Since Apple first introduced the world to its loveable Virtual Assistant ‘Siri’ in 2011, the industry has since been flooded with competition. From Amazon’s ‘Alexa’ to Microsoft’s ‘Cortana,’ Virtual Assistants have popped up on almost every new gadget. These intelligent devices can send your texts, make important calls, book Ubers, set reminders and read your latest emails. Aimed to make users’ lives simpler, they can also provide recommendations for restaurants, hotels and even the quickest way to get home from work with the least traffic.
This technology and the use of Artificial Intelligence has come a long way from original voice assist technology, which only had the capacity for singular commands such as ‘Play Music’ or ‘Set alarm.’ My first encounter with this technology was provided by Apple on the iPhone 3G which, to be honest, was underwhelming and not a feature I ever really used. I believe I actually turned this feature off to preserve battery. So with the latest developments, and after much research and deliberation, I sought to fill the Virtual Assistant-shaped void in my life.
The Amazon Echo and ‘Alexa’
As a millennial, who is a sucker for a good advertising campaign and loves scoring a bargain, I ordered the Amazon Echo on Prime Day. At more than 47% off the RRP, I couldn’t have put my details in fast enough. Alexa (or Lex, as we like to call her) arrived two days later, in all her glory. Much larger than I expected, the Echo is an impressive piece of gadgetry; standing at almost 25cm in height and 1kg in weight, the Echo definitely feels luxurious. Initial set-up was super-quick and easy using the partnering Amazon Alexa app, which prompts you through all steps. After becoming acquainted, and testing out the ‘Alexa, Tell me a joke’ novelty, it was time to get down to business.
As I am blessed with an Australian accent, previous voice recognition devices have sometimes been unable to recognise certain words or phrases. When I ordered it, I was worried that Alexa would not be able to understand my slang from down under. Surprisingly, Alexa can understand my accent, as well as my partner’s, without the need to switch languages. Alexa’s ‘Skills’ are easy to install and use, with the ability to enable and disable skills whenever you like. Most of the skills also have an almost intuitive wake up phrase, such as ‘Alexa, start Radio Player.’ The Echo can also double as a Bluetooth speaker, with amazingly clear and crisp 360-degree omni-directional audio. It also features seamless third-party integration for applications like Spotify and Fitbit, together with the integration of the Amazon family of applications (Kindle, Audible). I use the Echo daily to keep me updated in the news, play my audiobooks, listen to the radio and compile my shopping list.
However, it is not all sunshine and rainbows. Amazon still has a long way to go in working out all the kinks. For one, the Echo does not charge, at all. As soon as it is unplugged, it is rendered useless, which is disappointing considering how powerful it is as a Bluetooth speaker. There are also many pointless skills available for download in the app store, which are hard to sift through to find ones you were searching for. The Echo can also be activated by your neighbours who own a cat called Alexa, which can be positive or negative, depending on how you get on with your neighbours.
All in all, the Amazon Echo is a welcome addition to any busy household. With its sleek, stylish and function design, I don’t think I could go back to not having one. With future development and refinement of the Amazon family of products (Currently, the Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Show) and their inhabitant Alexa, I can definitely see them becoming staple multi-use tools, with many scattered throughout the home.