Review :: Amazon Echo Look

I’ll start this post by saying the Amazon Echo Look is on mega-sale right now for just $50 bones. I bought it for $100 (half of the suggested price of $200 that I don’t think they’ll ever, ever raise it to) and LOVE it - so grabbing it for half of half is an even better deal right now! Not sponsored and all that bologna. Okay - moving on.

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I picked up the Amazon Echo Look during the Prime Day sale this year. I honestly wasn’t sure what I’d do with it or if I’d even use it, but the promo video looked cool and I figured it might be a great way to keep track of outfits on the days that I couldn’t be bothered to blog. As you’ve probably seen over the past few months, it HAS helped with that - I love how easy it is to say “Echo, take a photo!” and then head out the door in the morning.

So what does it DO? Basically, you perch Echo Look somewhere in your house and it uses its Amazon brains to take a photo of your outfit whenever you ask it to. It stores them all in the Echo Look app, where it build recommendations, collections, and helps you choose between outfits.

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The app organizes your outfits by day and month, but you can also filter them by color for quick searching. It does a fairly good job of filtering, although I did a test with red and while it caught all of the outfits that were red, it included a few that had no red at all.

It also makes recommendations based on your top colors for the month! It’s really cool seeing stats about what you’ve worn over the month and learn more about how you use your wardrobe.

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Whenever you take an outfit photo, Echo takes notes on the weather and gives you personalized recommendations to go with the pieces you’re wearing.

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Echo also creates collections for you based on the weather or season, and it tries to guess if outfits are dressy or casual to create collections as well. The more you log, the more options you have to go back and look for outfit inspiration!

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One of the cool features is the Style Check, where you can pit two outfits against each other and Echo’s AI will tell you which one is more flattering based on fit, accessories, or color. If you don’t like what the machine says, you can ask the community (aka real people) to vote instead. I’ve found that 90% of the time it gets it right, though!

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This particular outfit I put on I was annoyed with how the shirt fit under the dress, so I ended up taking it off and putting on the vest instead. According to Echo’s technology, it actually liked my second version better and said “the combination of pieces” was more flattering.

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I personally like the blurring feature that Echo uses (they call it “Pop”) because I can hide piles of junk behind me or open closet doors. It’s not perfect, but it does the trick. You can edit that out, as well as edit the brightness/warmth/saturation/etc right inside of the app. The attached flash actually does a great job of lighting evenly (I’m usually blind for a few minutes after), but I positioned mine so that I face windows for some extra light.

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For the best results, I recommend placing Echo at your chest or higher for the most flattering photos. I mounted mine on a Gorillapod and put it on top of my full-length mirror, which I think makes me look much leaner. I also experimented with a few positions around my house for the best backdrop - you want minimal “junk” so it’s not too distracting, and the photos look best when there’s a little distance between you and the background. The photos I’ve seen that look best are in empty, white rooms, but I actually live in my house so that’s not an option. The Echo does come with mounting plates if you want to hang it on the wall in your closet, hall, or even garage. I’ve found that my #OOTD mirror is perfect because I’m checking it anyway before I walk out, so I can just tell her to snap a photo and I’m on my way.

Oh, and if you have multiple Alexas in your house, you might want to change her trigger word. We have an Echo Dot in the bedroom and she got really huffy when I said, “Alexa, take a photo!” and said she couldn’t do that. I changed the Look’s word to be “Echo” so she’s the only one that takes that command and it’s worked like a charm.

So you may be wondering - who on earth would want this thing? It’s a very niche product, I will admit. It’s a great gift for fashionistas, outfit cataloguers, capsule wardrobers, and tech queens. Personally, I love it because it’s given me a second set of eyes; I often check my photo if I’m not sure about an outfit just to see how it really looks on me, and I use the style check often when I can’t get an outfit quite right. I also love looking back over the month and seeing which pieces I repeated often, and sometimes draw inspo from old outfits when I can’t be bothered to put together something new.

All in all, the Echo Look is a bit of a gimmick. Amazon is clearly using it to appeal to the fashion crowd, hoping they’ll sell some shopping addicts things through recommendations. I’m interested to see how they continue to adapt and grow the technology, though. Being able to tag items, see what you’re wearing the most, and further customizing recommendations for shopping all are features I’d like to see in the future.

