Sunday, 19 February 2017

Echo Dot - Great Way to Bring Alexa Home

A little while ago I saw the Amazon Echo Dot go on sale. Regularly $49.99 it was on for $39.99 and I couldn't resist.

For those not familiar, Amazon makes 3 stand-alone devices, the Echo, the Tap, and Echo Dot.

The Echo is an Alexa-enabled device with full voice control and speaker which apparently sounds pretty good when playing music.

The Tap is a similar device, but to use it you must physically tap it instead of just saying "Alexa" to wake it up. (Note for Star Trek fans: You can change the wake word to "Computer")

The Echo Dot Is the least expensive and smallest of the devices. It gives you all the features of the full Echo but the built-in speaker isn't great for listening to music. Fortunately you can connect bluetooth speakers to it, or plug it in to a home stereo using a 3.5mm headphone jack connector.

All devices give you the power of Alexa on demand.

At first I thought Alexa would just be a fun gadget for streaming music, setting alarms, or answering trivia questions, but I'm finding I use her constantly.

Alexa has an ever-growing list of "skills" (Apps really) that allow her to interact with different devices. I was excited to learn I could connect Alexa to my Wink home automation hub and my Nest thermostat. Suddenly I could control the lighting and temperature in the house just by talking to Alexa.

This included automating several functions at once. At night once the kids are in bed I sit on the couch and say "Alexa turn on watch TV".

Alexa turns off the lights in the hallway and the kitchen, and dims the lights in the family room for a more pleasant viewing experience.

All done and time to head to bed? I just say "Alexa activate night mode" and she turns off every connected light in the house as I go upstairs.

Yesterday I bought a couple of TP-Link WiFi Light Switches thinking they would work with my Wink. They don't, at least not yet, but it turns out I'll be keeping them anyways.

They may not talk to the Wink but they do talk to Alexa, and Alexa has no problem combining them in to groups with devices controlled by the Wink.

This means my non-Wink devices are still able to be a seamless part of my home automation thanks to Alexa.

The kids enjoy Alexa too. When my 6yr old found out Alexa would sing "Happy birthday" to her on demand she was tickled.

Alexa is handy for recipes and makes an excellent bartender, tell her the drink you want and she will tell you how to make it.

Of course Alexa will let you order things from Amazon as well, although you can disable that if you don't want to risk your children buying anything they feel like just by asking Alexa for it.

Alexa does have some skills I wouldn't suggest. There is a skill to control my Luma mesh home wi-fi system, but the idea that the kids could disable their internet time restrictions or content filters just by telling Alexa to doesn't seem like a great plan. Needless to say that skill won't be installed.

Other skills are only available (at least for now) in the USA. Alexa can call you an Uber or order you a pizza, but not in Canada.

In fact none of the Echo devices are even sold in Canada, a ridiculous situation but easily enough overcome.

Would I buy an Echo Dot again? Absolutely. I might take the plunge and buy the full Echo at some point to just have music on demand without having to connect external speakers.  At a minimum I'll get another Echo Dot to expand Alexa's footprint in the house.

If you're doing any home automation the Echo or Echo Dot should be something you consider.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

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