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Haven’t been able to get your hands on Amazon Echo? You’re not alone. CNet had to turn to eBay just to get one to review.

echoThe result is a rare, in-depth, hands-on review of Amazon’s intelligent, talking home speaker/virtual assistant.

CNet reviewer David Carnoy praises the canister-style device’s voice recognition, attractive design and natural-sounding voice of “Alexa,” the built-in virtual assistant.

However, he finds problems such as a lack of iOS support (the companion app is currently only available for Android and Amazon devices), the absence of a built-in battery (the device has to be plugged in), sound distortion at higher volumes, limited functionality and minimal usefulness.

“The big limitation right now is that beyond the weather and dictionary, Echo only seems to interface with Wikipedia and a few other data repositories (for jokes, for instance), but not Google or another search engine such as Bing,” he writes. “However, it will send a Bing link to your tablet or phone if it can’t find what you’re asking about. Perhaps in the future Amazon will work out a deal with its Seattle neighbor Microsoft to bring additional Bing capabilities to the device.”

Carnoy gives the product 3 stars (out of 5) but concludes that Echo is “a work in progress, a beta product if there ever was one.”

That helps to explain why Amazon has limited the availability of the product so severely. Amazon customers need to request an invitation for the privilege of buying an Echo, at a price of $99 for Amazon Prime members and $199 for everyone else.

But those invitations have been rare. Quick GeekWire reader poll: Has anyone out there received an Echo invite? Comment below or contact me at todd@geekwire.com.

In my case, for example, I requested an invite within a few minutes of the announcement, as an Amazon Prime member, but have yet to get an invite. Our requests for a loaned review unit from Amazon have also been unsuccessful.

Even with the shortcomings, Echo seems like an interesting concept, at least. It will be interesting to see how quickly Amazon issues software updates, and how long it takes for the Echo to become widely available.

Update: As noted by a reader in the comments below, ZDNet’s James Kendrick reviewed the Echo on Nov. 20 and gave it a perfect 10 out of 10 score.

Follow-up: Early users of Amazon Echo praise device’s functionality and potential

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