Life was a lot simpler just two decades ago, and so were the gadgets that claim to make our lives easier. Mobile phones were used only to place calls and send basic text messages, TVs were all about size with no need to care about resolution and content, and audio systems relied on cassettes and CDs. Technology has come a long way since then, but it's also made gadgets much more complicated and often too difficult to master.
Expecting simplicity from modern smartphones and computers might be a bit too much, but audio equipment has, over the years, become a lot easier to use. Home audio speakers now work wirelessly with your smartphones, and can play thousands of tracks from multiple sources with ease. The manual process of switching cassettes and CDs is all but obsolete, and most users now have the option to listen to music at home much more easily using technologies such as Bluetooth and wireless streaming.
While simplicity is improving, two notable products stand out as going above and beyond the norm in making things simple for the user — the Saregama Carvaan 2.0 (Rs. 7,990) and the Amazon Echo Show 5 (Rs. 8,999). While one tackles ease of use through anthropology, the other does it with new-age innovation and artificial intelligence.
Although both the Amazon Echo Show 5 and Saregama Carvaan 2.0 tout ease of use as a big draw, getting started with the two devices is a very different experience. We started with the Saregama Carvaan 2.0, which is considerably easier to set up, at least as far as its core functionality is concerned, although the Wi-Fi connectivity does require a bit of input from the user.
“Consumers, especially the ones who are over 40, said that fast-changing technology and overdose of options in every category were daunting, some even said they were too scared to use complex gadgets. When we came to this conclusion, we realised that consumers want to experience music at the touch of a button,” Vikram Mehra, Managing Director of Saregama India tells Gadgets 360.
The Saregama Carvaan 2.0 is easy to get started with, requiring no initial setup for most of its functionality. The pre-loaded music is ready to listen to, requiring only the pressing of a couple of buttons straight out of the box. Even different connectivity options such as Bluetooth, FM radio and USB are extremely easy to understand and use.
“We are hoping our consumers enjoy the added accessibility and features which our new device offers, while also getting access to the in-built 5,000 retro songs,” Mehra adds.
Connecting the Carvaan 2.0 to a Wi-Fi connection was a complicated (and buggy) process for us, and might come across as daunting to Saragama's target audience. It took us around 15 minutes to complete. However, once set up, the functionality worked fairly well, with the Carvaan 2.0 connecting automatically to the Internet and streamed content working just like the pre-loaded content.
The Amazon Echo Show 5, on the other hand, has a much more complex setup process for a first-time user, and non-tech-savvy buyers who aren't already members of the Amazon ecosystem in some way (or have a close relative who is) will likely need some help with it.
The Echo Show 5 relies on Internet connectivity for most of its functionality, and therefore needs to be connected to Wi-Fi and logged into an Amazon account for access to all of its features. If you don't have an Amazon account, you should create one before you get started. Some of the services are premium ones that may also need an Amazon Prime or additional subscription.
“In situations where the Internet connection is unreliable, Alexa is still able to fulfill a limited set of requests when the device is not connected to the Internet — using the Local Voice Control feature," says Puneesh Kumar, country manager for Alexa experiences and devices, Amazon India. “You can also ask for the time or date; stop or cancel alarms, reminders, and timers that were set before your Echo device went offline; control the device's volume; and control supported lights and plugs."
These elements mean that the device isn't as ready-to-go out of the box as the Saregama Carvaan 2.0. Once you go through the initial setup process, the Echo Show 5 can start accepting voice commands. If you have everything ready, the initial setup should not take longer than 10 minutes.
“Since mostly audio files are being transmitted through the Internet when using an Echo smart speaker, the amount of bandwidth required is very less. We have seen a lot of examples where customers in India have connected their Echo devices to a mobile hotspot or a data card,” Kumar adds.
The Saregama Carvaan 2.0 remains as easy to use as its predecessor, once set up, and indeed the best way to enjoy this product is to just let it do its thing. You can control what you listen to and scroll through collections. What many users will appreciate is the fact that everything is controlled using physical buttons and a turning dial, or through the companion smartphone app.
Once set up, the Carvaan's online content is just as easy to listen to as the preloaded content. The entire experience is geared around getting quick access to music without much effort.
“Just switch on the system and listen to the music – no complicated dials and settings. We have always aimed for our consumers to enjoy a lean-back music listening experience, and personally believe that people do want to opt for simplicity in their lives of complexity,” says Saragama's Mehra, specifically referring to this.
The Amazon Echo Show 5, on the other hand, may seem a bit more daunting at first, because of its dependence on voice commands. There is a touch screen, but it doesn't allow you to control a lot of things on the Echo Show 5; the device needs to be operated primarily using your voice. Once you get beyond this and realise that all it needs is your voice, things get a lot easier.