Any other Echo Look users out there? I’d love to know what you think! If you have any questions I’ll be happy to answer them. Also, make sure you check out the #EchoLook hashtag on Instagram to see how other fashionistas are using theirs.

PS - this is not sponsored, I definitely spent $100 bucks on this thing, but I don’t regret it because

~ * bLoGcOnTeNt ~ *

The one where I let an app dress me for a week

I've written before about the eternal struggle of getting ready in the morning. When I worked in advertising, I felt the need to put a little effort into my look since I was occasionally client-facing. Now that I'm tucked away in a cubicle in startup world, my look has further evolved into more of what I like to think of as "effortless." Effortless in the sense that, I put on jeans and a tee and that's as much effort as you're going to get.

Enter: Cladwell. I got an email from their founder announcing their new "outfits" app and loved the concept - each day, the app serves up three outfit combinations based on the weather and what you've tagged as part of your closet.

Unlike other closet curation apps like StyleBook (which I have used for years and also not used for years), you don't have to take pictures of your clothing to add it to your closet, Instead, Cladwell has curated 100s of articles of clothing and shoes to represent what's in your closet. They're not all going to be an exact match, but when "patterned blouse" pops up in my suggestions, I just choose from the 3 blouses I have that match that description. My "tie front blouse" is actually short sleeved. I know what it means. I use each piece as a suggestion, not a bible.

So I decided to do an experiment and let the app dress me for a week. I'll detail what I learned at the bottom, but here's what Cladwell served up for seven days of outfits:

Monday: Sunny, H 81‎°  L 50‎° 

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Today's outfit just took note of the high, which was looking to be a rather warm afternoon. However, my office tends to be pretty cold and it was breezy this morning, so I threw on a jacket over the suggested outfit of the day. See? I'm already improvising.

Top, Elizabeth & Clark // Pants, Old Navy // Shoes, Zara (similar)

Tuesday: Sunny, H 85‎°  L 65‎° 

I didn't really need a jacket today, but I liked the idea of this outfit and thought it looked cute. The bomber was actually useful during office hours, but I shed it for the evening when we went to a baseball game.

Jacket, StitchFix (similar) // Tee, Loft // Jeans, Express // Shoes, Adidas

Wednesday: H 72‎°  L 62‎° with Surprise Rain

Maybe the forecast said rain and I wasn't listening while getting ready, but today's shoes were not prepared for torrential downpour! I was fine most of the day (which I'm guessing the app was betting on), but the rain rolled in at 5 pm just in time for me to take off my taupe suede and walk barefoot to the car. No cute photos today, but the shoes were saved.

Shirt, H&M // Jeans, Banana Republic // Shoes, Steve Madden 

Thursday: Rainy, H 68‎° L 60‎° 

More pigtails for a cloudy, rainy, gross day. I actually worked from home this day, so I just snapped a quick pic before heading to the radio station to record. 

Sweater, Forever 21 (love this thing, on sale for $10!) // Jeans, JustFab // Flats, Gucci

Friday: Sunny, H 89‎°  L 80‎° 

Thanks to the humidity to the days before, Friday was steeeeamy. I stepped it up when deciding between my three outfits and went with a skirt. I had an event later that evening I changed into a dress for, so these shoes were able to do double duty.

Tee, H&M // Skirt, JustFab // Wedges, Forever 21 (similar)

Saturday: Sunny, H 80‎°  L 68‎° 

Another gorgeous weekend in the books. This is one of my favorite dresses to just throw on and go, so I almost ALWAYS wear it when the app suggests. Didn't really need the jacket during the day, but it got cooler and windy when we were patio'ing and it turned out to be a great thing to have.

Dress, Calson // Jacket, Gap // Wedges, JustFab

Sunday, Partly Sunny, H 84‎°  L 70‎° 

Definitely starting to feel more summery in the Natural State now that June is almost here, so I let it flow a bit for the weekend in a camisole, ripped jeans and wedges while we ran our typical downtown errands. 

Top, Loft // Jeans, JustFab // Wedges, Gianni Bini (similar)

So how did it go?

This was both a fun and interesting challenge. Since Cladwell is new, they definitely have a few things to work on - some of which they've already made changes to since I started working on this post. One of the main requests on their iOS App reviews is definitely more items - they've already added at least 100 more since releasing, and have a special form you can fill out to ask for specific items. I've got a request in for overalls.

