I bought the Echo Dot (2nd Gen) a few weeks ago and had a chance to test it out first hand. I have to say; I'm amazed by it. I mean it's a voice assistant like Siri or Cortana, but it works very well as a home device. I haven't been a huge fan of those voice assistance in the past because it's very awkward especially when you're on the go and just say: "Siri, could you please do this and that" - out loud.
At first, it feels very unnatural to say "Alexa, put on the radio," or "Alexa, tell me what movies are on tonight at my local cinema." But it works! In general, Alexa is the most responsive voice assistant I worked with to this date. Even if you say something very quietly or if you are in another room, the device will hear you and understand it. I tried this out while being in the shower, two rooms away, just shouting through the apartment. Alexa heard me and changed the song I was listening to. By the way, Alexa wasn't there with me, because I hooked her up to one of my Bluetooth-speakers. It's very cool, because once you say "Alexa" the music will automatically become quiet, so the device can hear you. Also, it works like a charm if you want to dial up or down the music, just by saying it. So usually, I had to push a button on my phone to make this happen, now I can have both my hands occupied while washing the dishes and just say it.
Setting Alexa up is super-easy.
The whole set up of the device is straightforward, you download the Alexa app, hook the device up to your wifi, and you are ready to go. The app helps you to set up new devices, such as Bluetooth-speakers or Smart Home lamps, and it also allows you to download skills for your Alexa. The store is still small, but the basics are all there, ranging from radio to weather, games like quizzes or trivia facts, there is a lot to discover. It just works. As long as it got power and wifi, it will wait and listen for you to activate it. You also have a mute button on the device, so if your girlfriend is around and her name is Alexa, you can use the button, so your voice assistant won't get in the way every two seconds.
Once you turn off the power, the device will be off. I'm usually a person that likes to shut down any device and wifi in my room before I go to sleep. Sure, I will at some point try out if Alexa can wake me up, but currently, I can restrain my curiosity for the sake of a tech-free sleep.
Why should I bother?
I agree that the technology is still in its infancy, and there are still some problems with infrastructure and app store, BUT Amazon delivers a small and smart product that serves as an easy entry into the future voice-dominated world. It is still early and more a gimmick instead of anything real, but to be able to play music, radio, listen to audio books, ordering FMCGs, dim your light and wake you up or simply remember your grocery list, Alexa will develop fast in the next 18 months. If anything, it is a smart Bluetooth-speaker, even cheaper than most premium brands like Beats or Bose. Some accessories can act as battery packs, so you don't have to carry around a power outlet.
The big upside, compared to services like Siri or Cortana, is that Alexa is there and you don't have to sit in front of your computer or smartphone to activate it. It understands you better in most situations and just is ready at all times. It connects flawlessly with other devices once you set it up once and requires a simple command to do so. With Apple's current Siri advertisement, including Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, you can see that the battle for consumer favors has already begun, the voice will become a formidable force in the digital world of consumers.
There are already Social Media services like Anchor that focus on a voice-first content strategy, so Alexa could also be a proxy for that market to engage even more. Just imagine instead of your typical news feed, you can listen to your social networks audio stream while you cook or clean the house. It's also perfect for kids, for reading them stories or answering an infinite amount of questions, Alexa doesn't tire.
Who needs buttons anyway?
If you are into tech, you probably already own a voice assistant device, if you don't the Amazon Echo Dot is an excellent entry point for every consumer. It made a big difference for me because it was a lot less awkward and worked better than the typical virtual assistants. You can also start a class higher and go with the new Google Home, but it will cost you triple at the moment. So depending on your brand preferences and depth of your pocket, you might start somewhere else.
The big gain for us as consumers is the increased convenience and control of our life through voice. Imagine you can turn off power sockets, lights, music and possibly your TV and other devices through your voice in an instant. Yes, many devices already feature those capabilities, but who is using them? The simple voice solutions of 2017 are just the beginning and those products will spread into the mainstream, the sooner high-quality skills will scale.
Please feel free to share your thoughts or experiences with voice assistants in the comment section below; I would love to hear them.
Thanks for reading!
Cover photo: www.theverge.com