Amazon has never been content when it comes to their Echo devices. They’re constantly looking for ways to enhance their usefulness and make them a bigger part of our lives. With the newly released Echo Buttons, Amazon is now taking aim at game night. An activity that is long overdue for some technological advancement.
The Amazon Echo Buttons come in pairs for $20 and are the first in an upcoming line of “Alexa Gadgets” that the company announced in 2017. These Bluetooth connected devices intend to provide fun activities and enhance ways in which you can voice interact with your Echo devices. It’s a smart tactic by the company as Echo exclusive accessories can further tie consumers to their smart speaker and cement their lead over Google and Apple.
There really isn’t much to the Echo Buttons, which is actually a good thing. They come in at just under 3 inches in diameter and have a big button in the middle. The button lights up brightly in a variety of colors depending on which skill you’re using them for. They’re fairly sturdy for the price point, have batteries included, and have a fun game show buzzer appeal. Perhaps the biggest design flaw we saw was a frustrating battery panel that requires a tiny screwdriver to access.
It’s Bluetooth, for Better or Worse
The Echo Buttons connect individually via Bluetooth and up to four can be connected at any given time. The early returns from those who pre-ordered cite pairing issues, and we can confirm that it’s an unpleasant experience. For a device sold on it’s “easy setup”, it required multiple attempts to pair the device to our Echo Dot.
Once connected, the buttons do work well. While Bluetooth has its limitations, it’s well suited for devices where response times are more important. The buttons respond almost instantaneously and work perfectly as a game show buzzer. On the flip-side, Bluetooth limits the range devices could work and you’ll need them relatively close to your Echo if you want to use them.
There were some sporadic connection issues as we used them. Usually these could be solved by utilizing the “Forget Device” option in the Alexa app and re-pairing. One recommendation is marking the devices on the bottom so you’ll know which one is which when you do have to go through this.
With so many others running into similar issues, it does make us wonder where the problem lies. Is it poor hardware? Is it a firmware issue? With the launch coming mere days before Christmas, it’s fair to wonder if the Echo Buttons were rushed out the door to meet that important deadline. Amazon products are typically solid at launch but this seems to be the exception.
Games are Promising, But Glitchy and Limited
I have to admit I was probably more excited than I should have been at the prospect of these. As a fan of sitting around with friends playing games over beers, this seemed like a ton of fun. Throw in the fact that Hasbro’s Trivial Pursuit (a personal favorite of mine) was leading the launch lineup, I was giddy to get my hands on them. But the excitement quickly faded as I came across a really small lineup of skills that didn’t feel ready for primetime.
The aforementioned Trivial Pursuit Tap is the headliner and is one of a handful of games available right now. It’s fun, although limited and glitchy. You’ll occasionally find yourself answering correctly only to have the game tell you that you were wrong. The questions also seem limited to recent pop culture so those expecting a classic Trivial Pursuit experience might be disappointed. It was still relatively fun and hopefully will improve with updates.
Outside of that, it’s slim pickings. Hanagram was surprisingly fun and might be the best use of the buttons yet. Button Monte is a fine concept but grows old quickly. Party Foul is a nice twist on the “I’ve Never” game we played in high school. The most disappointing was Sounds Fun with Mike Epps which feels like someone is trolling us. Football, baseball, and basketball trivia games are on the way for sports fans which should help.
Can It Be More?
Amazon’s marketing has pushed the Echo Buttons as strictly a game accessory. And while that may be true for the time being, it’s fair to ask if they could be used for more in the future. The Flic Wireless Button comes to mind as a gadget that allow you to tap a button to turn on lights or lock a door. It connects via Bluetooth as well. Could the Echo Buttons perform similar tasks in the future?
It’s too early to tell what direction Amazon may go with the Echo Buttons. Getting some fun games that actually work is going to be priority number one. But it’s fun to think of the potential they do hold.
Disappointed But Not Ready to Give Up
Amazon usually delivers out of the gate but this feels a bit like a dud. The devices were glitchy and the skills available are weak. It feels like they were rushed out for Christmas and could have used an extra month or two of polishing. But I’m not ready to give up on them yet.
There is still a lot of potential for the Echo Buttons. Alexa can make a great game show host and using light up buzzers is just flat-out fun. Amazon also seemed to acknowledge some of the initial issues in a release and have stated they’re committed to improving the product. If the Echo Buttons really are the first in a line of “Alexa Gadgets”, they’ll want to get this right.
At $20, these aren’t a big investment. But I don’t see the point in rushing out and buying them quite yet. Let Amazon work out the technical kinks. Let the many developers building skills for the buttons create their innovative games. Then hopefully they can be what we want them to be. A revolutionary new way to tackle game night.