Amazon Echo 

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4 stars
Fairly useful, and of course a little bit creepy

I’ve had an Echo since May 2015 and it’s since joined a two person household. The main functions we use it for these days are: 1) playing random music, mainly from Amazon Prime’s free catalog, 2) as an alarm clock and kitchen timer, 3) as a news/weather info source, 4) as a calendar reminder. Voice recognition is usually solid except when it occasionally can’t hear us at all, e.g. over music playing. Typically, both of us use it at least 1-2 times per day. The fact that it’s plugged in means it becomes seamlessly integrated into your day-to-day life at home without having to worry about yet another device to charge.

There’s an app library but we’ve never used it — it just seems a little clunky to do anything more complicated through this interface. We also don’t use the online shopping features. The device occasionally comes on randomly when it hears the “Alexa” command on TV or radio and starts sputtering random nonsense. It’s amusing but also a bit annoying.

Beyond that, you can converse with it through its (surprisingly large) catalog of canned jokes and limited AI. For the kinds of questions Google can give you a pre-computed answer for, it can be helpful, though I’m usually near a keyboard when I have those. Having a microphone in your room may seem a little weird at first (and continues to have that “a little bit creepy” factor), but honestly, your phone and laptop have the same capabilities.

The sound quality is good for casual listening, and the overall usability of the device is great with lots of nice touches. Very straightforward setup, a remote control you can easily attach to your fridge with a magnetic holder, multiple ways to adjust the volume including on the device itself, etc. I’ve found the Android app a bit sluggish and mostly end up using instead.

What’s nicest about Echo is Amazon’s dedication to making the product better, which you really do notice as a user. There are typically a couple of new features per month, such as calendar integration or IFTTT support. At $99 with a Prime membership, it was a good deal.