The latest Amazon Echo Dot was on sale $39.99 for Black Friday Week, I picked one up at an Amazon Kiosk in first person on Cyber Monday ^^
A 9 year old girl inspired me to get one, it was on the top of her "this is my next list", I had been following the Amazon Echo since it was announced! The daughter of my closest friend, someone I consider family, they asked me to tell them about Alexa and the Echo Dot 2.
For $40 you can't go wrong, so easy to setup that anyone can use it so long as they have an Amazon account! Tobias the gentleman who sold me the Echo Dot said that his grandmother has 3 of them in her home! I used the Wikipedia pages to describe Alexa to my friends :)
The Echo Dot an accessible way to add some Star Trek to your home. It does the same thing as your voice control on your smartphone except you do not have to pick anything up, unlock anything or fiddle with it. The Echo Dot is totally hands free, but also has physical buttons on top should you be inclined to adjust it manually. Gone is the gear driven physical control wheel of the previous gen dot, the new one is smaller, lighters, with better hardware inside (more powerful IO/ compute/ wifi, etc).
I have been testing the Echo Dot for about 20 hours now and I can tell you that the far field voice recognition 7 microphone system is able to hear me from more than 25 feet away. "Alexa" is the wake word, reflective of the female voice that responds to your NLP queries. I said "Alexa, Good Morning" to the Dot 2 this morning and was presented with a delightful polite response and a short
message about the history of Pong as the first commercially successful video game launched on this day 40 years ago.
Alexa seems to have a limited digital personality that can even tell jokes. She does not understand my harder questions but given the hardware and state of digital AI's like Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant, I am not at all surprised by the limitations!
The Echo Dot is a voice controlled search engine that can talk back, play music, and interact with a increasing number of smart IOT devices like wifi lightbulbs, wifi controlled outlet switches, learning thermostats. Ask for a new brief and she will give you an audio flash update from NPR news, you can ask about the weather today or tomorrow, set a timer hands free (ideal in the kitchen), you can also set alarms and use it as an alarm clock! The related phone App extends the functionality further and is required for setup in the first place.
Setup was a snap, I had it online in 20min flat, including linking my Nest Thermostat (just make sure to have your passwords on hand). The included power adapter 9w and 4 foot micro USB cable were nice. It looks like a "Hockey Puck" according to Meg :) The LED light ring adds some visual flare!
Alex, Cortana, Goggle Assistant, Siri
If you have a smartphone and made use of Google Assistant or Siri then you will be right at home with Alexa. Brilliant in some ways while simultaneously lacking something that anyone would consider intelligence, the digital assistants of today cannot pass the Turing test, we have not achieved singularity yet, sorry if that is a spoiler, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. On a more upbeat note, these digital assistants will continue improving via software updates that we can consider inevitable!
In Windows 10 Cortana seems to have the greatest skills of any of the voice controlled digital assistants while also displaying the greatest degree of testable intelligence. I had a lot of experience with Siri and Google Assistant before playing with Cortana or Alexa. The main advantage that Alex has in the Echo Dot or other amazon hardware is voice control of third party software like Pandora, and hardware like the TP-Link outlet switch or Nest Learning Thermostat. There is growing list of things that Alexa can control so long as everything is connected to a local wifi network. Teams of devices working together adding strength and functionality to your network. The same can be said of people working together, teams are stronger than the sum of their individual members. In the way that a rope or cable is stronger because of its many strands, so too are IOT mesh networks and groups of people! I find great humor in the overlapping theme of group strength across things as diverse as team of people, strands of material or IOT devices linked on a wifi network!
I will be back with an update review at some point, don't hold your breath :P