker for playing music, but you can get a pair for the price of one Echo. Or if you'd prefer one for the kids' room, the Kids Edition is available for $80 with a neat case and an included year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited.
If you're looking for an extended Echo experience, the Show and Spot have built-in displays that can show you the time, weather, make video calls and take advantage of skills like the Ring Doorbell. You can answer the door and check your cameras using the Echo Show and the Echo Spot.
Setting up an Amazon Echo with Windows 10
Before you get too excited there are a couple of caveats, the first is that you'll have to set it up through your desktop browser. Unless you're a weird outlier like me and using a smaller browser like Opera, you'll probably be supported — if your browser's not, Edge will work just fine.
Setting up using your browser is fairly straightforward:
- Go to https://alexa.amazon.com in your browser.
- If you're not already logged in, hit log in.
- Plug in and turn on your Echo.
- Wait for the Echo's ring light to turn orange. The Echo should appear in the Alexa web app, as it's was automatically attached to your Amazon account when you ordered.
- Hold down the action button on the Echo for 5 seconds.
- In the web app, click on settings.
- Select set up new device.
- Choose the type of Echo you have.
- Select your Wi-Fi network in the web app.
- Click connect
After a few seconds, your Echo will set up and you can begin talking to it!
What you get inside the Alexa web app is a very simple to use layout to manage all your key Amazon Echo features. If you're using an Echo it's mostly a given you're also a Prime subscriber, and this will be your default music service. In the UK, Echo has support also for Spotify Premium, but that's it.
Amazon now has Music Unlimited, which has a special, lower-cost Echo only subscription that opens up more music for about $5 a month. To enable it, just ask Alexa to start your Music Unlimited trial.
All this in regular use without touching a phone — just say "Alexa…" and issue your command or ask your question. You can use the web app to keep a visual track on such items as your reminders and shopping lists, alarms, playlist history and even what Alexa has been asked. But none of this is necessary to just use the Echo, it's all value added. And you can look at it all in the browser on your PC or tablet.
So, an Amazon Echo might be mildly less convenient to set up for those of us who don't carry an iPhone or Android phone regularly. But set up is about the only real hiccup, after that, it does all the other Echo things. If you've held off because you think you can't use it because you prefer Windows, you need not. This tubular speaker with benefits is a wonderful product and I'm enjoying using one a great deal.
Now, Alexa, play some Iron Maiden.
Alexa on Windows 10 PCs
Announced at CES 2018, Amazon is bringing Alexa to Windows 10 PCs in partnership initially with companies like ASUS, Acer, and HP. While not specifically for interacting with an Echo, it does provide another outlet to handle Alexa, requests and skills on your PC.
In practice, you'll still have the very best experience with Alexa on an Amazon Echo. And, of course, a PC, even a laptop, isn't as convenient as a small speaker in any room in your home.
But, it expands the reach and makes Alexa even more convenient to integrate with your life, and your home. It's a little rough right now, but it's a start/
Updated July 13, 2018: Added our hands-on video so you can see Alexa on Windows 10 first hand!