Fantastic technology, such as touchscreen computers, cell phones, drones, electric cars, voice-controlled thermostats and security systems have become the new standard, so it’s no surprise that you can now have your own robotic personal assistant to place pizza orders, tell you what the weather is like and add things to your shopping list, all while sitting on your sofa.
Amazon’s Alexa is an intelligent personal assistant that is available through the use of Amazon’s Echo products, which are voice-controlled wireless speakers that act like personal assistants with Alexa’s help. Placing one of these devices in your home or apartment, after setting it up via the app, allows you to do a myriad of things such as set alarms, change the thermostat temperature, turn off the lights and listen to music all by simply telling Alexa that’s what you want her to do. The long-reaching microphone built into the Echo products picks up on your voice commands, and Alexa responds and executes them just like if you were talking to an actual assistant.
Though there’s little doubt the the Amazon Alexa is a wonderful product that makes life easier for anyone who owns it, when it comes to college students, there is always a trade-off between price and value. Yes, such a useful electronic butler would make playing cumbia while you make guacamole a hands-free experience, but is it worth giving up your Uber budget for the next two months? So here, broken down into categories, is an examination of whether or not you, as a penniless young undergrad, should splurge on an automated Jeeves.
Echo products, which include the Echo Dot, Amazon Echo, Amazon Tap and Echo Show, range from $30-230 on Amazon. The Echo is a number one best-seller in the Home and Audio Speakers category on the website, while the Echo Dot is the cheapest and most reasonable choice for a college student; plus, with a $30-50 price tag, it’s hard to pass up.
Amazon Show is one of two newly released Alexa-enabled products and has a screen that allows you to watch YouTube videos, display recipes, view photos and watch video feeds from your security cameras. The Show is an amazing product, but probably not for the average college student, especially with the $230 sticker shock. The other newly released product is the Echo Look, a hands-free camera and style assistant. However, the Echo Look is available only through invitation.
The Sky’s the Limit
One of the most fantastic features of these products is that they can learn skills. What a crazy and amazing idea that your voice-enabled wireless speaker is not only mimicking voice and understanding your conversation and commands, but it appears to be learning almost like a human would. In reality, what is really happening is that you are metaphorically skimming through a list and clicking “enable this skill” on the list of skills, which then allows your specific device to learn that skill so it can execute it whenever you use the corresponding command.
Earlier in the year, Starbucks announced that they were working with Amazon to enable ordering with Alexa, and it is really exciting to see what the future holds for these products and this area of technology in general. Alexa can also interact with numerous devices from various companies, including ecobee, Nest Thermostats, Philips Hue, Smart Things and Wink, on top of being able to order household items from AmazonPrime and food from sites like Grubhub, Pizza Hut, Dominos and others.
The list of possibilities is stunning. You can order pizza, takeout, an Uber, be sorted into your Hogwarts house, listen to an audio book, be told jokes, have homework questions answered or even request a genre of music be played, and Alexa will comply without asking for further instructions. Rather than saying something very specific, such as “Please play Christmas Playlist XYZ” or “Play ‘White Christmas’ by Michael Bublé,” you can just say “Play Christmas music” and Alexa will execute the command, unlike similar voice-activated helpers who end up falling short by showing that they don’t understand what you want by asking a follow-up question.
I frequently use Alexa to set alarms when I am working on my computer and I need to leave for work or run an errand before a certain time. Rather than glancing at the clock every few minutes or checking my phone, I just ask Alexa to do it. I really hate the alternative of setting a timer or alarm in my phone, because then I have to delete that particular alarm later or double-check my phone to make sure I shut down the timer rather than accidentally restarting it.
So, Is It Worth It?
Although most of the Alexa-enabled products from Amazon are quite pricey, the Echo Dot is insanely affordable considering what it can do. I bought mine for $35.99 on Amazon, and it has made my life so much easier. I love the convenience of laying on my bed and telling Alexa all the things I need to do and what alarms I need to have set.
I don’t have to get my phone from where it’s charging and try to type things into a list on my phone or fiddle with temporary alarms that I will later need to delete. I can also listen to music without moving an inch; I just need to speak and Alexa takes care of the rest. It really is a treat to own one of these and the benefits easily outweigh the cost. Plus, if Amazon products aren’t for you, there are alternatives like the Google Home, Jam Voice and mycroft.