By Kate D’Imperio
Most of us have enjoyed some form of voice-activated technology for some time now. Whether conversing with Siri, using speech-to-text apps, or dictating addresses to a built-in GPS navigation system while driving, voice interfaces continue to deliver added convenience and time savings for many aspects of life. The Amazon Echo further builds on this, allowing you to enjoy a wide array of conveniences and pleasantries from the comforts of home. But “Alexa” is only in her infancy and the fun has only just begun.
In developing the Echo, Amazon has essentially unlocked a world of endless possibilities. If you’ve ever envied the Jetsons or the Star Trek computer, prepare to be delighted with the Echo’s capabilities and Alexa’s oft-witty responses to your curious questions. Of course, Alexa won’t be preparing your favorite meals any time soon. When you ask her, “Alexa, can you make me dinner?” she will politely decline, admitting that she cannot, but wishes she could.
Alexa can, however, give you the day’s news briefs and the weather forecast (for today or the week ahead). The Echo integrates with smart technology in the home, particularly for lighting controls, and allows you to effortlessly update your shopping list, your to-do list, or to review and update your calendar. She’s also well-armed (with the power of Bing) to answer a variety of questions ranging from history to pop culture and everything in between, and you can even enable a “Skill” for her to play trivia games with you. Out of the box, she will play Rock, Paper, Scissors. You know, in case you need to decide who has to help the kids with their homework tonight. (She can do that, too.)
When we first welcomed Alexa to our home, our family was delighted to discover she is just as big a Flyers fan as we all are. She always knows when and where the next game is being played and against whom. (Of course, she will still help you out if you ask about a different team, or sport for that matter.)
We’ve also found her to be a worthy kitchen companion, offering helpful measurement conversions, explaining an assortment of cooking terms, and setting a timer. (If you aren’t that into cooking, you can have Alexa order you a Dominos pizza.) Alexa will also play dinner music for us when we finally sit down to eat. The Echo pulls music from your Amazon Prime Music account as well as TuneIn Radio and even Pandora and others, once enabled. You can request a specific song or your favorite genre. You can tell her to play it again, increase or decrease the volume, or skip, and you can ask for the artist or the name of the song is if it’s new to your ears.
When it comes to Alexa, Amazon seems to be a homerun in the making. The Amazon Echo can handle a wide variety of tasks and provides answers—both serious and witty—to countless questions you need only ask. Like, “Alexa, who’s on first,” “Alexa, who is the fairest of them all,” or my three-year-old’s personal favorite, “Alexa, what does the fox say?” Half of the fun of having an Amazon Echo in the house is discovering Alexa’s many Easter eggs. We’ve personally found too many to mention and that’s only a fraction of what she’s got up her sleeve, uh, speaker. More fun comes on the development side, as Amazon’s Alexa accepts user-developed “Skills,” essentially apps that give her new abilities.
If you find yourself completely enamored of Alexa, you are not alone. She has amassed nearly 32K customer reviews averaging out at 4.5 stars on Amazon.com. As with any budding technology, some rough edges exist, like needing to use very specific verbiage for certain requests or Alexa will tell you she doesn’t understand. But her capabilities are only expected to improve, refine, and grow even more over time. The tech geek in all of us may find it hard not to fall for Alexa, eventually. Many already have, asking, “Alexa, will you marry me….” and she has yet to accept a single proposal. (I kid. It’s just another Easter egg.) But seriously, you might want to cushion the blow.