The Echo is an interesting device that excels in some areas and falls short in others. It's great for basic question and answer situations, but it doesn't do much in terms of getting things done.
What I mean is, if you want to know what time it is, or what the weather is, just ask Alexa and she'll answer. She does a fairly good job of answering even incredibly obscure questions (such as converting binary to decimal, etc.). The echo is also a very good speaker. I haven't ever turned it up particularly high, but at it's normal volume (about 50%) there is no distortion and the sound is crisp and clear.
Unfortunately, Alexa isn't very good about getting things done (outside of the few specific things that are listed). For example, I use all Apple products, so I use Reminders, iCal, etc. While Alexa does support integration with IFTTT which does have options to interface with Reminders, iCal, etc., it doesn't work very well. If you want to have it interface with iCloud in any way, you'll have to leave the IFTTT app on an iOS device running all of the time, otherwise your requests will get stuck in limbo for an unknown period of time.
If you don't use Apple, then the UI for the Echo does feature a To Do list and a Shopping List which can be accessed using the Echo app or echo.amazon.com. It also has (I believe) direct integration with Google Calendar so if that's what you use, it should work quite well.
It's probably worth noting, it's not Amazon's fault that the Echo doesn't support iCloud; Apple doesn't publish an iCloud API so the only way for anything other than Apple devices to access iCloud services is by making the relevant system calls on an iOS device.
Going back to audio quality for a moment; the Echo sounds great! I don't blast music from it (as it lives in my bedroom which is quite small) so I can't say how it performs at very high volumes, but I keep it at about 50% volume and there's never any distortion. It also produces bass, it won't get your house shaking or anything, but it really does do a surprisingly good job with the lows which is saying a lot for a device of it's size.
On the flip side, it's ability to listen sometimes leaves a bit to be desired. If you're in a quiet environment and you're facing the Echo, it shouldn't have much of a problem deciphering what you're saying. Unfortunately, if there's much noise at all, or you're more than a foot or two away from it and not facing it when you talk, it will likely struggle to understand what you're saying. The ironic bit is, it'll almost always pick up on "Alexa." On more than one occasion I've been in another room entirely talking to someone about it and without even thinking about it I'll say "Alexa" and hear her trigger. It's almost scary because you can be whispering and a fair distance away and say "Alexa" and she'll wake. Her ability to pick up on the other things you're saying aren't always amazing, though. One thing that really bugs me is that in an environment that's even remotely noisy, she will struggle to decipher what you're saying. The main time this happens is in the morning. I use the Echo as an alarm clock; I also sleep with a fan on. The fan is a bit noisy, but it's not that bad. When the alarm goes off, I'll say "Alexa" and she will almost always hear me, but when I say "snooze" or "stop" she never seems to register. I always either have to scream or grab the remote and use it's internal microphone. As you can imagine, this can be very frustrating I don't always know where I set the remote down the night before, and I don't want to wake up everyone else in my house by screaming. She also has a tendency to confuse "snooze" with "news".
Aside from that, she usually does a reasonably good job of deciphering what I'm saying, and she does provide very helpful information.
One of the features that really sold me on the Echo initially was it's 'Flash News Briefing' feature. Just say "Alexa, News" and she will play your preselected news-y podcasts (NPR, BBC, etc.) as well as read snippets from articles from your selected topics. My only real complaints about this are that it reading articles can be problematic at times. I'm assuming that she's just reading the first paragraph of the top 4 articles in my selected sections which can be annoying at times because the way some of them are formatted, she will sometimes just read the time, then move on, other times the first paragraph is essentially just click bait which will leave you wondering what the rest of the article was really about which means you'll have to find a device, load the app, figure out which article it was reading, then open it in a browser. I'm not sure how much Amazon can really do about this since it's sort of up to the way AP is formatting their articles. Something Amazon can do though is keep track of which articles have already been read because some sections don't update particularly often which means you could end up hearing the same article 5 or six times in a row which can be rather annoying.
A few small things I wanted to mention are:
- The alarm: It has an alarm, but only one, which you have to set each time and can't be set more than 24 hours in advance. At one point, the interface said "alarms" which made me think it might finally allow you to set multiple recurring alarms, but that feature still hasn't materialized, the ability to leave an alarm on hasn't shown up either. This may be nitpicky on my part, but it would also be nice if it has an easy wake feature where it starts at a low volume and then gets louder instead of blaring right away, but that's just me.
- Music: Prime music is alright, but leaves a lot to be desired. It's nowhere near as full as Spotify or, really any of the other competing services, but aside from Pandora, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio, it's your only option. You are able to upload your own music to the service, but unless you pay for the full service, you're limited to 250 songs at a time which is rather small. Pandora usability also leaves a bit to be desired; you have to specify which station you want it to play (it won't just resume that station), and it likes to make a new station every time you try to tell it something new. Another nitpicky thing on my part, it is a bit verbose in the information it gives you regarding music. For example if I say "Alexa, play Lucky", instead of just playing the song, it'll say "Playing Lucky, by Kopecky Family Band" which isn't so bad, but it can get annoying if it's a long song title and or a long artist name. It's the same with Pandora; if I say "Alexa, play Coldplay radio on Pandora" (and you do have to be that specific), it'll say "Getting your Coldplay radio station on Pandora".
- Name: It would be nice to be able to call it something other than 'Alexa' or 'Amazon', perhaps 'Echo' or 'Hal' or something, but that's just me.
- Bluetooth: It does support Bluetooth playback (meaning you can connect your phone, or other Bluetooth enabled device to it and it will act as a Bluetooth speaker; unfortunately, it still doesn't support functioning as a Bluetooth microphone. They do boast about how it has 7 separate microphones for the best audio quality, but you can't use it as a conference call speaker!? That seems a little odd to me.
Overall, I love my Echo (although she, apparently, won't love me back) and I definitely recommend it to anyone who wants a basic assistant who can answer questions, play music, tell you the news, and tell you weather and traffic conditions. I don't recommend the Echo to people who want a replacement for Siri, or Google Now, or Cortana, because Echo really doesn't compete (not because they're necessarily superior, but because Echo is a dedicated device in a whole different class than Siri, etc.)
I hope this review helps, if you have any questions, want more pictures of it or the interface, etc. please feel free to ask!