Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Amazon Echo...I heart Alexa

The first thing I want to review here is the Amazon Echo…specifically because, as time goes on, we’ve been using it for more and more things around the house. The Echo, if you haven’t seen it, is a round black cylinder that’s smaller than a 2 liter soda bottle but larger than a standard soda bottle. You access the system by using either “Alexa” or “Amazon” as the wake word…so, I call a request by starting with “Hey Alexa…” As Prime members, we were given the option to purchase it before release date, and for the discount price of $99. Initially, we were excited and out of the box, the Echo was easy to set up. It connected to our internet with no real difficulties, and it worked will as a Bluetooth speaker for our iPhones or a speaker for our Amazon playlists. But we weren’t really using it for much more until last fall. After a few reviews and articles came out detailing what the Echo could do, and after getting emails from about new features, we started actually using it. Here are some of the big changes we put into action. The first thing we purchased was the WEMO plug in switch for our Christmas lights. We were continuously battling the Christmas tree to try and get behind it to turn on the lights. We installed the WEMO switch and could tell Alexa to turn on our Christmas lights, which was awesome. After Christmas, we moved the plug in to a lamp, and it’s fantastic to walk in our house and tell Alexa to turn on the lamp. We don’t have to fumble in the dark for a light switch. Unfortunately, the switch has been somewhat spotty in its reliability. We lost internet connection once and had to reset the whole thing. Then, after our power went out, the plug in worked through the WEMO app, but not through Alexa. However, it’s super cheap ($40 on Amazon, the last time I checked) and it has worked pretty well. The next thing we added were Phillips Hue bulbs. This has a hub that is connected to the internet and controls all hue bulbs. We keep the hub near our computer upstairs, and can control colors and lighting schemes through the Phillips app. We can’t change colors through the Echo, but we can turn the light bulbs on and off. I love the Hue, and its reliability is much more stable. We’ve had the Hue installed almost as long as the WEMO switch, and have not lost connectivity yet. Next, we installed a WEMO light switch for the front porch. This is nice when we have the pizza guy coming, or if we’re coming in the front door and need to turn it on through the app. The light switch has kept much more solid connectivity with the Echo. One aspect I really like is setting up groups of lights. So, we can make “downstairs lights” to turn everything on, “living room lights” to turn on just the lamps in the living room, or “AJ’s room” for turning on the kids room when I’m giving him piggy back rides and don’t have any hands. Besides the lighting options, we began using the shopping list feature, which I have found exceptionally helpful since the whole family can add things – especially the 5 year old. We do our grocery shopping online, so being able to pull up what everyone wants is easy, and the kid can add things without knowing how to spell. We’ve used the feature that allows you to order things through Amazon from time to time, but I prefer to look at what I’m ordering, so I don’t use that as much as others might. Eventually, we discovered that Amazon music allows users to upload a large portion of their own collection to Amazon music for free. This was great since, as Apple users, we’ve bought a ton of music on iTunes, so we liked having access to that without having to re-buy things. We’ve creating playlists for all of us – AJ even has his own playlist with Disney songs and the theme to Ghostbusters. We are looking at adding a door lock that’s tied to Alexa and the addition of the Nest is a big plus for us since my temperature varies from 70 to 72 degrees on a regular basis. Just to give some insight, we bought Echos for my two besties and their spouses for Christmas while they were on sale. One couple has loved the addition of Alexa in their life and they use it to regularly play games and hear jokes. The other couple has used it for little more than a speaker - and while they like the sound it produces, they aren't taking advantage of much else. The lesson here is that, if you don't mind doing just a bit of research on the capabilities of the Echo, you will come to love it. However, if you're not into technology and really don't want to spend too much time learning something new, the technology may be lost on you. One other word of note, I haven't used the If This Then That capabilities of the Echo, and I have a feeling that will open up a whole new host of capabilities. I'll share once I've spent some time learning. I should be getting the new Amazon Dot and the new iPad Pro later this week, so I will review those soon. XOXO

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