After almost 2 months living with Alexa I think the time has come to give my honest opinion about him Echo Dot from Amazon. As a user of “virtual assistants”, I have just used the Google Assistant, and in that sense I think that Alexa's artificial intelligence takes a thousand turns. But be careful, because not all are virtues, and if we go to detail, there are still many things to improve in the Amazon assistant.
Echo Dot Technical Specifications
The first thing we have to say is that Alexa as such is not a devicebut a program. It may seem silly, but there are still a lot of people who confuse them. The devices that contain Alexa inside are the voice-controlled Echo smart speakers (Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Plus) and the new smart display Echo Show 5.
In my case, as a novice user, I have chosen to buy an Echo Dot, which is the cheapest speaker that Amazon offers right now, and after a while using it, I have become increasingly clear that it is the most recommended solution. Why? Well, mainly because for its size it has a power that, honestly, is surprising. In addition, to communicate with Alexa and interact with her we are more than enough - unless we live in a mansion.
That said, let's see what its qualities and technical specifications are:
- Third generation Echo Dot device.
- Speakers with a size of 44mm.
- Voice control of Digital Home devices.
- Playing music in streaming.
- 3.5mm jack for auxiliary audio output.
- Calls between Echo devices, devices with the Alexa app and Skype.
- Automatic update through the cloud.
- 4 long-range microphones.
It should also be mentioned that the Echo Dot does not have USB charging, which means that it must be connected to an electrical outlet at all times.
When giving my opinion I am going to focus only on the Alexa functions that I use most often. Each user can exploit different aspects of the device, since it is a fairly versatile gadget, so if I leave any details in the pipeline, do not hesitate to ask me in the comments area.
One of the things that first strikes us about Alexa is how well she understands us. Not one escapes him. You can say a phrase in Spanish with words in English and it almost always catches them on the fly. I suppose the fact that it incorporates up to 4 long-range microphones helps make it a very dedicated listener.
Conversations with Alexa
The good thing about this whole system is that Alexa is halfway between what is a program with preset responses and what we could consider a human. Let's see, at all times we know that we are talking to an A.I., but the fact that you can ask her if she is happy, if she sings a rap or tells you a joke helps communication to be much closer.
In addition to the typical functions that come standard, we can expand the features of Alexa by adding "Skills". It is what is known as “skills”, and it is something similar to installing apps on the mobile. There are skills of various types:
- Radio and podcast: Alexa has a lot of radio and podcast applications (Onda Cero, Los40, iVoox, Radio 3, Kiss FM…). They are very good because they allow you to listen to the radio live or listen to podcasts of old programs.
- Relaxing sounds: Another of the most powerful skill sections is that of ambient sounds. We can hear hours of sounds of streams, storms, night forest, wind in the field, birds and many others. For example, on very hot days I like to play the sound of rain (it helps to create a false feeling of coolness).
- Games: If we are bored we can also try some games, such as the chained words, the Trivial Pursuit or Akinator. They don't add much when it comes to “productivity”, but they are fun and a great time-wasting tool.
- Several: Alexa also has skills for gastronomic recipes, others to control smart devices at home (lights, temperature, webcams), news and many other topics. There is one that I find the most interesting, called "Guardian Dog", which simulates the barking of a dog to scare away thieves when we are away from home. In short, there is something for everyone.
Lists and reminders
If our intention is to use the Echo Dot with Alexa as a virtual assistant to work, these are the 2 utilities that we are going to use the most without a doubt. Being able to dictate any new appointment, reminder or idea out loud, helps a lot when it comes to organization. It also allows us to write down anything that comes to mind at the moment, something is great if we have a very creative job or in which we have to make many decisions.
Of course, it is also perfect for keeping track of your shopping list and any other household chores.The lists and reminders, the best that Alexa offers right now.
