Amazon EcoFlex Review: Compact in every way
With Amazon launching a new Echo device almost every month these days, it is clear that the popular American multinational wants to dominate the Indian smart speakers and, more recently, the small display market. The company’s portfolio recently saw the addition of some unique models, such as the Echo Input Portable Edition (Amazon’s first battery-powered Echo device in India) and Echo Auto (an eco-device designed to drive a car). Echo Flex is one such device.
Amazon’s goal is to make its popular digital assistant, Alexa, as accessible to users as possible, even if it means wearing a small ring or a pair of glasses. This goal is incredibly reflected in the new Echo Flex. On the product page it is billed as a plug-in echo device for smart home control. In fact, Amazon made it clear on its product page that the EchoFlex was not designed for music playback, only for voice commands. What the company did not mention is that it is the cheapest eco device you can get in India today. It is priced at Rs 2,999 on Amazon.in but at the time of writing this review it is selling at Rs 2,499. With that, let’s see the new Echo Flex.
Design and build
As you can probably tell, the Amazon Echo Flex is a unique form factor that cannot be compared to its brethren. In fact, the smaller portable device could be more easily mistaken for a mosquito repellent machine or Wi-Fi range extender. The Echo Flex is undoubtedly wall-mountable, which is both good and bad. This is good because it does not clutter your home with more power cables and adapters. This is bad because it forces you to use it directly from an easily accessible wall socket; A power strip that is stuck under your bed or table will not do very well.
When conveniently placed in the kitchen or bedroom, Eco Flex can prove to be an attractive little piece of technology. With its compact rectangular white plastic shell, the device features a small 0.6-inch speaker, a two-microphone array, action and microphone off buttons, a small LED light bar for status indications, a 3.5mm jack for audio output, and a pack. USB-A port for charging other devices. While the small pill-shaped light bar does not fail to show the status of the device, it is not as effective or attractive as the multi-colored light rings of the mainstream Echo series. The Echo Flex also misses the physical buttons for volume control, forcing you to use your voice every time.
Setting up an Amazon Eco Flex is no easier or harder than setting up an Echo device other than a display. The setup process, which usually takes up to twenty minutes to complete, begins with the installation of the Amazon Alexa smartphone app. The app is available for free on both Android and iOS platforms and it guides you through the setup process. For unknown reasons, the review unit spoke to me through the setup process in Indian English but later automatically moved to British English. With that the place and time zone have changed. This switch happened even though my default account language was set to Indian English and was reflected on all other Echo devices. I think I’ll chalk that up to a bug in the system.
Like other devices in the Echo family, the Echo Flex has a 3.5mm jack for audio output on the right side of the body. I’m glad to see the inclusion of this jack in basic devices like the Echo Flex. In contrast, none of Google’s smart speakers or displays in India have a 3.5mm jack for audio output. This feature will surely release audio enthusiasts as they will be able to hook up the Echo Flex to their favorite speaker set while retaining the power of the Amazon Alexa.
Surprisingly, the EcoFlex packs a USB-A port on the bottom of its body to charge even low-power devices. Now, this is something we don’t see in other eco devices – not even in the most expensive eco studios. The Eco Flex’s USB port can provide up to 7.5 watts, which is comfortable for charging wireless headsets and fitness bands, but not for fast charging of your smartphone. Still, it’s a Nifty feature that won’t go wrong with other Echo speakers. Our review unit was able to charge a pair of Mi Sports Bluetooth earphones in about two hours.
Like the other Echo devices on Amazon’s Stable, the EcoFlex is powered by the Amazon Alexa voice-based digital assistant inside. Alexa lets you give her orders, such as’ How’s the weather? ‘,’ Tell me a story ‘,’ Book a taxi to Uber ‘,’ Play the Beatles’ songs’, and ‘Turn off the bedroom lights’. It is important to note that some of these commands will only work if a certain ‘skill’ is enabled in the Amazon Alexa app. These skills enable Alexa to use your personal accounts for data access, such as Uber and Domino’s Pizza. Compared to Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa comes with some unique features, such as whisper mode (when you don’t want to wake your parents or spouse) and a custom wake word setting (when you bother to call her Alexa). In my experience, Amazon Alexa is a more friendly digital assistant than Google Assistant.
Audio quality and voice response
The Echo Flex comes with a single tiny 0.6-inch mini-speaker that is best reserved for alarms, reminders and voice feedback from Alexa. Its output is flat and weak for all types of music. In contrast, the Echo Dot has a larger 1.6-inch speaker driver, suitable for listening to casual music. In fact, Amazon frankly wrote on the product page of its wall-mountable speakers, “The Echo Flex has a mini built-in speaker that is not optimized for music playback.” Fortunately, there is a 3.5mm jack for external speaker output. If you want good audio quality, you should definitely pair the Echo Flex with a good pair of speakers. You can read our review of Echo Dot with Clock here.
EchoFlex uses a two-microphone array to take ‘Alexa’ calls from its users. The third-generation Echo, by contrast, employs a seven-microphone array for improved reach and sensitivity. The microphone setup on the Echo Flex isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. The review unit responded to the ‘Alexa’ call as expected when I sat down about two meters away from the device and spoke with moderate tenderness. But the device failed to pick up my call when I moved a little away from where I was before. In other words, Eco Flex will be able to hear you when placed near you in the bedroom or kitchen. But if it’s plugged into a socket across the room, you’ll need to take a breath and yell at Alexa.
The last row
As I mentioned in the design and build section of the review, the Amazon Echo Flex is a cable-free wall-mountable smart speaker, both with advantages and disadvantages. Which one of them you have depends on how you plan to use EcoFlex. To understand this, the device must be plugged into a wall socket in an area of your home or office where you spend a lot of time. It must be within close reach. Otherwise, you may find yourself repeatedly calling Alexa in an increasingly loud voice. In other words, the Echo Flex is strictly a near-field device.
Even if it is conveniently placed, it is not without the limitations of the Amazon Echo Flex. It’s got a weak speaker that’s only good for voice response, which makes it frustrating for music playback – unless you get a better set of external speakers to connect to. It won a few brownie points by offering a USB-A port to charge other devices. In short, Eco Flex is for you if you are aware of its physical limitations and want a cheap eco device for bedside companionship anyway. Its biggest selling point is its friendly price of Rs 2,999.
- The Amazon Echo Flex is packaged in a small blue box that looks smaller than the device