For providing voice control of home automation products regardless of manufacturer, there may be no better product to “rule them all” than the Echo Dot.
You need a device connected to the local Wi-Fi network where the Dot is connected to complete the setup of the Dot. There are apps for Amazon Fire, Android, and iOS, or the Echo Dot can be set up using a PC connected to the Internet via the Alexa web site.
Plug in the Dot and the light ring will first turn blue (as in the above picture to the right) and then orange. When Alexa announces “she” is ready, you should connect directly to the Dot using the app on the device of your choice. Smartphones work fine, in this case.
We had our Dot unboxed and connected in ten minutes. Since this is the second Echo in the house, we already had the app installed and had some familiarity with the interface.
Could your Mom set it up? Probably not, the idea of first connecting to the Dot with another device would probably be the deal breaker. While the instructions are clear, the theory of connecting to the Dot in order to be able to set up the wireless connection will likely be at least a one phone call operation.
Follow the instructions in the app to connect the Dot to your local network, and you’re all set. At this point, the Dot is ready to perform routine Echo “skills”.
The real effectiveness of the Echo comes into play once “she” is connected to your home automation network.
This is a good point to digress for a minute to explain anthropomorphizing Echo products is a natural process. The default “wake up” word for Amazon Echo devices is “Alexa”. The other available options, “Amazon” and “Echo” (and now “Computer”) feel more stilted. After a few days of use, you will begin to think of the Echo device (or devices) in your house as a “she”.
This house uses Samsung SmartThings as an automation hub. Connecting the Dot to the SmartThings hub was a simple two minute procedure that worked flawlessly. The setup process connects to the SmartThings hub through the Internet (not via the local network).
Once connected to SmartThings, our house was afforded voice control over everything SmartThings connects to here. That includes lights, ceiling fans, and (with a Harmony Hub) entertainment electronics.
We discovered some words trip up Alexa and she refuses to budge. Our master bedroom lights were originally named “Master one” and “Master two”, and Alexa often refused to respond correctly. Naming them in a simpler fashion resolved that problem. Another issue was the “PlayStation”. Asking Alexa to “Turn PlayStation On” would often result in her offering music from our playlist on Amazon. Renaming it to “Game” solved that problem.
In practice, the Dot is seamless and the voice recognition is nearly flawless. The improvement in the software (updated frequently and invisibly) has made new features available and every function seems to improve incrementally as time goes on.
We are Amazon Prime members and the Echo products make that investment in shopping options and music storage work harder and it makes an Echo a more compelling choice.
The audio quality of the Echo Dot is significantly worse than that of the full size Echo, however the Dot can be attached to a Bluetooth speaker or wired into a sound system if listening to music is a priority. Connecting to an external Bluetooth speaker is as easy as putting the speaker in pairing mode, opening the Alexa app, and selecting the speaker from the list. Once done, quality streaming of Amazon music, Spotify, Pandora, and some online radio is available.
Once in awhile the Dot will wake up and do something unexpected when she hears something from the TV or elsewhere and interprets it as “Alexa, do something”. It’s not often and is related to a placement that is admittedly not ideal. If it creeps you out and makes you wonder if somebody with access to the Amazon API might listen in on your private conversations, a button is provided atop the Dot to shut off the microphone.
Having a web based interface accessible via any device connected to the Internet comes in handy for set up and any number of other things.
Having immediate access to Wikipedia and Google facts is a wonderful thing for answering those pesky dinner disagreements over Charlemagne and the Johnstown Flood. Ask Alexa, she’ll shut down those arguments before Uncle Bob throws a drumstick at Aunt Cynthia.
The rapid development of software and features for the Echo products has been remarkable. The hardware has all the “goodies” built in, so connecting to a wide range of local hardware will continue to be a breeze and developers will continue to come up with imaginative “skills” for Alexa to perform.
The Amazon infrastructure is nothing to sneeze at.
The wall wart transformer is poorly designed, protruding horizontally out of the wall into potential dog, small child, and poltergeist traffic zones waiting to be easily knocked out of the wall plug.
Look at the size of that thing in the picture compared to the hand of somebody that isn’t Donald Trump. It’s yooooge. We think the design should be revised to a vertical orientation to sit against a wall. If this transformer were plugged into a power strip under a desk, it wouldn’t be a problem. Since this Echo devices are designed to bring technology out into public places where power strips are less common, the transformer really needs to address that problem.
The Dot itself feels a little warm to the touch while idling. A laser thermometer pegged the top temperature at 93F and the bottom at 115F, not really very warm in our Arizona house with the A/C off in the Spring sitting at about 80F ambient temperature.
The Dot is a big winner.
We ordered our Echo Dot by asking the Alexa on our full size Echo in the living room to send us one. We did so because Alexa has become a useful addition to the household and we needed to extend her functionality to the other end of the house.
The Dot and Teddy Roosevelt reside atop the front left surround sound speaker next to the TV in the master bedroom. A subwoofer sits on the floor behind the TV, not three feet away from the Dot. Despite this sound polluted placement that flies in the face of everything Amazon recommends, Alexa performs admirably.
Between the two Echo devices, we are never out of voice range and can ask Alexa to perform a task without shouting. Often both devices will answer, but there has never been any weird conflict with something happening twice or anything such as that.
The voice recognition of the Echo is superior and reliable. As home automation becomes more mainstream, other manufacturers will certainly recognize the need for building in direct voice control.
However, the Echo works now, and developers are expanding it’s reach every day.
The availability of grocery shopping and everything else that goes along with the reach of Amazon make a voice control device designed to work with that infrastructure a compelling buy for people with any sort of disability.
The Dot is affordable at $90.