tl; dr: If the Echo Flex alone is inconspicuous as a plug-in echo speaker, the opening for accessories from third-party manufacturers offers endless possibilities for expansion not only in the smart home sector. Motion sensor and night light are only the beginning, the real potential still needs to be used.
The Amazon Echo Flex is a plug-in speaker with Alexa. It is plugged directly into a socket, without power supply or cable, and is henceforth with a suggested retail price of 29.99 euros the cheapest entry into the ecosystem of Alexa.
An echo for every outlet
The Echo Flex is Amazon's approach to actually make Alexa available throughout the house. Because by the fixation in the socket, which is by the way lost by the use of the Echo Flex – because a plug itself offers the plug-in device unlike some wireless repeaters or powerline adapter -, it can also be used in corridors or on Places are used that do not allow the installation of a speaker easily.
The Echo Flex serves primarily as an Alexa microphone and voice tube to receive commands, execute and confirm the user. If, for example, you want to be able to quickly announce the current traffic situation when you are getting dressed in the hallway, the Echo Flex should be the device of choice. Therefore, the small speaker inside, measuring 15mm in diameter and thus significantly smaller than the 41mm copy in the Echo Dot, has been optimized to Alexa voice response to answer the user's requests. If you still want to use the Echo Flex to stream music through it, you can connect an external speaker via the 3.5 mm jack on the right side – a cable is not included. Alternatively, music can be output from the Echo Flex via Bluetooth to a Bluetooth speaker. Even from a smartphone can be streamed via the wireless technology directly to the speaker.
Good for Alexa, bad for music
In practice, the speaker is sufficient for answers from Alexa, in the music playback, however, he certainly does not convince, since he offers only highs and no depths, which also overdrive quickly. Music also sounds tinny at every volume. Already with an Echo Dot you are much better advised.
The Echo Flex also makes it possible to use the drop-in function of the echoes to connect directly to another echo speaker such as an intercom. Advertisements can also be sent to and listened to by Echo Flex.
Known controls even with the smallest model
The 72 × 67 × 73 mm (H × W × D) and 154 g Echo Flex connects to the home network via Wi-Fi 802.11a / b / g / n / ac at 2.4 and 5 GHz. The Echo Flex protrudes 36 mm from the socket. The front side has an LED light on the top that replaces the LED ring known from the echo speakers and glows blue when a request is processed, and glows red when the microphones are off. After setting up via the Alexa app, under the menu item “Display”, the brightness of this LED can be controlled, with 0 percent still causing a faint glow. It can not be switched off completely. Underneath is the action button that Alexa can be woken up to if this is not done by voice. A button for deactivating the microphones is also provided by the Echo Flex. In the lower part it closes with two notches for the mini speaker.
USB accessories without limits
At the bottom, the Echo Flex has a conventional USB-A port. This opens Alexa for third-party accessories, because Amazon allows to offer any accessories for the Echo Flex. As far as possible, the manufacturer gives developers free rein with which extensions for the Echo Flex they will come onto the market.
To start the Echo Flex, there are two accessories, each costing 15 euros: a smart night light and a motion sensor. By the way, you do not even grind the USB port through, so you can not use both attachments at the same time, which could not be processed by the Echo Flex.
In addition, the USB port can be used to charge connected devices. For example, smartphones can be charged with up to 7.5 watts.
Third Reality motion sensor
With the Motion Sensor for the Echo Flex from Third Reality, routines can be created in the Alexa app, which are triggered as soon as the sensor detects a movement – regardless of the ambient brightness, which it does not measure. For example, lamps that are linked to the Alexa app can be switched as a classic application for a motion sensor. The sending of notifications of a detected movement via Alexa app to the smartphone is also offered – in the test, this worked fine on Android and iOS. In addition, Alexa's language editions are like the greeting “Welcome HomeOr an indication of other echoes such as “A movement in the corridor was detected“Possible. However, the user can also trigger routines depending on how long no movement has been detected.
The motion sensor connects to the bottom of the Echo Flex via USB and fits seamlessly into the design. Alexa registers the accessories automatically after connection. Site selection follows the same limitations of a conventional motion sensor; Accordingly, it should not be placed in direct sunlight or directly next to heat sources such as fan heaters, as this may result in unwanted activations.
