Is there an echo in here?
When I first started thinking about getting an Amazon Echo, I asked the family member who serves as our tech guru if he already owned any sort of smart speaker.
“What?” he asked, incredulously. “And let Google listen in to everything in my house, 24 hours a day?”
Well, yes, there’s that. There was a cartoon a while back that showed people in the 70s paranoid that they are were being wiretapped, and then in the next panel a modern woman in her kitchen is saying, to her Echo, “Wiretap … what’s a good recipe for hummus?”
But, frankly, Amazon and Google probably already know quite a bit about me. And it’s not as if there’s someone in Seattle whose full-time job is to listen in to my Echo.
Long story short, my Echo arrived this morning. So far, I’m enjoying it. For now, I’ll use it mostly for podcasts and music, and I imagine I’ll listen to my “daily briefing” each morning as I get ready for work. I played the daily “Jeopardy!” game today, and that was fun, too. During the week, it uses the same categories as that day’s TV game, one question per category — these are “extra” questions, not the questions used in the game. I can even order pizza on the thing, from most of the major national chains.
Right now, I’m not using any smart-home features. But some aspects of that would be very easy to set up — there are Alexa-enabled light bulbs and plug adapters galore. An increasing number of appliances, thermostats, etc., are being sold with either Alexa or Google Home compatibility (or both). You can buy Alexa-compatible universal remotes, which — once properly set up — allow you to use Alexa voice commands to operate your TV and so on. I may try one of the light bulbs eventually. (“Alexa — turn on the downstairs light.”)
I am amazed, first off, that a single unit, about the size of a can of Chunky clam chowder, has such good sound. It’s got a downward-facing woofer and an upward-facing tweeter, according to the cutaway drawning at the Amazon website, and it really does a nice job for its size. (It also has an auxiliary jack that would let you use external speakers.)
Even before my Echo arrived, I was on the Amazon website downloading skills for it.
So far, voice recognition has been excellent, even when there’s background noise.
You can set up various news sources for your daily briefing, and when you ask Alexa it will go through them in your prescribed order — say, weather, headlines from your favorite national news source, your favorite Tennessee news source, sports scores, some sort of quote-of-the-day or joke-of-the-day or Bible-verse-of-the-day, and so on and so forth.
I have been so pleased that I’d eventually like to get a much-less-expensive, hockey-puck-shaped Echo Dot for upstairs. The Echo Dot’s speakers aren’t as good, of course, but I’m sure they’re fine for spoken word stuff. I could use the Echo Dot for my daily alarm, then start the daily briefing upstairs while getting dressed, pause it, and then resume it downstairs on big brother Echo.
As I write this, I’m listening to “Live From Here” on WPLN using the myTuner Radio skill. (I don’t actually have a portable or clock radio anywhere in the house, so I had been listening it to it on my computer or watching the YouTube livestream on Roku.)
Yes, it was a splurge. But I’ve been working some overtime lately, and I wanted it, and I think it will turn out to be a good purchase.