Below is my review of the installation of both Ask Alexa and Echosistant. This will be an abridged review as I have reached out to both authors and they mentioned that their installation processes will be changing considerably, which was my biggest source of pain. Outside of the installation, I focus my review on the documentation and program operation, trying to take a ‘new user’ perspective.
Both authors agreed that neither program is ‘easy’ for the average user to install. It sounds like there are thousands of installs of at least Ask Alexa, so I guess everyone here is more of an advanced user. When comparing the CURRENT INSTALLATION instructions and processes I found Echosistant’s instructions were not as polished as Ask Alexa’s. Ask Alexa’s instructions are more concise, to the point, and are clearly written for a wider audience. In fact, I could not get Echosistant to install properly until I read the Ask Alexa instructions, which then became clear what the other instructions were trying to get across. This is not a criticism of Echosistant or the author, but I see this a lot in the computer science area: engineers come up with a great ideas but documentation and end-user perspective is typically an afterthought. I applaud both authors for acknowledging this daunting installation process and addressing it in future versions.
As for the programs themselves, they behave very similarly. As JD and pizzinini mentioned above, just controlling a lock and some lights using either of these programs is really overkill. So I can’t really recommend either of them for a casual user as the Samsung SmartThings skill allows for simple control of devices or groups of devices without invoking a skill name or a complicated install process. The Echosistant concept of addressing the skill as a room name was rather interesting, but found that was not unique and that the Ask Alexa application has that same functionality. Again, setting up a separate skill for each room would be more than I need, and creates complication and confusion with the installation and maintenance.
I didn’t dive too much into performance, but for whatever reason, I found Ask Alexa to run faster and have less issues understanding me. I don’t think it is my imagination, but don’t have any substantial numbers from testing to prove it. There were also some ‘pet peeve’ areas that made Ask Alexa seem more polished, like when presenting a list of items. For example, when asking which lights are on, Echosistant would not adjust the verb or noun plural state based on the number of devices found (something like “The following lights are on, living room”). In contrast, Ask Alexa will recognize the number of devices listed and change the noun/verb combination or even the whole syntax of the output based on the count of devices.
Overall, it is the ‘little things’ that really swayed my opinion toward Ask Alexa. This includes a clean, consistent user experience and numerous options to allow the program to be customized for each users’ preferences. Again, for me, the default Amazon application on my phone (with the Samsung Smartthings skill) does everything I need it to do for now. For more advanced users, I recommend Ask Alexa.
Thanks to authors of both applications for indulging me with this review. I was also impressed that each author spoke highly of the other. Another thing you learn in computer science is that there are egos involved. Glad there aren’t any here.