amazon_echo_dot 2nd_1Hello everyone!!!  In this week’s Tech  Review, I will talk about, without a doubt, one of the hottest selling  items today, the Amazon Echo Dot (2nd Generation) which retails on Amazon for $69.00 Cdn.   You are probably asking if this personal digital voice assistant is a travel gadget.  Because of it’s size, ease of use, and portability, you can take it with you anywhere.  As long as you have access to WIFI, the Echo Dot can be a valuable travel companion that has a lot of practical uses.  It  can remind you of your itinerary, answer your questions about local attractions, play you your music, give you the local weather and news.  It really is like taking a piece of home with you.

Look and Build

amazon-echo-dot_2nd_2.jpgThe Amazon Echo Dot is basically the size of a puck.  It comes in two colours, black and white.  There are 4 controls on top of the unit itself.  There is mute button to turn off the microphone if you are concerned about your privacy when you are not using the device.  Then there is power button and the volume controls marked by” +”  and “-“ signs. There are grids near the edge of the device which contains multiple  microphones.  There are two inputs on the side, which are, the micro-USB power input and a 3.5 mm Audio Output where you can attach a cable and connect it to an audio receiver.

Set Up

Hooking up the Echo Dot was fairly straightforward. It was up and running within minutes.

Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo

Although the sound of the Echo Dot was not up to par compared to its more expensive siblings like the Echo which retails for $129.99 Cdn or the Amazon Echo Plus which retails at  $199.99 Cdn.  However, the Echo dot can easily be paired to a Bluetooth speaker. In my case, I paired it to the Bose Mini Soundlink which worked quite nicely.

Pairing it was not problem at all. You simply activate the pairing mode on the Bluetooth Speaker, and ask Alexa to

Amazon Echo Plus
Amazon Echo Plus

“Connect to Speaker”; that’s it. In no time, the Echo Dot, was playing through a much better sounding speaker playing songs streamed through Spotify.

Function

Alexa Echo Dot comes with 7 microphones so that it can hear you even if you are from a different room.  This works pretty well.  The device is set up in the kitchen and it can hear me from the living room.  However, if there is a lot of background noise it doesn’t work so well.

I didn’t realize how much easier it would be to just say “Alexa (Echo’s wake up word), play some Bruno Mars”, rather than having to go into my phone or tablet, looking for the Spotify App, then looking for Bruno Mars’ album and looking for the song that I want to play.   If you are easily distracted, like me, simple things like going into my tablet and opening up the Spotify app, usually results into distractions like having to first check my email, check out new Facebook postings, Instagram, latest news etc., these distractions can easily turn a 4 second task to a half an hour ordeal.  Whereas, if I can just tell Alexa, what I want to hear, the song will play within 3 or 4 seconds at the most and I don’t have to go to my computer or tablet and get sucked into the rabbit hole of click baits.

The Echo Dot doesn’t only play music seamlessly. You can add items to your shopping list, set up appointments, ask definitions of words, or even tell you a joke.  I can’t believe that you can ask Alexa trivia questions and she will give you an answer within a couple of seconds.  As a matter of fact, the sad day that Stephen Hawking passed away, when I asked Alexa how old Stephen Hawking was, the information was already updated.

The Echo Dot works with any compatible devices.  You can control your thermostat, lights, fans, TVs, switches, thermostats, locks, and more with compatible connected devices from WeMo, Philips Hue, Wink, and others.  It can even call you an Uber.

You can even set up different routines to customize you assistant.  For example, I set up a routine so that  when I get up in the morning, while making my coffee, I simply say “Good Morning Alexa” Alexa would respond with Good “Morning!” it would then mention how the date is significant.  It’s actually quite entertaining, because Alexa would sometime sing you a song like she did on Valentine’s day, or tell a joke. When I say “Alexa, start my day”, she will read me the headline news from CBC and BBC, and tells me the current weather, and what the traffic is like on the way to work.   If you wish to add new capabilities for Alexa, you can go to Google Play and download what Amazon Echo calls “Skills”.  These are basically applets, and there are thousands available, which you can download and install to increase Echo Dot’s capabilities.

If you want to know the Technical Specification on the Amazon Echo Dot 2nd Generation, here is a link

I love using the Echo Dot 2nd Generation.  It’s easy to set up and it functions very well.  It felt weird talking to a computer at first, but definitely worth getting used to.  I never really jumped on the SIRI bandwagon.    It is great for settling any arguments that comes up over the dinner table without having to pull your tablet or smartphone to fact check anything. It is also very useful while cooking in the kitchen when your hands are dirty and you don’t want to get your tablet dirty, and you want to convert measurement from imperial to metric.    Just don’t do it in any other language other than English.    Currently French language is not supported.  Amazon is currently working on supporting other languages.  After using the Echo Dot for 4 months, I would highly recommend it.

Here is a summary.

Pros:

Very Intuitive
Easy Set Up
Very Portable
Highly Customizable
Always Evolving
Very Quick
Gives Valid Answers
Very Practical and Useful
Mic is Sensitive Enough to Hear You From Another Room
Very Scalable. You can add devices to it.
Could be Paired with Blue Tooth Speakers

 

Cons

Only Available in English
Only Available in Canada and the US
Not All Skills are Available in Canada
Built in Speaker Sound Could Be Better
Currently Supports English Language.

Review by Alf Crespo
www.bushkin.ca