Echo Dot Voice Controlled Smart Device

Voice enable devices is one of those things I had a hard time warming up to. It probably didn’t help me to see movies like “Her” or 2001:A Space Odyssey; “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” The whole technology just seemed creepily inadequate to serve any useful purpose in my daily life.

On the other hand we have benevolent (and useful) voice enabled computer tech in shows like Star Trek and Knight Rider. Back in the day, I would have bought a Trans Am if I could have gotten it with Kitt.  Sadly, the reality never came close to the science fiction hype.

Recently I put those feelings aside to give Alexa another spin and see if it’s something that can actually be a positive thing. I’d tried Alexa early on when there wasn’t very much to try. Somehow, holding the button on my tablet and saying “Play Pandora” didn’t seem any easier than just clicking the little icon. The same applied to those other answerbots Siri and Cortana. The whole chitchat thing just wasn’t doing it for me.

Now, thanks to a nifty little device called Echo Dot, I think I may have seen the light on the benefits of Alexa enabled devices. The latest generation of voice-enbabled wireless assistants have come a long way in turning one-time frivolous desires into essential home tech.

So, what is Echo Dot?  Echo Dot (or just “Dot”) is voice-controlled computer, about the size of a large hockey puck,  with a small built-in speaker for audio output.   It is the tiny sibling of the earlier Amazon Echo, with only a couple of differences.  The most noticeable is size.  Dot is about one-third the size of the original Echo, and most of that is just the missing speaker.

Like the older Echo, Dot uses a WiFi signal to connect to the Alexa web service.  Once you setup and personalize the Dot with the free Alexa App from your phone, tablet or computer, you never need connect to it again. Dot connects directly to the Alexa cloud back-end and responds to all of your requests independently.  You can use it to play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather, and more simply by voice command.

Another difference is that Dot can also connect to your speakers or headphones over Bluetooth or through a 3.5 mm audio cable to deliver stereo sound to the speakers you choose.

That would be useful enough, but Dot also works with smart home devices such as lights, switches, fans, thermostats, and other enabled devices from a selection of home control companies like Philips, WeMo, Nest and ecobee.

What I like about the Amazon Echo Dot

If you’ve never tried the Alexa app on your phone or tablet you should give it a try.  It’s easy to setup and fun to play around with.  Once you have the app up and running you just need to add the Dot to your profile.

You can configure your music sources from Amazon to Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio and TuneIn.   You can also configure a bunch of web services to provide things like weather, sports, news and commentary.  If you don’t see what you like, check out  many of pre-made skills that are available from the Amazon shop for free.  You’ll find silly things like Magic 8 Ball or Question of the Day, and useful apps like WebMD and others.

In addition to those virtual services, you can enable a gaggle of real-world services such as Domino’s Pizza Delivery, Uber ride service or placing an online specialty order.

Sound output is one of the big differences between the Echo and the Dot.  The Dot has a very tiny speaker meant primarily for Alexa’s output, but capable of audio streaming as well.  The speaker by itself is not so convincing, and doesn’t compare to the Echo, but because it has both Bluetooth and wired connections, you can easily connect a great sounding speaker to the Dot.  In any case, you’ll get a room filled with 360º omni-directional audio.

Voice recognition has improved significantly over the earlier model, with the inclusion of an array of seven microphones that use beam-forming technology and enhanced noise cancellation.  Dot has better wake-word response, so you can be heard from any direction—even in noisy environments or while playing music.

Through partnerships with leading home automation companies, Dot can controls lights, fans, switches, thermostats, garage doors, sprinklers, locks, and more with compatible connected devices.  It can serve as the center of a home control system, or as part of an array of home control devices.

Because it’s connected to Alexa web services, it’s always learning and improving.  I’ve tried a number of strange requests and got some surprising answers.  Of course, you’ll entertain yourself for hours just finding the Alexa Easter Eggs.

Like many other Amazon devices it includes Dual Band WiFi for less troublesome connections and better interaction with Bluetooth enabled devices.

Company Information

Amazon.com is an American electronic commerce and cloud computing company  founded in July, 1994 by Jeff Bezos.  It is based in Seattle, Washington and has become the largest Internet-based retailer in the world.

The company also produces consumer electronics—notably, Kindle e-readers, Fire tablets, Fire TV and the Echo—and is the world’s largest provider of cloud infrastructure services.

In the Fall of 2016 they began shipping the 2nd Generation Amazon Echo Dot.

Amazon Echo Dot (2nd Generation)

Product Highlights

  • Uses Alexa to voice control a variety of media and home control applications
  • Connects to external speaker via Bluetooth or 3.5 mm stereo cable 
  • Works with WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Nest, ecobee, and others
  • Improved voice recognition even in loud room
  • Includes a built-in speaker for basic functions, voice response and playback
  • Hundreds of applications including major Music Services, Uber and  Domino’s

The Echo Dot has received numerous rave reviews for both its ease of use and ability to perform a wide assortment of daily tasks.

Some customer reviews

Until now, nobody quite got it right. In the Echo Dot, Amazon has created a near perfect blend of hardware and software.

This re-release of a critically acclaimed device is quite honestly a grand slam. Although slightly smaller then last years release, this device now picks up your voice even better! Im talking litterally talking leaps and bounds better.

My wife, an initial skeptic, is really surprised by how smart the Echo Dot is, and my kid loves it as well.