August 12, 2017
My Smart Speaker Experiment
Blog reader, Rick from Oregon, read my post from a few weeks ago, Do You Have a Smart Speaker? and decided to issue a challenge. He suggested I buy an Amazon Dot and try living with it for a few weeks. If I didn't find it useful he offered to buy it from me. That sounded like a win-win deal, so I took him up on the offer; my $50 Dot arrived on July 26th and was installed in the living room.
The Dot is the little brother to the Echo, the device that is getting most of the press. The Dot does what the more expensive version does but with a smaller speaker. If using the Dot to play music it should be plugged into a sound system or a better quality speaker. Otherwise, it is the same device: an always on voice-activated command center.
In the almost three weeks I have had the Dot, how have I used it? I started by asking it to answer some random, silly questions, like the distance to Mars, the current temperature and chance of rain, the start time of a baseball game, and to tell me some jokes. I asked it to read what was on my calendar for the rest of the day and to set a reminder for several hours in the future.
Then, I asked Alexa to play some music. I tried light jazz, oldies, smooth jazz (there is a difference), piano solos, and big band vocals. She (because of Alexa's voice I think of the Dot as female) performed flawlessly. I can ask her to raise or lower the volume, skip a song, or simply "Stop." Unfortunately, I can't use Spotify unless I upgrade to their premium service, which at $10 a month isn't worth it to me. Pandora's free service and Amazon music are just fine.
I am not particularly motivated to get whatever is required to have the Dot turn my lights on and off, or perform other smart home functions. I can see the value if my mobility were restricted, but for now I will control my own lights and air conditioner, thank you very much.
Betty likes audio books, and the Dot can fulfill that need. Any book we have purchased and downloaded to our Kindle can be read to us. There are other services, like Audible, that can be added for an extensive library of choices.
What else can the Dot handle? I haven't tested any of these, but the list of functions is pretty impressive:
Calling and messaging
Check your calendar
Connect Bluetooth devices
Find local businesses and restaurants
Find traffic information
Fun and games
Get weather updates
Find out about movies
Hear the news
Keep up with your sports teams
Listen to Audible audiobooks
Listen to Amazon Music
Listen to Kindle books
Listen to podcasts and radio
Set timers and alarms
To-dos and shopping lists
I have disabled the microphone once: when the grandkids were here and peppering Alexa with unanswerable questions! Otherwise, I have left it on and am not feeling spied upon. I would probably turn it off if I was in the habit of discussing financial matters in the living room or running a business. I don't believe Amazon is monitoring my every conversation, but hacking into a WiFi network is very possible.
I do assume the company makes use of what I may order or ask about to target ads to me on other devices. Amazon already uses past purchases to recommend similar ones, while Google certainly uses my searches to suggest what my life may be lacking.
Bottom line: Rick, I will not ask you to buy the Dot from me. I could certainly live without it. It doesn't do anything I couldn't accomplish some other way. I would not have bought one without your challenge. But, it is convenient and easy to use, and at times, even fun. So, it will stay and answer my commands, or at least most of them.