They've also added the option to "refresh" an outfit directly from the suggestion each day, so if you like the general idea of an outfit but not a particular piece, you'll get new suggestions. You can also reset your three options for the day completely, or choose a particular item from your closet and see outfits with just that piece. Another pro I forgot to mention in the list? You can log these outfits and see stats on how often you wear what's in your closet. Of course, this doesn't really help if you're not wearing that exact combination for the day.

One big con for me is that their algorithm is still learning, so sometimes it'll suggest shorts mid-week when I'm supposed to be at the office, or a shift dress and heels on a Saturday. I hope to see them continue to tweak, and then offer further specialization to outfits as well. I think it would be a SUPER powerful app if you could customize it to your own needs - say, business casual outfits only for M-Th or only showing outfits with flats. If they develop a honed filtering system that helps you get the most out of your closet, and not just the outfit suggestions, this will be a home run.

The app is $4.99 / month currently, with a three day trial so you can give it a shot. It's definitely aimed at those who want to do the whole "capsule wardrobe made easy" thing, but taking the thinking part out of getting ready in the morning may be worth it in the long run! Let me know what you think if you try the app - this is a non-sponsored post, so I'd love to hear honest reviews from those of you who have tried and how you're making it work (or not) with your lifestyle.

UPDATE: I got this comment from Cladwell on some upcoming features and the exact item thing and thought I would share: Just so you know, now you CAN choose a specific item that you want to wear. Click that item in your closet, hit "show outfits" and then on each outfit it curates, there are three dots in the bottom right corner of each outfit. Click that, and hit "log this outfit" (So, more control that way). Yay! 
Also, we here you on some of your other cons! We are creating a new update where you can "categorize" your closet so that you can have different wardrobes for work vs. weekend. 
You'll also be able to edit outfits in the new update, so stay tuned!! That way, if you don't like the outfits you get or maybe want to swap out different shoes, you have more control. 

DSLR vs iPhone 7+

When they introduced the iPhone 7+, I was annoyed.

2X OPTICAL ZOOM? PORTRAIT MODE?? These all seemed like exactly the gimmicky things it would take for me to upgrade my phone I'd had less than a year. The main thing that keeps me upgrading each year is the camera, and this year was no exception.

The phrase about photography that has had the most impact on me over the years is simple - "The best camera is the one you have with you." It's true, it doesn't matter if you have the Nikon ONE MILLION Plus if it's not on your shoulder when you see a bunny trying to eat cotton candy. With the advancements in phones today, the camera we carry around every day is lightyears ahead of the point-and-shoot cams we were toting around in high school.

This week, Apple introduced "Portrait Mode" to the world (in beta form). So I decided to test the software bokeh effect against my DSLR.

The specs? I'm working with an iPhone 7+ (in rose gold, le duh) using the new Portrait Mode in beta, comparing it to my Nikon D5200 using a 1.8f 35mm lens. I do want to note my one mistake - I shoot completely in RAW on my DSLR, so I had to process those through Photoshop, which did affect the color and exposure slightly. If I were to do this test again (and I likely will when the program is out of beta), I'd shoot in jpeg to best replicate the same effect. That being said, I think you're going to be blown away by the results. If you want to see the details a little closer, clicking on the photos will make them larger.

Pic 1: Bobby Close Crop

iPhone 7 Regular // iPhone 7 Portrait Mode // Nikon D5200

I candidly shot a few pics of my husband while we were warming up and was shocked at how well the iPhone set up. There's a clear difference from the regular iPhone to the Portrait Mode - it creates a solid bokeh effect while keeping BB in focus. Since Portrait is still in beta, it still has some difficulty discerning clean edges on a subject, but it did a great job in this photo. The biggest difference in the iPhone bokeh and the DSLR is that the DSLR creates a "real" bokeh effect - showing the edges of the light - whereas the iPhone just creates a blurred background. Study the light coming through the trees and you'll see what I mean.

Pic 2: Bobby Full Body

iPhone 7 Regular // iPhone 7 Portrait Mode // Nikon D5200

One of the biggest selling points of the iPhone 7+? The idea that I'd be able to blog with it when I didn't have my DSLR handy. However, taking outfit photos means taking a full-body look. The iPhone struggled a little more with the background on a shot that was further away, but still did a pretty decent job of creating a natural blur. The effect looks at least a full f-stop above the 1.8 I shot on the DSLR, but still creates a differentiation between the subject and background.

