Alexa, what have I done with my life?

I am now officially one of a large number of people who are obsessed with smart technology. If you are not familiar, I will fill you in.

Smart devices

You may have heard the phrase “Smart devices” being thrown around. Most mobile phones are considered as smart devices because of their ability to connect to diffrent things like TVs and run apps. Currently there is a market for smart devices such as the ‘Amazon Echo’ and ‘Google Home’ which are home audio speakers that have microphone attached to them allowing you to ask commands. You can program the speaker in certain ways so that a particular phrase will make it perform a specific set of actions.

I recently bought an Amazon Echo on a whim simply because I often listen to music in the kitchen and I liked the idea of being able to say “Alexa, play the Beatles” and in a second I have ‘love me do’ pouring into the room. I wasn’t thinking of the extra abilities when I bought it.

The device is great fun for saying things like “Alexa, tell me about quantum theory” or “Alexa, what is the distance from earth to the moon” but you soon realise that is the novelty factor, but there is a lot more to be achieved.

Greater things

A friend of mine is also an echo addict and we recently shared our obsession. Over the Christmas holidays it has been a lot worse. With Christmas. Money to spend, and staying up until 3am watching demonstration videos on advanced programming and tech for smart homes. When someone gets into smart tech it is all you think about. There are hundreds of possibilities out there to explore.

I have since upgraded my smart home to contain security devices, smart plugs, smart lighting, TV control, audio control, advanced Bluetooth capability. It is exciting (for the moment).

Currently when I get home I say “Alexa watch TV” and she will turn on my receiver to the right channel of audio, turn on the TV and specifically switch it to BBC1. She will then turn on the lights in the lounge. At any point I can pick up my mobile phone and it can control all of the devices and some of the lighting in my home.

There is certainly a lot of trial and error involved in getting this right, but when it works it saves alot of time.

My friend who also has an echo not only has the ability to call me through it so we can have phone conversations but he has the ability to “Drop in”. At anytime he can request to hear the microphones on my alexa so that he can hear what is being discussed in my house and to chip in when he feels like it. This is quite creepy. I can imagine this being an idea for a program such as black mirror. Obviously, you can only give certain people this ability and I only give this option to my family and close friends.

Setting the mood

I haven’t yet conquered the mood settings for alexa. You can buy wifi enabled smart bulbs that you can change the colour of and have dimming abilities. Someone online was able to say “Alexa, set the mood” and all the lights dimmed by 50% and changed to a warming yellow. You could program activities so that certain devices have certain colours. Watching a sci-fi film might make the room green, watching a horror: red. These bulbs aren’t cheap though, they’ll set you back £40 a bulb and with some Phillip’s bulbs you have to buy extra compatible devices which cost £50+.

What the future holds

The amazon echo is currently £69.99 and in my opinion the sound quality is good for music. It doesn’t necessarily compete with Sonos or Bose but it is good for a range of different genres. Amazon have released the amazon dot which is half the price. The dot has all the same functionality but the sound speakers aren’t as good. The dot would be useful if you want the listening ability for another room.

I am very excited about the amazon spot which has not come out in the UK yet. The amazon spot is an alexa powered alarm clock, except it has a camera built into it for face time abilities. You can wake up to your favourite music or news. It provides music in the bedroom whilst you’re getting ready for work and various other things. A lot of people are afraid about the privacy by having a camera on the device. In my view though you can just turn the device away from you when you’re changing or simply strap a piece of tape across the lense if you’re that concerned. It would just be cool to have a camera setup to talk with friends or to see outside when the postman shows up.

What you should try

There is a feature with alexa where you can ask her for a recipie and she will read it out step by step if you’re cooking. You could also theoretically set up the prep of a dish in a slow cooker the night before and ask alexa to start it at a set time so that when you get home there is a piping hot meal waiting for you! This would be cost effective as a slower cooker costs the same as a light bulb.

Sometimes if you don’t fancy music it’s fun to enable the Ted talks skill so you can say “Alexa, play a Ted talk on science” and she will go through a play list of talks from around the world.

Alexa is great fun. It is an expensive obsession but finally this tech feels like a step into the future of homes.