Technophile

Review | Amazon’s Echo Flex: Alexa is squeezed into a wall plug

Mala Bhargava | Updated on December 12, 2019 Published on December 12, 2019

What do you get when you take a wall plug and put it together with a tiny speaker? The Echo Flex, an interesting gadget that adds to Amazon’s rapidly growing lineup of Echo products. The Flex is not for everyone but it has particular use-cases, specially when you team it up with its accessories which unfortunately have not yet been made available in India.

The Echo Flex looks like an oversized smartphone charging adaptor. It’s very neat and clean-white. On one side, there’s the regular metal prongs that fit into an electrical wall socket; on the other there are two buttons (mute and command), two notches for a speaker, a slit for a light, and two dots for microphones. It’s a very simple and minimalistic looking gadget.

Read: Amazon launches Echo Flex in India

The nice thing about it is that there are no wires involved, so you can plug it anywhere where you really want it to look neat and tidy and take up no space. That could be in a hallway, a verandah, a kitchen, or even in an office. It can even go into a bathroom, though it’s not waterproof as such, but neither are regular plugs. The other Echo devices aren’t meant for wall-mounting, but the Flex is. Even if you put a small Echo like the Dot up on a high shelf, there’s little you can do with the dangling cable, but in this case, there is none.

Unless, you use its USB outlet located just underneath to connect something like a phone for charging. Not much point, of course since then you do contend with a dangling cable and you’ll get slower charging than you would with the phone’s own charging gear which these days is all about fast charging. There’s also a 3.5mm jack on the side which you can use to plug in headphones or connect to a full fledged existing speaker and use the combination to make it respond to voice commands to play music from one of the supported sources.

The USB slot on the Flex actually supports certain accessories, like a tiny nightlight and a motion sensor, but these haven’t been made available in India yet. It may be that Amazon wants to test the waters in India with the Flex, but if that’s the case, it needed to be brought in with the accessories that make it more functional.

Though you can plug in some device or the other with the USB, the thing is that you can’t voice command it to turn on or off that device — or, in effect, itself. If you’re charging a phone and think there have been enough hours of charging, you can’t just say Alexa, stop charging my phone.

The Flex is also not a speaker for actual music listening — it’s just not big enough for that. You can still go ahead and ask its Alexa to play a song, and it will, but it’ll sound what ti is, a thin sound coming out of a tiny speaker. Sometimes users may not mind that, but not for regular listening. For that, you can use it to play on other speakers. So, from the kitchen, you could say play relaxing music in the bedroom, and if that’s a speaker group or setup you already have, it will do so.

So, stripped of its accessories, what’s it good for? Well, it is in all other aspects it’s a full fledged Alexa device with all the features available to it. It’s a way of controlling smart home products. For those who already have an Echo setup of some sort, it’s an option to extend Alexa capability to other places neatly using the Flex as an extender into areas of the house where there’s no other Echo speaker. If you have a long hallway or a kitchen at a good distance from the living room or bedroom, or you have a few rooms upstairs and downstairs, you could use the Flex as a way to give commands to the setup or to products. You can actually even make Alexa to Alexa calls from it, which is amazing capability for a small thing like that. But the use case is very specific which is why it’s not for every housefuls or space.

The Flex more or less sets itself up if you already have an Echo speakers setup. It’s just a few taps and permissions in the Alexa app. As the only Echo device, it’s not recommended as it’s better to get one which also has a listenable speaker, but as an additional controller, it’s workable.

Price: Rs 2,999

Pros: Interesting as an extension of an Echo setup, neat and clutter free, gives one more option for accessing full Alexa features including Alexa-to-Alexa calls in a tiny format,

Cons: Accessories not available in India yet, can’t turn off the USB point that is a part of it

Published on December 12, 2019
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