Pic 3: Brick Wall, Close Up

iPhone 7 Regular // iPhone 7 Portrait Mode // Nikon D5200

So what about my normal brick wall? I've taken hundreds of blog photos in this spot, so how would it fare with portrait mode? Well, we ran into some problems. You can see that my hair gave the software some problems, which might easily be fixed when the program comes out of beta. Even still, the colors and depth are impressive for a phone when you're at this range! I think it's worth noting how much the portrait mode softens the photo overall compared to the original, too. Sort of like you're putting yourself through a filter.

Pic 4: Brick Wall, Full Body

iPhone 7 Regular // iPhone 7 Portrait Mode // Nikon D5200

Let's back up and try that again. The iPhone loses some detail, and gets confused with my legs. Honestly, I look thinner using the DSLR (NO idea why though). But the two are close when it comes to background blur, even though iPhone got picky and wouldn't let us back up too far.

Pic 5: Street Photo, Close Up

iPhone 7 Regular // iPhone 7 Portrait Mode // Nikon D5200

After examining the results from the other photos, it became clear that the more distance you can put between your subject and background, the better. The differences between the Portrait Mode and DSLR are almost identical! Here's where I can admit the iPhone may have a slight advantage: You can still see the clear lines of the ridges in the jacket sleeves, but it blurs out flyaways completely. That means less Photoshop and a more polished look, so the iPhone's inability to read every last strand ends up working for me.

Pic 6: Street Photo, Full Body

iPhone 7 Regular // iPhone 7 Portrait Mode // Nikon D5200

You can really see how putting more distance between the subject and background helps in these photos! The biggest difference you'll see in the iPhone vs DSLR is in the foreground - the DSLR blurs the wall and grate a lot more than the iPhone does. However, around the face and shoulders you see a lot of similarities. If I were to apply the same color correctors and exposure work to the middle photo, you'd have almost identical photos.

The Verdict? YES.

Yes, you can take blog photos with the iPhone 7+ and portrait mode! While the software will never truly be able to perfectly replicate a DSLR with a prime lens, it does an amazing job of mimicking the effect. To lesser trained eyes, you can definitely use portrait mode to capture great outfit photos. Just remember these few key tricks:

  1. Make sure you have enough light. The phone will won't let you take a photo without proper light, but the better the light, the better your photo. Try to take photos outdoors, in an evenly lit, shady spot. If you can face the light but stay in the shade, you'll get the best lighting.
  2. Put a lot of distance between your subject and the background. While the portrait mode can do some magic against a wall, you'll get a more natural bokeh effect when you have more space behind your subject. Try positioning them on a long street, across a park, or on a balcony for ultimate blur effect.
  3. Add some contrast. Wearing all black? Try standing on a lighter background. The more contrast there is between the background and your outfit, the easier the camera can figure out what to keep in focus.
  4. Listen to your phone. Don't get frustrated when it gives you instructions! The software is created to help you get the best pics EVER, so move forward, backward, and look for the light to get your best photos.
  5. When in doubt, get closer. As impressed as I am with the full body portraits, there's no doubt that the closer photos just look a little better.  Just make sure that you check the edges of every photo before you post it since the software can get confused, and re-take anything that looks a little weird. The more accustomed you become to the weird nuances of portrait mode, the easier it'll be to fool everyone!

PS: Does it work for still shots? YEP.

iPhone 7 Regular // iPhone 7 Portrait Mode // Nikon D5200

At the end of my experiment, I decided to play with a little still life. While portrait mode is intended for human faces (and programmed to recognize them), it can create some beautiful blurred effects for objects! Just make sure you put enough distance between the camera and the subject, and make sure you have plenty of light. So why would someone use the iPhone over a DSLR in this case? Notice how much more of the plant is in focus in the middle photo - using the iPhone portrait mode over a DSLR could give a bokeh effect without completely taking the subject out of focus, which could be very useful for product shots.

Who else has played with Portrait Mode? I'd love to see your photos and hear more about what you think of the beta! Honestly, I'm impressed and can't wait to incorporate this Apple magic into my blog when I can't lug my Nikon everywhere. Oh, Apple. What will they think of next?