As I grow older, it’s becoming more difficult to impress me with new technologies. There was a time when I was literally swapping out my phone every three to four months so I could have the latest advancements in Windows Mobile devices. Now I’m largely replacing my phone every time the latest iPhone S comes out, which is roughly every two years. I’ve caught myself waxing nostalgic with friends at geek gatherings about the days when we built virtually every computer we used. I could still build one if I needed to, but at this point off the shelf laptops can keep up with anything I intend to do. I’ve gone from wanting to tinker with everything to just wanting stuff to work.
When people ask me what my single favorite technology purchase of 2016 was, I say it’s Amazon’s Echo Dot without a moments hesitation.
I ordered an Echo Dot when Amazon had them for $39 on Black Friday last year. They are normally $49 and I figured spending less than $50 to try one out was worth the risk.
That was the best $39 I’ve spent in a long time.
The first day I set it up, my daughter ran through many of the same questions she’s asked Siri on the iPhone.
She asked Alexa to tell her a joke. Alexa has a collection of some seriously bad jokes. She asked Alexa to play songs from Amazon Prime Music. If I were to upgrade to the full Amazon Music experience, the song catalog would be huge. She asked about the weather and even attempted to insult Alexa.
My daughter discovers more new Alexa Skills than I ever will. Skills are what Amazon calls add-on features you can enable for the Echo products. This morning she figured out that Alexa can tell her what day of the week her brother’s birthday falls on. her testing Alexa in new ways on a daily basis reminds me of something I wrote about her discovering the iPad back when she was a baby.
Alexa replaces quite a few other gadgets. For instance, Alexa is tied into to TuneIn, which means you can use a voice command to play quite a few podcasts as well as any radio station you know the call letters for regardless of where the radio station is based. I use this feature quite often to listen to San Francisco NPR station KQED or to play Seattle radio station KEXP without needing to be in range of either FM signal.
There’s a shopping list feature which makes it easy to quickly add items to your grocery list. The list is then accessible to you as a checklist in the Alexa app for Android and iPhone.
This will probably sound silly, but one of favorite features is also one of the more mundane. I love that I can tell Alexa to set a timer while I’m cooking. And not just one timer, but multiple timers. This means I don’t have to choose between washing my hands or getting some kind of food goo on any of the other timing options I have that needed touch activation.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of what Alexa can do, because I also don’t have any of the many smart home devices compatible with Alexa. If I did, I could change the room temperature or turn lights on and off with my voice.
If you are worried about privacy, you can always mute the microphone or just unplug your Echo. Amazon offers clear instructions on how to remove anything from the history of searches and requests made with your voice. In the meantime, I’m not willing to give up my hands-free cooking timer for anything.