From checking the latest football stats to figuring out what to pack your kid for lunch, there's a lot you can ask of your Echo. But, one of the most versatile features of the smart speakers' digital assistant, Alexa, is the ability to create a playlist. Ready to rock out in your kitchen while you prepare your next meal? Or maybe you want to lay your head down on your pillow and drift off into slumber listening to soothing bedtime tunes. Whether you're using our favorite Echo device, the Echo second-generation, or the ever-popular Echo Dot, Alexa can help you create a playlist for any time of the day.
Two years after its birth, the device that inspired dozens of copycat smart speakers and spawned thousands of integrations is getting a makeover. Amazon's "all-new" Echo is smaller, cheaper and promises better sound. But, with a pile of new competitors and even more in the pipeline, the second-generation Echo needs to prove it's still worth your money. But it also sounds worse than those devices, delivering somewhat flat audio that emphasizes the high end and vocals at the expense of bass.
Apple will never admit it, but the arrival of Apple Music on Amazon's Echo speakers is an obvious admission that HomePod isn't getting the job done. Don't get me wrong, HomePod is a fantastic-sounding "smart" speaker, but its premium pricing, limited Siri capabilities, and missing support for third-party streaming services like Spotify and Pandora make it a device only an Apple fanatic would appreciate. Putting Apple Music on Amazon's Echo devices expands Apple's music-streaming service beyond its own smart speaker and potentially gives it access via over 50 million sold devices if The Information's sales numbers are remotely accurate (Amazon doesn't share how many unit sales for Echo devices). Since installing an Echo in my home three years ago (just thinking about how spoiled I am by Alexa is kind of mind-blowing), Spotify (requires premium account), Amazon Music, Pandora, and iHeartRadio have been my go-to music services on the smart speaker and I can almost always find the song I want to hear between the four services. I can't say I've been pining for Apple Music on Echo speakers.
Amazon's Alexa is becoming less hospitable to people who prefer to buy music instead of just signing up for a music subscription service such as Spotify. Until recently, Amazon Music Storage was the best way to stream your personal music collection onto Alexa devices--provided it was encoded as MP3 files. But in December, Amazon stopped supporting new uploads for the free service; it stopped accepting paid subscriptions a month later. In January 2019, Amazon will shut down Music Storage entirely, rendering your MP3 collection inaccessible on Echo devices unless you purchased the songs directly through Amazon's digital store. To play your own MP3s (or music encoded in other formats, such as FLAC) on the Echo or other Alexa devices, you can still use Plex or My Media Server for Alexa, both of which allow you to stream songs that you've stored on another device.
Reviewing a product designed to learn over time is like reviewing a newborn baby. So much functionality is dependent on artificial intelligence and machine learning, the only certainty is that it'll get smarter over time. Who knows what it'll end up being: A jack-of-all-trades? Or maybe just a creeper that records everything you say? At birth, it didn't have the ability to order you Domino's, play Spotify playlists, or get things from Amazon Prime.