It's hard not to look deeper into the Echo Wall Clock. It is, after all, tied to Alexa , Amazon's popular, always-listening voice assistant that by most recent count has sold over 100 million supporting devices. You pair the Echo Wall Clock to an Alexa-based Echo speaker wirelessly to set the time. The Clock also shows you a visual representation of any timers you set with Alexa, by way of 60 LED hash marks situated around the outer edge of the clock face.
Does the Echo Wall Clock give Amazon yet another nugget of data about you to further strengthen its eventual, Big Brother-style grip on the world and the individuals living therein? Nah. The Clock itself doesn't connect to Amazon's cloud network. It only connects locally to your Echo speaker. If you're concerned the Clock will rat out how often you set an Alexa timer, and for how long, rest comfortably knowing Amazon knows all about it from whatever internet-connected Alexa device you already use.
Does the Clock increase the overall presence of Alexa in your home? Sometimes, but then only incrementally. The Clock has no speakers or microphones, and you can't talk to it directly to trigger Alexa. In that it shines some lights when you set an Alexa timer or when a reminder goes off, the Clock does extend Alexa's visual footprint. When it isn't counting down a timer, the Echo Wall Clock is just a plain-looking clock.
Will the Clock increase your dependency on the Alexa voice service and thus make it harder to switch to a competitor like Google Assistant because you will have already invested in accessory hardware that won't work with a competing platform? Definitely possible.
There are indeed some unsettling elements of Amazon's growing ambitions around smart home technology, of which the Echo Wall Clock is most certainly a part. Lock-in is one, but at only $30 the Clock isn't that irreplaceable.
More broadly troubling is the Ring video doorbell side of Amazon, that evidently wants to cross-reference your picture, your gait and your voice imprint with law-enforcement databases without your consent. That's less of a concern for the Echo Wall Clock, which really just wants to help you get out the door on time and prevent you from burning the kale chips. It's a plain-looking clock, but especially if you already use Alexa timers in the kitchen or as part of a day-to-day home routine, I expect you will appreciate the way the Echo Wall Clock makes those timers more visible.
(Amazon says the clock will go on sale in the UK and Germany at some unspecified point in the future. It has not announced availability elsewhere. The US price converts to about £25 or AU$40.)
Double A or double F?
I like the Echo Wall Clock. It's a simple product that does a simple job and does it well, and setting it up is mostly easy. It does what good consumer technology is supposed to do.
It's not a high-minded example of modern design. It doesn't offer any substantial "delight." No particular philosophy has been applied to its out-of-box experience. It's a 10-inch, black-and-white plastic wall clock that ships in a thin cardboard box with a few annoying pieces that keep the Clock secure in transit.
You get a mounting screw, a plastic anchor for that screw, and four AmazonBasics AA batteries in that box, which introduced my only real irritation with the Clock. The batteries got the Clock through the process of pairing it with an Echo speaker. After that, the Clock kept the time, but it wouldn't show any timers from Alexa, nor would it acknowledge when I pressed the pairing button again thinking I needed a matchmaking do-over.
I'm not the only user to face this issue. Four fresh Duracells solved the problem for me. An Amazon spokesperson suggested that taking the Amazon-provided batteries out and the putting them back in would work. It did! I swapped the original batteries back in it, and the Clock worked like it was supposed to.
That's great. Too bad no one wants to troubleshoot a clock. It's fine to have an utilitarian out-of-box experience, but maybe lock down the "batteries make it go" part before you ship. Amazon says "it's working to improve the connectivity for customers."
What I really did like is the Alexa-based setup process. Once you put the batteries in, simply say "Alexa, set up my Wall Clock." It will prompt you to hold down a small button on the back of the Clock for six seconds. After that, pairing it with your nearest Echo device is entirely automated. The Clock gets its time from the Echo it's paired with. Once that pairing process starts, the hands on the Clock will spin around by themselves on their way to settling on the correct time. Because your Echo device gets its time setting from Amazon's servers, you don't need to worry about maintaining accuracy. It will also adjust for daylight saving time automatically.
