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
Control music
Discover music
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
Request Music
Shopping options
Set reminders
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. 


23 comments:

  1. We really like using our Alexa with a WeMo device to turn on lights, fans, and in a few months, the Christmas tree lights.

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    1. I gather it is quite simple to set up these devices to do all this.

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  2. The music-on-demand component is a real value that changes how (and how often) I listen. When a song, artist, album, genre, or even mood comes to mind or I read a review, I just ask Alexa to play it. No searching at the computer, no hunting through the CD collection (almost obsolete now...) -- basically zero friction and instant music. If you're a Prime member, a subscription to the vast Amazon Music library costs just $3.95 a month for a single Echo device, which I think is worth it compared with a $10 Spotify or Apple subscription. Without a subscription, you get truncated songs, ads, etc.

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    1. I am using the free Prime Music service at the moment. With hundreds of categories and styles available it will take me quite awhile to run out of songs! Here it is Saturday morning and I am bouncing back and forth between 50's oldies, 70's folk, and 70's pop.

      While Spotify has a wider selection, I am not willing to pay $10 a month to make it available on Dot. I do agree with you that since I hooked up the Dot I am spending a lot more time listening to music.

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    2. They tell me that I can upload all my Itunes to Amazon Music, although I have not tried to yet. Do note that Alexa allows you to play trivia and Jeopardy, in that skills section and that you can have it search for recipes and share them from places like Allrecipies. Among other things.

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  3. Your description is very close to my feelings about our Alexa and her little brother, Dot. Both gifts. She does much more than we use, but two things I love that you haven't used are her shopping list capability (paired with the app on my iPhone) and her timers. Very handy when your hands are in the middle of a messy cooking project and you pop something into the oven, etc.

    We do have one Wemo switch for a decorative FLW light in our living room. It comes on at different times based on the seasons and is SO much easier to reprogram as sunset changes...much better than our old digital timers. We haven't given Alexa access to that switch, but she did order it one evening during dinner when my stepson decided to show me how she could shop for me. It was similar to your situation with Rick and the Dot. I could have returned it, but once I tried it, I decided to keep the Wemo.
    --Hope

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    1. Like so many purely convenience items, once it gets inside your home it is tough to let it go.

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  4. When they come out with a model that cleans the house, does the laundry and makes dinner, I'll buy. In the meantime, I'll play my own music, turn the lights on and off and have my Siri read to me (in a British male butler's voice, of course!) tell me what the weather is outside, the stock market balance of my investments and what's on my upcoming calendar agenda.

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    1. The scary thing is you could pay for a collection of devices that would tackle everything on your list!

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    2. Tools are just that. Heck my 400 buck mixer with attachments is a tool to me, but a convenience item for others.

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    3. One of my favorite conversations with Alexa went like this:
      Me: Alexa, who is smarter...you or Siri?
      Alexa: Neither, we're just different.

      Someone programmed that one in early on! Haha
      --Hope

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  5. Well you haven't convinced me yet, but keep us posted who knows.

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    1. It is just as easy to live without a smart speaker as with one. But, I am enjoying how easy it is to add music to my day. I'll do a follow up post in a few months to let you know.

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  6. We're thinking about it. Not sure yet but, I like your review.
    b

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    1. I am interested in what I will think after a few months. Right now I am listening to a fabulous Amazon Prime station of instrumental versions of movie lullabies and love songs from movies. It is both familiar and relaxing.

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  7. Bob,

    I had a feeling you would keep it after you had used it for awhile.

    Beyond music, I find that I really use it most for practical things--almost like my external brain-- "remind me to call the eye doctor tomorrow at 8 am," remind me to check the pot of soup I have on the stove in 15 minutes (I have boiled down a few pots after getting distracted). I have automated my lights by integrating it with my Smartthings system. I like to be able to turn off/on dim or brighten lights by voice command.... especially after laying down in bed for the night and realize I left a set of lights on. Shopping lists, math calculations (square root, metric conversions) correct spelling of words, word definitions while I read, Wikipedia access, and on and on. I use it a lot and find it a useful tool.

    I hope you have some fun with it.

    Rick in Oregon

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    1. I would be in serious trouble without a spell checker...I hadn't thought Alexa could help with that.

      Again, thanks for the challenge.

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  8. If you have Sirus XM In your car, Alexa has an app for that. I think we listen to more music at home than in the car. I will have to check out the shopping list capability. I have her shopping turned off. She really does pick up on the 'Alexa' ads on TV.

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    1. Remember that you can change her name in the app. She can be set to respond to Alexa, Echo, Amazon, or computer. I have several throughout the house so I have given them different names so as not to trigger more than one at a time.

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  9. Wow, 3 weeks. That's fast to go from "how dangerous is this toy/tool?" to "convenient and easy to use, and at times, even fun". I guess you can teach us old dogs new tricks ;)

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    1. True. I hope my rush to convenience doesn't come with a cost I am not happy paying.

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  10. I don't like mine and have unplugged it. It randomly turns itself on if she thinks she hears the wake up name and starts babbling at me!!

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