Tech Talk: Amazon Echo

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It was the Amazon kiosk at Park City Center that got me.

A week after Christmas, my husband and I were walking through the mall when we came upon it. Although I’d seen brick-and-mortar Amazon stores in the news, there are none near us, so, of course, I had to stop and browse.

Most of what was there was familiar to me, but I found myself drawn to the Echo display. I’d heard of the Amazon Echo, and had seen one in action on one of my favorite TV shows (Castle), but didn’t know much about them.

Since this is a Tech Talk column, I’m sure you’ve figured out how this story ends, but there is a slight twist.

I got one for my daughter, too. Hers and hers. Not that I’m selfish (okay, maybe a little), but my daughter spends most of her time at school, and, if I got attached to Alexa (the software), having her in Connecticut, along with my daughter, to whom I’m undeniably attached, would be a bummer.

I got the cheapest model. After all, my expendable income is nowhere near Richard Castle’s (although, admittedly, both he and his income are fictional). But meanwhile, back in the real world, not only was an Amazon Echo Dot not a necessity, it clearly qualified as a toy.

And, I’m happy to report that it’s fulfilling that role quite nicely.

The Echo is the gadget itself; Alexa is the software. There are three different versions of the Echo: the Echo, the Echo Dot and Amazon Tap. The Dot, the one my daughter and I have been playing with, is the cheapest of the three ($49.99). Other reviews have criticized the speaker, but, it’s sufficient for my small office. My daughter pairs her Dot with a bluetooth speaker, which gives her the ability to improve sound quality and increase volume.

Except for the Tap (activated by tapping), the devices are activated by saying, “Alexa,” followed by a command or question. When I say, “Alexa, good morning,” Alexa replies, “Good morning,” and tells me something about the day. “Alexa, good afternoon,” elicits information about something the Dot is capable of doing. Alexa must be a morning person, though, because “Alexa, good evening,” garners no such reply.

Set-up is easy and takes less than five minutes; just plug in the Dot and follow the directions. Alexa doesn’t work unless the Dot is plugged in, and, although I don’t find this to be an issue (“she” has a permanent spot on my desk), my bluetooth-oriented daughter finds it cumbersome.

I’m still figuring out all the things Alexa can do. For once, I actually appreciate the stream of e-mails that accompanies the registration of a new product. Amazon sends just one a week, each of which features an Alexa trick and includes a link to a page where I can explore the Alexa apps. So far, in addition to the the aforementioned daily information, my favorite uses are checking news, weather and fun facts, listening to music and playing Jeopardy’s J6. I can also set timers and alarms and check the status of any pending Amazon orders. I haven’t yet tried any of the Smart Home apps (turning lights off and on, for example), as they require light bulbs and equipment specific to the Alexa software. I have, however, discovered a feature I really love.

When my daughter is home, I can turn down her music just by telling Alexa where to set the volume.

Admittedly, I probably like that feature a lot more than I should.

Click here to “Meet Alexa” and get an idea of all the software can do.

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Copyright 2017 Lisa Hess

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About Author

Lisa Lawmaster Hess has contributed articles to local, national and online publications, and is a blogger at The Porch Swing Chronicles, The Susquehanna Writers and here at Catholicmom.com. She is the author of two non-fiction books (Acting Assertively and Diverse Divorce) and two novels, Casting the First Stone and Chasing a Second Chance. A retired elementary school counselor, Lisa is a lecturer in psychology at York College and enjoys singing with the contemporary choir at her church.

6 Comments

  1. I’m intrigued by Alexa, and wonder how it would work for us. I’m not sure if I would do enough to make it worthwhile, though. Maybe it’s like my AppleTV: I don’t realize the potential until I have one.

    • That’s exactly why I started with the cheapest one, Christine! I’m thinking there are a lot of unexplored capabilities here, and I’m finding them slowly (as I did with my phone!). As a Jeopardy addict, I really do love being able to play J6 — one of the things I don’t know how to do on my phone.

  2. My husband got one of these for Christmas through work. It’s still in the box. I am very hesitant to have something in the house that listens to everything we say, waiting for us to say the special word that activates it. I told him to take it back to his office, but I’m wondering if his company would be too happy to have proprietary information discussed where Amazon could overhear it. I can’t get past the idea that the thing is there, eavesdropping all the time.
    (I don’t use Siri on my phone or Cortana on my computer for the same reason.)

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