The PIR sensor (passive infrared) itself can detect movements – more specifically temperature changes – at a distance of up to six meters. The viewing angle is 120 degrees. Users can adjust the sensitivity of the sensor between high and low by turning the sensor off and on four times. The blue LED then flashes slowly for low sensitivity or fast to signal high sensitivity. Why the sensitivity can not also be set via the Alexa app, does not open, especially since the function in the package insert is not even documented.
In the Alexa app, the motion sensor, which is given the name “First Motion Sensor” on the first connection, appears in the “All devices” list, where it can be given a unique name according to the location. Via routines under the menu item “Smart Home” it is available for the control of other devices. A detected movement can also trigger several actions, so that you can cause light, music, a voice message and a notification on your smartphone at the same time. Especially with the lighting control this should be linked to a period of time, because otherwise all lamps will switch on even during the day when motion is detected.
The detection itself did not cause any problems for the motion sensor in the test, whether it was placed close to the floor or at the level of the stomach in a power socket. What can be controlled with the motion sensor, however, depends individually on which smart devices the user has linked with Alexa – whether directly via the Zigbee hub in another Echo Plus, Echo Studio (test) or Echo Show (test) or about a skill of a smart home provider. The latter functioned in conjunction with Devolo Home Control (test) and Philips Hue bulbs (controlled via the Hue bridge and not via a Zigbee hub of echoes) via time-of-day, self-created routines in the Alexa App completely problem-free and reliable.
Third Realitys RGB night light
The Third Reality night light is also connected via USB-A to the Echo Flex and automatically detected by the Alexa app. It has six colored, dimmable LEDs at the bottom, whose light can be controlled by voice command. An integrated light sensor also switches the night light on and off automatically depending on the ambient brightness. The sensitivity of the light sensor can be adjusted in the Alexa app, for example, to prevent permanent lighting in relatively dark corridors. Using the named application, it is also possible to create routines for the night light, in which the night light can be switched on and off, and the color and brightness can be set. The night light shines with a maximum of 20 lumens.
If you turn the night light on or off by voice command or the Alexa app, the automatic mode, which switches the night light depending on the ambient brightness, is deactivated for twelve hours. This prevents the nightlight from reactivating immediately if, for example, it has been deliberately switched off by voice or app at night. If you want to return to automatic mode sooner, this is possible via the Alexa app. Reduce the brightness with the command “Alexa, nightlight darker“, This is always reduced to 50 percent. Re-executing the command does not change anything. The command “Alexa, nightlight brighter“Does not increase the brightness, but the nightlight remains at 50 percent. Only an announcement of the percentages like “Alexa, set the nightlight to 10 percent“Leads to a reduction to the desired value.
In practice, in dark corridors at night, depending on the position of the nightlight, a low single-digit brightness is sufficient to provide sufficient illumination. In the test, it was actually used only with 2 percent brightness, which seemed the most pleasant. On the positive side, the nightlight only turns on in almost complete darkness, so that it does not already light up in the winter in the winter. In order to be automatically deactivated, however, a larger amount of light is necessary. This is the first time that the USB-A port has had a negative impact because the orientation of the light sensor on the Echo Flex can not be changed. It is always placed on the right side of the device, whether it's directly next to a wall or directly to the window. A limitation that could easily be avoided with USB-C.
In the app, the color of the night light can be changed as well as by voice command. Despite RGB LEDs, however, only 16 predefined colors are available. A color wheel on which the user can easily choose a color, as it is known from Philips Hue, the app does not currently offer. The colors ranging from red to yellow, green and blue to violet do not all meet the personal taste and are mostly not needed. However, it is positive to note that white is warm white and not a sterile white with blue cast.
The measurement of power consumption of the Echo Flex was performed once without any accessories in standby, then during the processing of a command and finally with the motion sensor and in conjunction with the night light without activated and with activated light at minimum and maximum brightness.
