July 01, 2015

Product Note: Amazon Echo

Nicole Black
Neither the ABA nor ABA entities endorse non-ABA products or services. This review should not be construed as an endorsement.

Computers and mobile devices are now part of our daily lives. We interact with these tools constantly throughout the day, seeking information, creating and reviewing documents, collaborating and communicating with coworkers, and keeping track of our busy lives.

Typically this information is obtained and input using a keyboard, but an increasingly viable and user-friendly option is simply to speak to a device and obtain information using voice-commands. Siri and Google Now are two examples of this method in action. But a newer, and very interesting, entrant into the marketplace is the Amazon Echo, which was just recently made available to the public for $179.99. (Shipments started on July 17th.)

I was intrigued by the concept of the Echo, so a while back I requested an invitation that allowed me purchase one at a special price ($99.99) for Amazon Prime members. My Echo arrived at the beginning of June, and over the last month I’ve been using it regularly. I’ve found it to be an incredibly useful and easy-to-use device. I am convinced that the Echo will help to pave the way toward the smart homes and offices of the future.

The first thing you’ll notice when you use Echo is the impressive accuracy of the voice recognition software. It is the rare occasion when my Echo interprets the input incorrectly. In fact, the device is able to interpret my voice commands even when music is playing, although if multiple people are speaking at once, it can present a problem. In most scenarios, though, it works very well.

Right now it’s located in my kitchen, so I typically use it to play music via Pandora or Amazon Prime music (you can also play radio stations), to compute measurement conversions, and to add items to our shopping list. But it has a vast assortment of additional functions that would also be useful in a law office.

For starters, you can add items to your to-do list and can use Echo to determine upcoming events on your Google calendar. Also useful is the ability to set timers or alarms. You can ask Echo to tell you the current time or the time in another time zone, to set an alarm, to snooze and stop the alarm, and to start or stop the timer.

Echo can also provide useful information about your environment. So, using Echo you can obtain the current weather or the weather forecast and traffic conditions for a set route that you’ve entered into the Amazon Echo app on your mobile device or computer.

You can ask Echo to provide a Flash News Briefing based on the stations that you’ve chosen. It offers news updates from a large number of sources including NPR, BBC, and ESPN. You can also have the latest news headlines read to you. And if you’re a sports fan, you can request all sorts of sports news including the latest live scores, completed scores, or the date of an upcoming sporting event for many different sports, although not all are covered.

Amazon Echo also integrates with IFTTT, the popular third-party service that helps you automate your workflows across devices. If you use Belkin WeMo or Philips Hue in your office, you can use Echo to turn lights on or off, or dim them to a specific level.

And, last but not least, you can reorder office supplies using Echo. This only works for Amazon Prime members and only applies to certain items, but depending on what you’re trying to order, it might very well simplify the reordering process.

These are just some of the ways that you can use Echo in your office. Over time, as the product improves and more integrations are added, the possibilities are endless! So if you’re looking for a more streamlined way to interact with your computer and are willing to use a newer entrant into the market, Amazon Echo might be just what the doctor ordered.

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Nicole Black

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York, attorney and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, web-based law practice management software. She’s been blogging since 2005, has written a weekly column for the Daily Record since 2007, is the author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers, coauthors Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier, and coauthors Criminal Law in New York. She’s easily distracted by the potential of bright and shiny tech gadgets, along with good food and wine. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack, and she can be reached at niki.black@mycase.com.