Last week I posted my immediate reaction to Amazon’s new “Echo” thingy*. (I use the word “thingy” advisedly, because I’m still not sure what to call it.) Here’s a second look, after a week’s experience.
First, I like it very much as a music player. I’ve gotten used to listening to music over the speakers in my iMac or my iPad, and the Echo sounds much nicer. Plus, I’d forgotten how music sounds when it fills the room from a point some distance away from my ear. The voice commands work quite well for all of the basic music operations. If the phone rings, for example, I can tell Alexa to pause the music while I’m reaching for the phone. I don’t need to fumble for the mouse or my phone or a remote. And I can control it from wherever I happen to be sitting.
As a source of information, it’s more a curiosity than a useful tool at present, at least for me. I like asking for the day’s weather, and I gather it will report the news if you set it up for that. But as for asking questions and getting answers, Echo fails on anything too complicated or out of the way. It knows that Jim Butcher is the author of the Dresden Files, for example, but it doesn’t know who Harry Dresden is. Although, I did have an entertaining exchange with Echo a couple of days ago:
“Alexa, do you know GlaDOS?”
“Yes, but we don’t talk anymore after what happened.”
(For those who don’t recognize the name, “GlaDOS” is a homicidal computer in the Portal and Portal II video games.)
In short, despite being a tad gimmicky, “Alexa” is a well-regarded and useful addition to our home, and I’m sure we’ll find more uses for it over time. Just for example, we’re going to try using the shopping list feature as a way for Jane and I to communicate. She does the shopping, and I can easily add items to the list and have them magically appear on her phone.