The Amazon Echo is a brand new
toy tool for grown-ups, released on Amazon this fall with much fanfare and lots of front page ads. My husband has been trying to buy me one for a few months now, pinging me to see if the Amazon Echo or Amazon Tap would be a good birthday gift for me or Christmas gift for me. Frankly, I’ve been ignoring him.
Today, I have been looking for a trendy gift that might be perfect for a giveaway, and I decided I needed to give the Echo a closer look. And shoot. Now that I’ve convinced him that it’s a stupid gift for me, I actually want one.
“I was trying to decide if it was a good gift for you because I was thinking about buying one. So I suggested it for Clara to see how you would react. And you said it was stupid. So I’ve decided it is not a good gift for you.” Those were literally his words to me when I just casually mentioned tonight “Oh, the Amazon ECHO can do that,” in a discussion. Fiddlesticks.
So what exactly can it do and why might you want one for yourself?
The Amazon Echo is a new device that is voice-activated. That’s the base of information from which all the rest of the things Echo can do hinges. You speak, Echo responds. Or Alexa responds. She’s the voice inside Echo.
Let’s start with music. I never remember to play music in our house. I want to play music and I think music goes a long way toward improving the atmosphere of a home. So in some cases, I really NEED to play music. Apparently all you have to do is say “Alexa, play Christmas music.” and the Echo starts playing the music. It can play music from iHeartRadio, Pandora, OR (and this is really important in my case) your iTunes collection. Ours is huge. And I’ve never seen an Amazon device that integrated with iTunes before. Score One for Echo.
Do you have a wifi thermostat? Echo can control your heat if it is on the list of compatible thermostats. I can just imagine laying in bed and saying “Alexa, please set the heat on 65.” It gets so hot upstairs since the thermostat is downstairs! And while my husband has the app on his phone, I never have gotten around to getting it on mine. Which is a problem when he travels or is soundly sleeping. I usually just get up and open a window. Bad. Turning down the heat remotely? Score Two for Echo.
Have you ever gotten to the store and forgotten what you were going to order? Today, I repeated my three items TEN times out loud to my kids before I left for Walmart. Paper plates. Eye Drops. and something else. It’s the something else that always gets me! I texted my kids and no one could remember the third thing. I finally remembered it just before I got to the checkout. Thank goodness. (Don’t ask me what it was because I’ve forgotten again.) Just think if I had repeated that shopping list to Echo right before I left. Aha! Voice-Activated Shopping lists is something I can handle. Score Three for Echo!
Today I was at a friend’s house and we started wondering if it was going to snow. I had very poor phone service there, so while we were waiting for my phone app to respond, her teenage son offered to connect me to their wifi. Which was very sweet. But in the end we opted to just wait it out. Echo does weather. “Alexa, is it going to snow today?” or “Alexa, when is it going to snow in Virginia?” would have been much faster. Even if we had to wait for the answer we could have moved on to other things instead of waiting around to push buttons. Score Four for Echo.
One of the recent developments in our home is that we have removed all electronic devices from the bedrooms. Everyone turns them in at night. Which leads to two small problems. 1) My teenage son has always gone to sleep with an audiobook. For years. and 2) Everybody uses their electronics for an alarm clock. The Amazon ECHO can do both of those things! Play the audiobooks directly from Audible (of which we have hundreds after fifteen years of collecting them) AND set an alarm clock. This paragraph seriously makes me want a voice-activated alarm clock. “Alexa, BE QUIET.” I’m not sure that would be very effective as an alarm clock, but it sure would be fun to turn it off right before I fell back to sleep. Score Five and Six for Echo.
I am seriously the most unorganized person in the world when it comes to calendars, but if you do happen to use Google Calendar, Echo can do that for you too. Come to think of it, Echo is your own personal secretary! Make appointments, find appointments and cancel appointments, and more. Manage your calendar with your words. I might actually use a calendar like that. Maybe. But anyway, if you use Google Calendar, Score Seven for Echo!
Okay. This is the one that got me. “Alexa, order toilet paper.” Have I ever mentioned that I order my toilet paper on Amazon with Prime shipping? It keeps me out of Target, thereby saving me money! And there is nothing worse than realizing you need toilet paper when you are nowhere near the computer. Echo can hear your voice from seven feet away though, so measure the distance from your night stand to your bathroom. Hey! I’m forgetful! Score Eight for Echo!
Have you ever said “I wish there was an app for that?” Alexa has skills! With Alexa you can dim your lights, open your garage door, order a ride from Uber, search the web for answers, check the traffic report for your husband’s commute, and order pizza. Some of these require apps or devices like a special garage door opener, but once enabled Alexa has some serious home and life management skills and many of them do not require anything extra at all.