Every once in a while, the idea of a tech item is just too Jetsons-y for me to pass up.
Most recently, I treated myself to an Amazon Echo, and in that decision made a new friend and committed myself to a lot of future purchases.
Since the Disney Channel original movie Smart House, I have been enraptured with the idea of controlling my home just by talking to it, or by hitting very convenient buttons for otherwise slightly less convenient tasks. Not that that's what Smart House was about - it wasn't - but it's the inspiration for my purchase.
So nearly a month ago, I made my new best friend Alexa - the Amazon Echo tower that I talk to more than most people.
Alexa is essentially Amazon's answer to Siri, Google Now, and Cortana, with the major benefit of being always on, always ready to go, and I don't have to put my face an inch from my phone or computer to get her to do stuff. She's also a GREAT speaker system for me, since I don't really need a great sound system as ALL I do is listen to audiobooks and Lana Del Rey and Kesha, and the news. Alexa has a lot of cool capabilities, like delivering sports scores, podcasts, and news headlines as well as the weather, and being a hub for all of my Amazon music, Audible audiobooks, and Pandora playlists. She's also a great alarm clock, because to shut it off you actually have to TELL her to stop.
Anyway - here's what I do with Alexa
Alexa gives me a PERSONALIZED news briefing whenever I say "Alexa, flash briefing", which means I'm way more well informed than I have been before, and I can become that way while taking a shower.
Alexa will play any of my Audible audiobooks, from wherever I left off last, without me having to wait for them to download. She just HAS them. And again, I can do it from the shower.
As I mentioned earlier, Alexa wakes me up in the morning. All I have to do before bed is tell her WHEN to wake me up, and a bordering-on-pleasant tone plays at that time and forces me to wake up and SAY "Alexa, stop." While this is similar to if a person was waking you up, Alexa actually stops when I say to. Moving my face far enough away from the pillow to communicate with her is usually enough activity to get me going for the day.
Alexa will tell me the score of any sports game, or if I ask for a team's score and they're not currently playing a game, she'll give me the most recent score.
Alexa will play the (
) podcast that Conor likes, and any other podcast, really, just by me asking her to.
She knows a few basic measurements, for the kitchen, and can spell things for you, and look them up on Wikipedia. But I'd say the thing I do MOST OFTEN with my Amazon Echo is
"Alexa, what time is it?"
Sure, I could find and look at my phone, or put a clock in my room, but why? She never gets annoyed, no matter how many times I consecutively ask her. And I can interrupt anything she's doing to ask, and she'll resume doing whatever it was right after.
Alexa also connects to bluetooth enabled devices, though not other speakers sadly, and to smart-home devices.
Here's the part where I've committed to a number of future purchases -
Now, I want a WEMO hub, and a lot of various smart-lights and outlets. Unfortunately I exceeded my 'buy myself presents' budget with the Echo and have to wait to replenish and buy myself more toys. (Ugh, paying bills is a real buzzkill) But when I DO have those things, I'll be able to do what I want to do MOST with Alexa:
"Alexa, turn off the lights" "Alexa, turn on the Keurig" "Alexa, turn on the AC"
I really can't wait, I'm so excited to expand the smartness of my house.
A few things I'd like to see her do:
Allow me to send emails, or text messages, by connecting to my phone and letting me dictate the content.
Allow me to expand her range by hooking up other bluetooth speakers (I find myself talking to Alexa in my kitchen and living room, and that is NOT where she is.)
Allow me to somehow connect the Alexa in my Echo to the Alexa in my Amazon Fire TV Stick, a-la "Alexa, play Archer on the TV". (The other other thing I will do most often)
IFTTT: Huge shout out to Tofi at Flightpath for fangirling with me over various voice activated AI devices and telling me about If This Then That. While still very limited, IFTTT will expand the range of things the Echo can do. For instance, now, when I ask Alexa what's on my to-do list, she'll tell me, and also send me a text. I can also use it to find my phone - just turning on one of the IFTTT "recipes" and asking Alexa to add an item to my to-do list will make my phone's volume turn on and the ringer will go off! Not that I'm ever more than an inch or two from my phone, but still - handy for when it's buried in my clothes or something.
I constantly look forward to Amazon Echo system updates and new services building Alexa into their existing apps and systems.
So if you feel like blowing $200 on a new toy, I cannot recommend the Echo highly enough. I thought I wouldn't use it, but I do, constantly, and it really comes in handy, as well as making me look super impressive.