So Jeff Bezos, that iguana-chewing bastard, finally got me. I have an Amazon microphone product in my house. Specifically, the Echo Spot.
I’d considered other Echo devices before, but they were either too big or not functional enough or otherwise just didn’t seem to fit into my life and needs.
The first thing to note about the Echo Spot is that the camera can be disabled, and the second is that there’s a hard button on top to kill the microphones.
Sadly, you cannot yet invent a new wakeword-name for the device, so I still cannot call a home computing device “Zen” and have it answer back. You get a choice of four, and so I selected “Echo.” “Echo, play Berlin Community Radio.” It just does it. No settings, no farting around with installing TuneIn Radio or even voice-training the device. You can add Skills with the phone app, which doesn’t seem to be a well-populated or well-designed ecosystem. But Alexa, as a voice UI system, works so much better than Siri for me that I was actually quite shocked.
It’s interesting to think of it as a microphone connected to a network of Amazon server farms. Talking to a machine-learning-leveraged spreadsheet with your name on it.
The Spot takes up a space on my shelf roughly analogous to a coffee mug or old-style alarm clock. The circular screen amuses me, because, in the science fiction tv shows I grew up with, videophones were always circular for some reason. (And this does have vide0-calling function, hence the camera.) I can stream tv through this thing, which, to me, is funny as all hell.
It is, for me, a surprisingly useful little thing for a lot of the side actions I’d usually have to shift focus for. I’d like the screen to be a little more customisable for glanceable information, and at least some human attempt to curate the Skills ecosystem, but, for me, this is the Echo device that justifies the Echo strategy.