Echo & Alexa
I bought the Amazon Echo earlier this week on a bit of a whim. Amazon had reduced the price from £149.99 to £99.99, but that's still expensive of course. I thought that this was a permanent reduction, but checking the Amazon site today it has reverted to the higher price.
Set up was fairly painless using the app on iOS. Reviews of the said app weren't great, but this perhaps relates more to accessing content than the set up process. Having signed in with your Amazon details you first need to connect to the Echo's WiFi network, which appears in the available WiFi connections in iOS Settings. This done you need to connect to your own WiFi. At this point I did have a problem in that Echo failed to connect to my BT Hub, which was literally right next to it. The Amazon help information recommended that I switch Echo off, and then power up again. After this going through the process worked.
Having spoken to Alexa and tried a few simple commands, next I set up the two 'Skills' needed to communicate with my recently installed HIVE system. This was painless, and I've tried asking Alexa to increase the temperature. This worked, although while the new temperature was shown on my iOS HIVE app, it didn't alter the target temperature on the physical thermostat. Time will tell how this will perform in practice, but not while the weather is still warm enough to not need the central heating.
Alexa does basic calculations: addition, multiplication, division, roots and powers. But when asked to differentiate x-cubed she didn't understand. Just testing! If you say good morning to her she will give you a little snippet of news, or tell you what happened in history on the day in question. She will tell you the time, the weather forecast and probably many other things I haven't yet tried.
The 'Skills' I mentioned are to Alexa what apps are to iOS and Android. No doubt the portfolio will grow as developers think of things to incorporate. However, browsing through what's there at the moment on the iOS app is a bit laborious. A large number of companies have already developed skills, but you need separately to enable each one if you want to use it. As an Amazon Prime member I get access to a range of Amazon Music, something that I haven't availed myself of up to now. But asking Alexa to "play some gentle music" works quite well over breakfast, when I don't want to suffer Chris Evans, or be distracted by lots of chat on terrestrial radio. Choosing a specific piece or artist is also easily done.
It's early days and I'm sure that Alexa has a lot more things to offer. So far the experience has been quite enjoyable. Did I need Echo? Almost certainly not, but fascination with technology is a difficult habit to break.