Having worked in the electronics retail industry for years now, I’ve seen scores of Smart devices come and go. Until now, nobody quite got it right. In the Echo Dot, Amazon has created a near perfect blend of hardware and software. I’ve seen plenty of the former, but truly seamless multi platform software has eluded everyone but Amazon. We’re talking major players like Samsung and Google who have been at it for much longer than Amazon. The main problem is that excellent products like the Samsung Smart Things hub, which do a fantastic job of unifying a slew of different connected devices from different companies (Nest, Honeywell, Phillips, and so on), still lacked the web connectivity and entertainment support I wanted, so I’d still end up needing my tablet or phone. Thanks to fantastic third party support, the Dot has no problem controlling all of my smart stuff while allowing me to listen to music, order food, check the weather, listen to the radio, set alarms and timers, all of which is easily accomplished through simple voice commands. To me, this is the exceedingly rare product that I didn’t know I needed, and now can’t live without. Similar to the smartphone and tablet I use every day that didn’t exist just a few short years ago.

 

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If you’re even a little bit curious you owe it to yourself to give the dot a try. Add a good speaker and enjoy just how simple a connected life can be!

Update: After a bit more time with the dot, or maybe I should say dots since I went out and bought another one for my living room, I’ve come up with a few tips.

1. Use the best speakers you can with it. I found that while Bluetooth was convenient I got much better sound out of my JBL duet computer speakers.

2. Take the time to voice train Alexa at least once. It’s kinda tedious but really improves the accuracy. I’ve now gone through three trainings with each dot, the phrasing gets more intricate with each, and it really is amazing how much of an improvement it makes. Kinda hard to quantify, but I’d guess Alexa is at least twice as likely to understand long, complex phrases and has also gained noticeable accuracy when ambient noise I’d present.

3. If a phrase doesn’t yield the results you’re looking for, reword it and try again. For instance, “Alexa, lower the temperature to 75 degrees” got no result, so I tried “Alexa, Honeywell Thermostat, 75 degrees” and she picked it up perfectly.

4. Take the time to look through all the skills. There’s a lot of helpful and just plain fun stuff in there, from strange facts to a calculator and everything in between, that really helps to enhance the experience.

5. I’d never really used my prime music prior to setting up my dots. Now I can’t live without it! I can say basically whatever I want and I get a result. My favs so far: “Alexa, play 90s music”, “Alexa, play indie music”, and “Alexa, play thunderstorm sounds”. The last one I ask to repeat and it plays all night. Really a great “freebie” if you’re a prime member.

6. I was a bit worried initially that Alexa might be triggered accidentally by ambient TV or general household noise, so I’m really impressed that it’s only happened twice so far. Both times in my living room when I was watching TV at high volume. If it’s a concern, the mic can be temporarily disabled, so the dot won’t trigger and listen accidentally.

7. I’ve had no problem pairing the dot to a variety of devices including: two different Bluetooth speakers, my Galaxy S7 edge, and pioneer receiver. I need to look into it further, but each time I paired my phone the Bluetooth connection to the speaker was lost, so I ended up having to listen to the built in speaker. Definitely not ideal for music, but no big deal if you’re using wired speakers. Plus, most Bluetooth sets offer an auxiliary input for wired listening.

8. It’s fun to ask Alexa general questions to see if she’s capable of finding the answers. So far I’ve gotten accurate responses to “Alexa, what’s the definition of”, “Alexa, how far away is”, “Alexa, Wikipedia” (just about anything you can think of and she’ll tell you more if you ask “Alexa, tell me more”). If you have the time, ask her a set of questions and you’ll quickly get used to her nuances.

9. Even though the microphones are extremely sensitive and quite accurate, I’ve found that the Dot works best when placed on a surface that’s close to the level of the person speaking to it. Generally speaking, three to five feet off the ground. Alexa had some trouble hearing my requests when the dot was placed above or behind me. If you’d like to place the dot higher, it works much better when flush with the wall, instead of sitting on a shelf etc. I tried both setups and found with a couple nails set apart to make a cradle facing the dot out towards the room works best for me (sorry for the run on sentence lol).

Suggestions for Improvement:

1. Unlike the upcoming Google Home BT speaker, the Dot and other Alexa devices are unable to answer general web queries. They do a decent job of answering factual questions like “How far away is the sun” but I’d really like too see Amazon add a “search” function.

2. Not Amazon’s fault, but several of the news briefing skills update infrequently and volume levels vary enough that I’d find myself constantly changing the volume level to match.

3. I enabled briefings from several outlets like NPR, BBC, AP, and so on. I’d suggest you pick one or two and stick with them, otherwise you’ll here the same news over and over. I ended up going with BBC and AP briefings.