A sundial and a supercomputer walk into a bar...
With the Clock on your wall, you might notice that it's kind of cheap-looking. The white plastic housing doesn't feel all that substantial. The black plastic face is unprotected by any kind of covering. The Clock only has an hour and a minute hand, although the absence of a second hand is perhaps what helps keep the Clock so quiet. Even when you hold your ear up to it, you can barely hear the minute hand advance.
Assuming you've dealt with any battery-related frustrations, say "Alexa, set a timer for five minutes" to your Echo speaker, and Alexa will set that timer as normal on the speaker, and, if the Clock is within 30 feet of your speaker, you'll also see five LED hash marks tick down from the 12 o'clock position on the Clock. Each LED will turn off as the timer counts down. When the timer expires, Alexa will sound an alarm as usual, joined by one flashing LED on the Clock. The LED turns off on its own after a few seconds, regardless of whether or not you've dismissed the audio alarm.
If you have multiple Alexa timers running, any additional timers after the first one register on the Echo Wall Clock as a lone, lit-up hash mark. Once the primary timer runs down, the secondary one gets the full hash mark treatment.
The Clock will also work with any Alexa reminders. Say "Alexa, remind me to take out the kale chips at 5 p.m.," and the entire ring of LEDs on the Clock will flash at you in time with the reminder when it goes off.
There ends the list of what the Echo Wall Clock can do that a traditional analog wall clock cannot. Simple enough, and it's easy to imagine how that might be useful at home. The three most common uses I've heard in passing are to better keep track of cooking timers, to give greater visibility to screen time limits for your children and to help your kids learn to tell time.
Using the Echo Wall Clock as an analog time instructional tool (the irony!) might be easier if you could set the LEDs to count forward from the minute hand position, rather than downward from 12 o'clock. Amazon says this isn't possible. That looks like an opportunity for another Alexa-driven clock from a third party, since the Echo Wall Clock is a product of a publicly available set of development tools called the Alexa Gadgets Toolkit.
The inexorable march of new gadgetry
Indeed, you can expect to see more products like this that work with Alexa, along with others that work with Google Assistant. Both voice platforms have released lightweight development kits designed especially for third parties to make more products like the Echo Wall Clock. Amazon announced its Alexa Gadgets Toolkit back in September 2018, and Google showed off prototype hardware using its similar Google Assistant Connect kit at this year's CES.
The premise is that both Alexa and Google Assistant can perform a wide enough variety of tasks that consumers might find them useful in all kinds of different products, many of which don't need to be as complicated as a thermostat, a door lock or some other serious household fixture. By this time in 2020, when we're through another year's worth of Amazon and Google product launch events, another holiday buying season, and another CES , I expect we'll be drowning in gadgets that leverage core functions of the two voice services in ways that either extend them to other products, as with the Echo Wall Clock, or that use them in interesting new ways, as Amazon imagines might happen with toys.
As has already happened with core smart home products, with more gadgets tied to one particular voice service, the closer each service gets to becoming a platform rather than an isolated voice assistant product. It's possible that some of these gadgets will work with more than one voice assistant. We've seen that happen with smart home products, too. For the sake of consumer choice and smaller landfills, I hope that's the case.
Be forewarned, the compatibility list for the Echo Wall Clock includes the Amazon Echo speaker, the Echo Dot , the Echo Plus , the Echo Show , the Echo Spot , and the Echo Input . It does not support third-party devices with Alexa built-in like the Sonos One speaker or the Ecobee 4 Smart Thermostat. It also won't work with Amazon's own Fire TV or Fire Tablet products, nor with the Echo Tap or the Echo Look .
I would buy the Amazon Echo Wall Clock; I'm not going to, because I think I'm going to switch to Google Assistant soon at home, but if I wasn't, I would scoop one up. I would, at least, if Amazon had any in stock. Right now it doesn't. A company spokesperson told me, "We're working to make the Echo Wall Clock available again soon." Frustrating! Your best bet is to ask Amazon for an email notification when it has more to sell.