Amazon Echo – How is it performing so far?

I’ve had the Amazon Echo for about a month now and we’ve put Alexa through its paces. Here’s what we use it for and what we haven’t.

How Has the Echo Fared?

The kids were thrilled initially when the Echo came online a month back. They started bombarding Alexa with a whole slew of questions, most of which ended up confounding Alexa’s AI skills.

Simple trivia questions when worded right yielded answers which the kids found useful like:

What is the square root of two?

When did World War 2 end?

Is it going to Rain today?

Who’s the author of the book the Three Musketeers?

What is the meaning of majority?

Even greeting Alexa with a “Good Morning” gives some morning trivia on most days.

Then there are quite a few queries which Alexa couldn’t answer, either because it couldn’t understand or because it didn’t know how to process the question. But since Alexa’s AI lives on Amazon’s cloud, it get better with time as it learns from it’s mistakes.

At times during a normal course of conversation, Alexa suddenly tends to wake up even though we didn’t utter the Alexa wake word. There was one time when I was alone at home and Alexa just woke up in the next room and said it coudn’t understand my request. I wonder if there was a ghost whispering to Alexa.

If you have an Echo and haven’t yet done it, setup a Do Not Disturb time and schedule it during the night time so you don’t get woken up due to random Alexa wake up or reminders which someone mistakenly setup for 2am instead of 2pm.

What do we use it for?

Music

Most of the time we use Alexa to play some music over the Echo. This is really convenient, especially during meal times, since we don’t have to fidget with the phone or a remote to play or skip tracks. A simple voice command to play a song, or a mix gets the music going. The Amazon’s Library still has quite a few of our favorite songs missing, but I hope their library improves with time.

Alexa play some Rod Steward

Alexa play Roar by Katie Perry

Alexa play some Instrumental Music

Shopping Lists

Another useful task which Alexa helps with is the grocery shopping. Now anyone at home can ask Alexa to add items to the shopping list at any time. When I’m at the store, I just whip up the Alexa app on the phone and go though the entire list.

Alexa add Peanut butter & Jam to my Shopping List

Reminders

Reminders is also a great feature, where I set reminders for various tasks and the great part of this feature is that even when I’m not at home, the reminder pops up on my phone too.

Alexa remind me to call the plumber on Saturday

News and Weather

One skill I find indispensable in the mornings is Alexa’s Flash briefing, which reads out the news from various sources via the additional ‘skills’ which I’ve installed and the weather for the day. While running through the morning chores and exercises, this gets me up to speed for the day with a mix of Local, international & tech news without having to scroll through my feeds.

Alexa what’s on the news today?

Alexa what’s my flash briefing?

What Skills have I enabled?

Alexa Skills are add-ons on the default functionality of Alexa. While there are quite a few skills available on the Alexa App, it’s hard to find one which we would end up using regularly.

Apart from the various news skills I’ve added, Ola and Uber’s Skills. On days I don’t take my car out for work, I just ask Alexa to book a Cab while I’m getting ready.

Alexa, Ask Ola to book a cab to work

Alexa, ask Uber to call me an Uber Go to work

What haven’t I tried yet?

Ordering food via Fresh menu, Zomato and others is something I haven’t had a chance to do yet. I find navigating restaurant menus via voice prompts to be slow and I’d rather just skim the menu and order via the mobile apps.

You can also ask Alexa to order items via Amazon to be delivered home. The only problem is right now the orders are only on COD ( Cash on Delivery ) basis, which is a pain since someone has to be home to receive the items and have exact change to pay for the order. I just wish they’d tie this feature to the Amazon Pay balance to ease the process.

Another thing I’d like to do is to hook up Alexa to a smart home system to control home appliances and lighting. I haven’t tried it out yet, since the Smart home gadgets in the market are still priced on the higher side. I’ll wait till the prices drop a little before venturing out there.

Thoughts

While Alexa hasn’t made any revolutionary change at home, I find that our music consumption has increased ( and so has my internet line’s bandwidth utilization ) since we started using the Echo. Especially music the family listens to when we’re at home. Maybe in time when I do end up hooking up a smart home system into Alexa, we may use it for more household commands.

For now, I’m going back to listen to some Christmas music to get into the Christmas spirit.

Alexa play some Christmas Songs

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