75
Engadget
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75

A good product that falls short of greatness.

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    Image credit: Cherlynn Low / Engadget

    Amazon Echo Look review: Good selfie taker, so-so stylist

    An AI is no match for my style instincts.
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    Walking into my closet can sometimes feel like visiting Narnia. There are beautiful, whimsical friends in there, alongside a dizzying array of outdated pieces and random monstrosities from the early aughts. I'm someone who would benefit from Amazon's Echo Look, a stand-alone camera designed to snap photos of your outfits of the day and recommend clothes that suit your style. Aside from the chance to get reacquainted with my clothes, I also relished the excuse to take full-length selfies every day, all in the name of improving my already excellent taste.

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    Key

    from $199.99
    75
    Pros
    • Easy setup
    • Takes full-length selfies with voice command
    • Full Alexa capabilities
    Cons
    • No privacy shutter
    • Style suggestion should let you select pics to include
    • Audio quality is bad

    Summary

    The Echo Look is a voice-enabled camera that’s great for getting daily full-length photos and videos of your outfits. It also doubles as an Alexa speaker, which is nifty, although the audio quality is too poor to actually stream music. Those who enjoy chronicling their daily outfits or want a bit of fashion advice and don’t mind an algorithm or complete stranger telling them what to wear will find the Echo Look useful.

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    Setup

    Setting up the device is easy enough. Plug it into the wall, open the Echo Look app and select "add a new device." After pairing it, you'll have to select a WiFi network for Alexa to work. Yes, this is also an Alexa-enabled speaker that you can ask to set timers or play music as well. Audio quality on this thing is quite awful, though, so maybe don't rely on it for your tunes. Amazon is aware of this, too, by the way. A spokesperson for the company said, "We optimized for things like the hands-free, depth-sensing camera and LED lights as opposed to the great speaker quality you get in other Echo devices."

    Gallery: Amazon Echo Look review | 11 Photos

    Since this is a device that's taking a ton of photos of you, finding a flattering angle is important. Amazon recommends that you place it at shoulder height, facing slightly down. I personally prefer a lower angle, from about chest or midriff level. It's up to you, and you can use the viewfinder in the Echo Look app to find a good spot.

    Also, make sure you pick a position with a light source behind the camera. Even though there are four bulbs on the Look to light up your shot, it helps to have even lighting so that you're not overexposed on one side. That's not just a matter of vanity either -- Amazon needs good pictures to determine the fit, color and style of your outfits.

    In use

    Once you've settled on an angle, it's time for the fun stuff. Say "Alexa, take a photo" (or video) and strike a pose. The picture is sent to your phone in a matter of seconds, and you can take as many shots as you like. If you're feeling self-conscious or don't know what to do, Amazon also suggests a set of nine poses to start you off.

    The pictures themselves are hit-or-miss. The Echo Look identifies your silhouette, then blurs the background to make you stand out. The bokeh looks exaggerated, but it helps to mask things like the messy closet behind you. You can turn it down in the app, and tweak stuff like brightness and contrast if you want.

    For videos, you can't adjust these settings; it's just a six-second loop that's good for looking at your outfit from all angles. That's nice -- you don't often get to see what the back of your body looks like without someone's help.

    The images and clips aren't stunning, but I'm such a naturally talented poser that I got a bunch of good shots I would have happily shared on Instagram or anywhere else. I saved my favorites to my Google Photos library, as the snapshots aren't automatically downloaded to your handset. You can also use your phone's camera instead, which is nice for when you're not with your Echo Look and still want to document your outfit.

    The Look isn't just about taking #OOTD selfies. Amazon can do more with the photos you take, like sort your looks into collections (e.g., Spring, Summer, Dresses). It can also filter them by color. Sometimes this was inaccurate -- the system thought I wore gray in one outfit when I was actually clad in pink, yellow and blue. I hope it was just a white balance error and not Amazon trying to tell me I have ashen, gray skin. Either way, not great.

    I don't really know what to do with these collections other than reminisce or see how much of each color I tend to wear. But I could just glance at my closet and immediately see that I love me some pastels and whites. So far, I'm not impressed.

    The feature I find intriguing is Style Check. It compares two outfits side by side and tells you which is better, based on factors like fit, color and cohesiveness. So if you were wondering which top works better with that new tulip skirt, this is potentially useful. The thing is, there's so much nuance that goes into why you'd pick a particular item of clothing, which a machine doesn't totally grasp yet. For example, it picked a boxier black top to go with my gray skirt, because apparently the shape was more flattering and the pieces went better together. I preferred the other option: a white V-neck with a ruffled neckline.

    Gallery: Amazon Echo Look app screenshots | 14 Photos

    I also don't know that I'd trust an algorithm to determine what fit or shape is best for me. Sometimes I prefer loose-fitting, flowy, conservative clothing. Other times, I want a form-fitting little black dress that'll help me stand out at a club or something. This feature would be more helpful if it were possible to clarify the occasion. The good news is, you can teach the Echo Look your personal taste by telling it which of the two styles you prefer. Still, I'm iffy about the implications of a human-written algorithm deciding what shape looks good. It'd be a little too easy for the device to exacerbate problematic beauty standards by reinforcing certain body types and looks as better than others.

    Instead of relying on an algorithm, you can also share your looks with Amazon's specialists for input. It took me a while to try this out, because I'm not comfortable having my pictures judged by a stranger (which I understand is weird, as I am putting them here and on my Instagram for all of you to see). You have to manually exclude pictures from being shared with the specialists -- otherwise all the photos and videos you've shot will be included. That seems like the reverse of what should actually happen, but I guess the benefit here is convenience. Since I enrolled in this feature, though, I haven't received any personal recommendations yet. Amazon also hasn't been able to find items similar to my clothes.

    Speaking of being uncomfortable with someone looking at your photos -- those of you who are worried about the Look being hacked to spy on you should be slightly mollified by the fact that there's a button on the right of the device to turn off the camera. This also mutes the Look, so if you have two Alexa devices in your living room, like I do, the camera won't respond when it's off. Of course, this isn't as safe as having an actual shutter covering the camera, but it helps. A little.

    Wrap-up

    Ultimately, the goal is for Amazon to help you pick out outfits and recommend new clothes to buy. It's nice that this is an opt-in service, and you're not forced into looking at new clothes every day. But then what is the Echo Look really good for? Frankly, just to take fire photos and videos of me parading in my OOTDs. I'm far too sartorially stubborn to let an algorithm decide what looks better on me, but for those who need a little bit of fashion guidance, the Echo Look could be helpful. In the meantime, it's a pretty good way to get full-length selfies for Instagram and I've grown fond of mine. If you're as obsessed with chronicling your daily look as I am, this is a worthy investment. But if all you want is a little style advice, you could simply ask your friends (or me) and save $200.

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