All Amazon Alexa devices, like this Echo Dot, allow you to listen to streaming music from Amazon Music completely free, and the truth is that the experience is the most satisfactory in general. The catalog of songs is wide and reasonable, and the best of all is that we can ask for individual songs, songs from a specific group or even things like "Alexa, put on happy music", "Alexa, for some pop-rock" or "Alexa, put on music from the 50's." In this sense, you can get enough juice out of the matter.
After reviewing the high points of Alexa, let's see those other sections that do not leave us such a good taste in our mouths.
Skills generally don't allow for much interaction
Alexa skills or "abilities" are generally not very interactive and do not accept too many commands from the user. In many cases the interaction is limited to opening the app and letting it do what it has to do.
For example, if we install the iVoox app and we want to listen to a podcast that lasts 2 hours, the system does not allow to advance in the reproduction or to jump. And with the rest of the skills, more or less the same thing happens: at most they recognize 2 or 3 different types of orders.
Something that on the other hand does not happen with native Alexa skills, such as managing lists, tasks, reminders or listening to music on Amazon Music, where there is more room for interaction.
We understand that we are still at an early stage when it comes to skill development by third parties. Functional yes, but with enough room for improvement.In contrast to native Amazon skills, third-party skills are not very flexible and still have a lot of room for improvement.
The latest music news is missing
The Amazon Music repertoire is very large, but if we look for recent songs we will have it complicated, since many of these songs are only available on Amazon Music Unlimited (and yes, this service is paid).
For example, if you want to listen to Blur's album "The Magic Whip," which came out four years ago, you have to go premium. It's as simple as telling Alexa to put on other Blur records and voila, but it is clear that the basic music service is more aimed at people who are looking for songs of a lifetime (they are all: from Queen, The Beatles, David Bowie, Rolling Stones, etc.).
Quality suffers when we force the volume to the maximum
If we keep the volume at a reasonable level the quality is very good considering the size of the Echo Dot. For practical purposes, if we have the speaker in a room of about 20 or 30 square meters we will not have a problem and the sound will be heard very well. Of course, if we raise the volume to the maximum, the audio worsens substantially.
We need a mobile and a WiFi to configure Alexa and make it work
If we are thinking of giving Alexa to a friend who lives in the country or an elderly relative, we must bear in mind that there is a minimum requirement: we need a mobile to make the first configurations, as well as a WiFi network to connect to. If we are going to give Alexa to our grandfather who only uses the landline and does not have WiFi at home, or to a colleague who lives in an area with limited connectivity, perhaps we should give him something else.
Another factor that worries many people is the issue of the low privacy that Alexa offers, and the truth is that they are right. From the outset, Alexa is configured to send the conversations we have with her to Amazon (in order to improve transcripts), and it does not allow us to delete voice history either. In both cases, it is something that we must enable ourselves by hand in the configuration panel.
Echo Dot and Alexa: Opinion and final assessment
As a person who works from home, Alexa has supposed a whole “upgrade” when it comes to organization. It is very practical to carry out all your day-to-day tasks, listen to the news, get weather information and more. We are also going to enjoy it for a long time if we like to create a good atmosphere with relaxing sounds appropriate to each moment. And of course, the possibility of requesting songs from Alexa is quite a hoot.
Then we have other less vibrant things, such as the demands of the device: mandatory wiring to electricity, mobile phone and a WiFi network. The sound is very good as long as we do not exceed certain limits, and privacy must be adjusted by hand, which does not seduce us too much.
Taking a general balance, I would say that it is a device that can be used a lot. It is more expensive than a regular Bluetooth speaker, but for that extra price the bonuses we get more than compensate. Without a doubt, Alexa will evolve to a much more complete artificial intelligence, and they will polish many edges. But as it is now, it already offers enough value to be considered a very solid and interesting virtual assistant.
Price and availability
At the time of writing this review the Amazon Echo Dot has a price that is around 59.99 euros on Amazon. It should be noted that this is an approximate price and that it may change (something that I can confirm personally, since when I bought it in May it had a price of 39 euros). Do not lose sight of it!
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