The connection of the night light or motion sensor hardly increases the power consumption. When the nightlight is fully lit, the power consumption increases by another 0.4 watts, so that the Echo Flex is at a total consumption of 1.2 watts. When processing a voice command, the power consumption of the Echo Flex is 1.3 watts. Anyone who decides to listen to music at volume 5 achieves a power consumption of 1.3 to 1.4 watts.
The purpose of the Echo Flex is also in everyday life, as shown by the practical test, the acceptance of commands with the option of answers from Alexa. Smart home devices can be controlled very well by voice, the weather forecast or appointments says the Echo Flex reliable and understandable. For music playback, however, the device is nothing, which in turn limits the purpose and location of many users. For those who want to listen to music while brushing their teeth or in the bathtub listen to a bigger echo. The Echo Flex is designed for all the places where an Echo Dot is already too big and the cable is annoying, but you still want to use voice control via Alexa. And it's aimed at anyone who wants to control their Smart Home by voice, but does not need a speaker to play music.
The Echo Flex responds to voice commands from a few meters away despite a positioning at ground level without any problems and it came in the test not too heaped error detection, although only two microphones are used.
The accessories will decide on success or failure
But really interesting is the Echo Flex but above all by the opening created by Amazon over third-party providers via USB interface for accessories. Especially for the future, it will be interesting to see what developers come up with to use this connection for cost – effective peripherals and games.
The first two devices that can be connected to the Echo Flex, a night light and a motion sensor, perform their task in the test easily and reliably – but just as inconspicuous. With a smart night light, whose brightness can be controlled via app and voice, and a motion sensor, which starts actions on other devices via routines, today one can no longer elicit smart home enthusiasts behind the couch. Equally interesting, however, is that the combination of Echo Flex and motion detectors is sometimes still cheaper than a pure motion sensor in other smart home systems – from actions at Amazon, where the Echo Flex is likely to be offered cheaper, still completely apart.
When using the night light with brightness sensor and the motion sensor as the first accessory but you inevitably wonder why there is no combination of both devices. A night light with a motion sensor that activates only when, for example, a child actually gets up and works their way through the hallway into their parents' bedroom would make more sense in everyday life than a nightlight shining all night long. Although it may make sense in the nursery regardless of the movement, this is often not the primary location of the Echo Flex, since in practice either a larger or no echo speaker is used.
Night light without motion sensor
The night light alone, which must be purchased for 15 euros and must be operated with an Echo Flex necessarily, it lacks in practice actually an integrated motion sensor, if it is not always the whole night to shine. If you want to add this, you need a second Echo Flex with motion sensor and another power outlet in the immediate vicinity or compatible third-party hardware. The smaller restrictions in the brightness control, which only works correctly on announcement of the percentage, and the lack of color circle take a back seat, because you rarely change the brightness and color will remain as a classic night light anyway with white.
Motion sensor works well and reliably
The pure motion sensor for also 15 euros is ideal for use in the entrance area or windscreen with the Echo Flex, provided that a socket allows a meaningful orientation of the device. As a result of the detected movement, not only the light can be switched on when you come home, but also an unauthorized entry is reported. By recognizing this, one can also notify the burglar directly via the Echo Flex or attract attention with loud music on other speakers, which at best drives him away.
Why the sensitivity of the sensor, however, only cumbersome about a multiple plugging and unplugging is possible instead of implementing this conveniently via the Alexa app, does not open to the buyer. It could be due to limitations of third-party options in the Alexa app, which would be a fatal signal for the possibilities of future extensions.
A constant change of the accessories connected to the Echo Flex is not a problem for this one or for Alexa. If a device that has already been set up is connected to the Echo Flex again, it is immediately available again with the previously defined properties and settings.
Echo could become a smart home system
If Amazon and third-party manufacturers succeed in using the opportunities created by the Echo Flex sustainably and launching a large number of extensions, the Echo devices could gradually open up the market for smart home components and provide a real alternative to other systems. The potential has the Echo Flex, it just needs to be used.
ComputerBase got the Echo Flex on loan from Amazon under NDA for testing. The only requirement was the earliest possible publication date. An influence on the article did not take place, an obligation to publish did not exist.
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