The Amazon Echo is an interesting Internet appliance. Picture a combination between Siri (the Echo’s virtual assistant is named Alexa) and a Bluetooth speaker. You simply give the Echo any number of voice commands, and the device quickly responds. It can play music from your Amazon Music library, read you audiobooks from your Kindle, give you the news, weather, and traffic, and much more.

Amazon Echo Internet appliance

Amazon Echo

The Echo retails for $179.99 from Amazon. Its orb-like, futuristic shape would look great right next to Google’s new OnHub wireless router. Read on to learn more about the Echo’s feature set and how much bandwidth the device consumes.

Amazon Echo Keeps Adding New Features

In addition to playing back your Amazon music and book content, the Echo also supports most of the popular Internet radio services, including Pandora and iHeartRadio; you can also buy music from Amazon using the device. It leverages beamforming technology and an array of seven microphones to ensure your voice is heard even when music is playing. This CNET review complained about the sound quality of the speaker, so don’t expect audiophile-level sound when playing music.

Notably, Amazon keeps adding new features to the Echo which bodes well for its future. For example, it is now able to read you items from your Google Calendar. Even more impressive is its new support for a host of Home Automation devices, including SmartThings, Philips Hue, and Insteon. So you can tell Alexa to dim the lights and raise the thermostat.

You are also able to stream audio from your mobile device, but unfortunately DLNA doesn’t appear to be supported. That feature would allow you to stream audio stored on your computer or connected hard drive. In general it works like any other speaker with Bluetooth connectivity, but without voice command control, and keep in mind the subpar sound quality will limit the enjoyment of music for some.

Another slight downside is the lack of a battery compartment meaning you’ll always have to keep the device plugged into an outlet. In addition, the Echo currently only supports English as a language, but other languages could be added in the future.

An app available for Android or the Amazon Fire series is used to setup the Echo and also control it, when necessary. A remote control also has a microphone to operate the device just in case.

Bandwidth Considerations for the Amazon Echo

Since the Echo essentially plays back audio, and accesses text information, any impact on your home network bandwidth should be minimal. Make sure you place the unit where your WiFi signal is strong. Many current users feel the kitchen makes a great spot.

While the Echo is an intriguing piece of 21st Century technology, future voice activated devices — not necessarily from Amazon — offer even more potential to enhance your home life. Imagine an HD smart TV with similar functionality. Apple is trying to get there with the new Apple TV and its voice command features, and you can expect other tech giants to offer similar functionality in the short term.