Friday, March 2, 2018

The Reason's I Think Amazon's Alexa is Awesome!

1st Gen Amazon Echo
Echo Devices I Currently Own
3 Echo Dots
1 1st Gen Echo
1 Echo Spot
1 Echo Show
1 Kindle HD 10 Tablet with Alexa built-in

When I first heard about Alexa and the Amazon Echo, I thought the whole idea was a little silly. Why would anyone want to talk to a device that answers back? I can do this with my smartphone or just use a computer/tablet to look for the answers I'm interested in.

I've been an Amazon Prime member for a while now. I was offered the original Amazon Echo when it was in pre-release for Prime members.  It was initially released on November 6, 2014 for around $99, regular price was $150. Again, at the time I thought it was silly. In the beginning there weren't many things Alexa could do other than answer a few questions and give the weather. One of my co-workers did get the Echo as part of the pre-release. He thought it was pretty neat at the time, even with the limited functions.

Three months later I decided to get the Amazon Echo. At this point it was starting to execute more commands. I already had my home automation setup with my Wink Hub and many other "smart" items. At first I had to use IFTTT (If this than that) to get my home automation to work with
Alexa. Later on Wink added support to work directly with Alexa without the use of IFTTT.
Amazon Echo Show
Now that it's connected to my Wink Hub, I have the ability to turn lights on and off. Additionally I can use my Fitbit to track my steps, use my Harmony Hub to turn my TV on and off, use my Fire TV to ask Alexa to play a specific show, use my Automatic car adapter so I can ask how far I drove, where my car is, or how much fuel I have, and many more devices.

Here's how I make use of Alexa on a daily basis. The first thing that happens in the morning, when my Echo Spot alarm is blaring, is I ask her to snooze my alarm a few times before asking her to stop the alarm.  Next I ask Alexa to turn off my security system (setup through Wink).  I then walk into the bathroom and ask her for the weather so I know what I need to wear, and yes, I have a Dot in the bathroom. Next I go downstairs and ask Alexa for my daily briefing.  She then proceeds to tell me the local news, Fox News, and tech news. When I arrive home from work I'll ask her to turn on the TV, sometimes I'll ask Alexa to show me something specific. If I'm not watching TV I may ask her to play some music on the unit that is closest to me, or I'll ask her to play the music everywhere. This means she'll play music through all the speakers in the house. If I need to send someone a text, I'll ask her to send it. If I need a light on, I'll ask her to turn it on Many of my lights are automated by motion, but a few of them aren't. Sometimes when taking a shower I'll ask Alexa to play music. When going to bed I'll ask Alexa to set my security alarm, which also turns off all my lights with the help of IFTTT. I then ask her to play thunderstorm sounds to help me fall asleep. As you can see, there are so many things she can do!

My fiancee uses Alexa to set timers all the time. Since we have the Echo show in the kitchen, it'll actually show the timers on the screen. Sometimes I'll hear my fiancee playing Jeopardy while cooking in the kitchen. Another fun game to play with Alexa is the 20 question game, she'll try to guess what you're thinking through a list of questions that she'll ask you. Speaking of games, there's a lot of games in the skill store that you can access through the Alexa app. We are always asking her what time it is and for the weather. You can even ask the weather for a specific time. Sometimes we'll ask our Roomba vacuum to start cleaning from Alexa. We use the intercom feature to talk to each other when in different parts of the house, which is really nice. We have reminders setup for different events, for example I have one setup to remind me to put the dog in his crate before my fiancee gets home. I have another one that reminds my on to place his phone on the charger before he goes to bed.

Amazon Echo Spot
Since I've bought my Alexa devices, my fiancee and I have many family members and friends that have them as well. I've bought a few of them for Christmas presents for family members. You can send other people messages and you can even call them on the phone with your Echo device.

Now on to the Alexa devices I own and why I own them. I started with the original Echo. It's taller and has a nicer speaker than the Dot. At the time of purchase it was the only Alexa device available. The second one I bought was the Echo Dot. It's a puck size version of the taller Echo. You can connect it to an external speaker, which I did in the bedroom. I also bought one for my son's room. Next I bought the Echo Spot for the bedroom and moved the Dot to the bathroom. The Spot is a clock version of the Echo which has a round screen and a camera, it also has a decent speaker inside it. You can play Amazon Prime videos through it too, which I've done a time or two while lying in bed. Since my fiancee used Alexa all the time for a timer in the kitchen, I decided to surprise her with the Echo Show for Christmas. She now also uses the Show for recipe videos and games. Sometimes I'll video chat with my fiancee from work in the mornings or when I'm on a work trip from my smartphone to the Show.

Some of you may be concerned about the security aspects of Alexa. You've read the headlines that Alexa is always listening to you and recording. That couldn't be further from the truth. Alexa is always listening for the wake work (Alexa), then she starts recording when she hears the awake word. You can actually go into the app on your phone and hear your own recordings. You even have the ability to delete them. So unless you're trying to hide something, you don't have anything to worry about.

I have tried the Google Mini device and prefer Alexa. It may just be because I've had Alexa devices longer and accustom to asking her questions. There were several times the Google Mini didn't know what I was asking. I also like some of her responses better too.

So as you can see, voice controlled devices can have a role in your life and be fun. As my son says, it can also be great for lazy people that don't want to manually flip a light switch on, lol. So if you're in the market for one, I'd definitely give the Amazon's family of voice controlled devices a try. They're always adding new skills. What are your thoughts? Feel free to ask any of your questions about Alexa in the comments.

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Amazon Echo Dot
Pricing at the Time of This Article (They periodically go on sell) 
Echo Dot $49.99
Echo Gen 2 $99.99
Echo Plus $149.99
Echo Spot $129.99
Echo Show $229.99

Links
Link to Echo Devices on Amazon
Amazon Echo's YouTube Channel
Amazon Echo Twitter Feed
IFTTT

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