Welcome to Tech Spotlight, a new ITS series providing regular updates on the most exciting new technology products and services. To start off, we are going to look at one of the most exciting areas in technology, artificial intelligence (AI), by exploring the Amazon Echo Dot (2nd generation) with the Alexa voice assistant. Computers can’t think for themselves yet but with the Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, and Apple Siri voice assistants, we are closer than we’ve ever been.
What Can it Do
What can you do with the Echo Dot? It is a very versatile gadget and has excellent support from third party products and services. By design, it can do a plethora of useful tasks, including but not limited to the following:
- Voice controller for smart home devices.
- Prime members can make Amazon.com orders and get exclusive deals.
- Use popular music streaming services, such as Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, and others.
- Get a news flash briefing with customizable sources.
- Check traffic for the best route for your commute.
- Set timers and alarms.
- Create shopping or to-do lists, viewable within the Alexa app.
- Play Audible audiobooks or have Alexa read Kindle books.
- Assist in the kitchen by reading recipes and doing measurement conversations.
- Request the weather forecast or movie showtimes.
- Ask random questions, like the CEO of Honda Motor Company or Prime Minister of Canada.
- And it doesn’t stop there, find more things to try at Amazon’s Alexa Help and Support or Things to Try pages.
It has thousands of always expanding third party skills you can add for additional functionality not built-in, like the Domino’s skill for ordering a pizza or the Uber skill for calling an Uber ride. The Echo Dot is not meant to have room filling sound, as the built-in speaker is similar to what you’d find in a smartphone. That’s why it has a 3.5mm audio output jack and Bluetooth to connect a speaker or entertainment center of your choice. Echo Dots can be affordably scattered throughout your apartment or house for voice coverage in multiple rooms. For this reason, Amazon released an update called Echo Spatial Perception (ESP) which detects the Echo closest to you and only that one responds. Then there’s no confusion of multiple Echos, in voice range, responding to the same question.
What Does it Cost
The Echo Dot (2nd generation) is priced at only $49.99 and is Amazon’s most affordable device with their Alexa voice assistant. Buy three for $129.97, after $20 off with code DOT3PACK, or buy six for $249.95, after $49.99 off with code DOT6PACK. The Echo Dot is the cheapest way to control smart devices with your voice, as of this writing. To cheaply extend the range of an Echo Dot or for those that prefer audio control with a remote, there is the Alexa Voice Remote at $29.99
What Are the Competitors
The competitors include the Echo Dot’s bigger brother the Amazon Echo smart speaker at $179.99 (or refurbished at $149.99) and the new Google Home at $129. There have been rumors that Apple will release a stand-alone Siri speaker but no official word from Apple on if this is true or when it would be available. The issue with the Google or a rumored Apple smart speakers is their third party support. The Google Home currently just has a hand full of partners initially and won’t open for developers until December 2016, and Apple’s HomeKit platform, for Siri voice integration, has had a poor adoption rate.
What More Can You Learn
Using Alexa with the Echo Dot is a learning experience but a fun and useful one. You’ll be surprised how dependent you can become on Alexa after awhile. It is much more useful than OK Google or Siri on smartphones since it’s always listening for commands. There is definitely room for improvement. The Alexa app is a mess and a little confusing, it could use a total redesign. You can easily trip up Alexa if you ask things with the wrong phrasing since many skills have only certain phrases that can be used. Almost all AIs have similar limitations but Alexa is always learning and gaining new skills. New skills are added often and you can subscribe to a weekly email newsletter or check out what’s new. To learn more of the many commands, benefits, and guides, review the sources below:
- Alexa Help and Support
- Alexa Skills Database
- Alexa-Exclusive Deals for Prime Members
- Ultimate Guide to Mastering Amazon Echo
- CNET’s List of Alexa Commands
- CNET’s Simple Explanation of How Alexa Works
May the future of AI be bright and not apocalyptic, like the movies.
Disclaimer: This is for information purposes only. ITS does not have any contract or agreement that requires us to recommend any specific product or service. We encourage you to read reviews and research the Echo Dot fully. Products directly tested by ITS include the Echo Dot 1st and 2nd generation with and without a Bluetooth speaker connected.