Most features on the Echo Show 5 are voice controlled, and we found it rather easy to just tell the speaker what we wanted. This ranged from a specific track or album, a particular genre, or even video or snippets of information.
“Asking for information using voice commands is one of the most simple and intuitive ways of engaging with technology,” Amazon's Kumar unsurprisingly says. “Unlike other consumer technologies, from using a computer to a smartphone, where a user had to learn how to use them - the barrier to adopt voice technology in day-to-day life is much lower.”
While it felt a bit awkward speaking to a gadget at first, we eventually found it quite easy to control the device with our voice, and the Echo Show 5 served as a decent hands-free media provider for home use. Furthermore, the ease of having access to a vast catalogue of content simply through voice commands and without any need for other equipment was admittedly refreshing to us.
The very nature of the Saregama Carvaan 2.0 means that it appeals to a very specific set of users — older people who grew up in the age of radio and Doordarshan. “While our direct target audience is those who are above the age group of 40, we've added features like Bluetooth and Aux, so even the younger generation can use the product with equal ease,” says Mehra.
While the built-in music might largely appeal to older users, the Carvaan 2.0 can be considered a family-friendly product. The company has tried to add something for everyone, which does indeed add to the idea of simplicity by allowing one product to serve multiple needs.
“Carvaan is a combination of extensive data analytics and randomising logic,” Mehra adds, on the subject of Carvaan 2.0's music selection. “The selection of songs that are pre-loaded on Carvaan has been done basis 4,000 crore data points that we collect annually regarding our content's usage across digital platforms, YouTube, radio stations, and TV channels, with no guesswork. Hence it's basis consumer usage and not Saregama's editorial discretion.”
“This is basis overwhelming consumer feedback (from the target audience) where they preferred a lean-back listening experience that took away the need for them to make a choice after three minutes,” he concludes.
On the other hand, the Amazon Echo Show 5 has a much more universal appeal. The idea of voice commands and conversational controls can be understood by pretty much anyone. While you might have to get the hang of how to speak to Alexa for best results, we found that to be rather simple and natural.
“Many customers have shared examples of their older parents using Echo devices seamlessly, and we are glad to see that this generation has also warmed up to using Alexa. The simplicity, ease of setup, and features such as announcements, reminders and placing calls can be very handy for elders,” said Kumar about how older users use the Echo Show 5.
Furthermore, with Hindi language support for Alexa, the voice assistant is likely to become more widely accessible to wider audiences over time. We think the Echo Show 5 is a more ‘future-proof' form of simplicity in audio, for these reasons.
Although the Amazon Echo Show 5 can do a lot of things, music is one of the most popular use cases of the smart speaker, according to Kumar, who shared further insights on how users access music. “In the US, a user will most likely ask for the name of the song directly. In India specifically, users can ask for the same information using different types of queries. We can ask for music by specifying the name of the song, music director, movie director, artist, movie actor, or a combination of the above parameters. We had to train Alexa to understand the intent and respond accordingly.”
Although the Saregama Carvaan 2.0 is incredibly easy to use, we did find it to be rather limited in its appeal and abilities as a consequence of this. Saregama's efforts to make the product appeal to older audiences does mean that younger listeners, who haven't grown up listening to the kind of music Saregama specialises in, won't find any reason to buy this product for themselves, except maybe as a gift for an older family member or as a single speaker for an entire household.
The Amazon Echo Show 5, on the other hand, is heavily dependent on various things in order to function properly, including reliable Internet connectivity and active subscriptions to music streaming services. Without these, the product has its capabilities significantly reduced, meaning that the simplicity of telling the Echo Show 5 what to do goes away.
This could potentially be confusing and frustrating, especially for users who aren't necessarily aware or in control of things such as the family's Internet connection or subscription services. However, the Echo Show 5 can still support basic functionality even without Internet access, using Bluetooth to play music from a paired device such as a smartphone or tablet.
Both the Saregama Carvaan 2.0 and the Amazon Echo Show 5 achieve their specific visions of simplicity in their own ways, and it's hard to pick our favourite. Both forms of simplicity have their pros and cons, and while some might prefer the anthropology-led approach of the Carvaan 2.0, others might be drawn to the promise of truly hands-free innovation that the Echo Show 5 offers.
Which way you do go largely depends on your comfort level with gadgets. You can go unashamedly retro with the Saregama Carvaan 2.0 and embrace everything that made the past a simpler time, or you can embrace a future in which robots and AI get things done for you. Either way, simplicity in audio products is just a few thousand rupees away.