Seperis (seperis) wrote,

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amazon brings us more devices to talk to us

It's that time of year again when Amazon expands their range of Alexa products and slowly but surely increases our personal paranoia about how many devices around us can also carry on a conversation. Some are Alexa-enabled--they can talk--and some are Alexa Voice Control compatible--they can't talk to you but use an Alexa-enabled speaker to do so.

Among offerings (not joking):
Echo Frames - it's frames for your glasses! No, really. Yes, including prescription glasses; they helpfully link to instructions on how to make that happen. Yes, you may now talk to your glasses and they will answer you. You will never, ever, be alone again.

Echo Loop, $179.99 - it's a ring for your finger! Yes, it's literally a ring. Anyone, anyone at all can now accurately portray more than one eighties supervillain! It is Alexa-enabled; you can talk to it and it will answer, just like every cursed object horror movie you've ever seen. Wear this shit with some Echo Frames and--I really don't know, but I want to find out. Do they need different wake words? Do they fight? Can they be integrated to play music together? Will they eventually turn on you? Only one way to find out!

Amazon Smart Oven, $249.99 - this baby is a quadruple threat. It's convection oven, microwave, air fryer, and food warmer and okay, I am feeling less like making fun of it and more like I could really use one. It is not Alexa-enabled--it does not talk to you--nor does it have speakers--so does not play music or any sound. It is Alexa-compatible, however, so you can use any Alexa-enabled device to talk to it and hear what it has to say, which sounds creepy instead of reassuring. No fear: right now, it comes with a free Echo Dot (Gen 3), and through that, your oven can tell you when the oven is preheated or the food is ready, and boy would I love my oven to tell me when it's preheated that instead of a tiny orange light going off because that's bullshit because the other tiny orange light means a burner is on and who hurt the person who designed my oven enough to want to do that?

Echo Glow, $29.99 - okay, this is goddamn adorable colored globe lamp. It is not Alexa-enabled (it cannot talk) and it does not have speakers (it cannot play music) but pairs with any Alexa device for voice control, has many colors, and this is a really good price. I totally want one; adding that to wishlist.

Echo Ear Buds, $129.99 - ear buds, because everyone's doing it. Can't lie, I'm kind of interested if the sound quality is good, but wireless buds and I have problems.

For one: In-ear anything never, ever fits (I think?) and work their way out, but (much worse) any pair that have been in my ears eventually make the entrance to my ears ache like a lot. Not volume related (I keep well below threshold); I mean literally the entire opening of my ear gets very sore to the point I have to take them out. I can't tell if the problem is my ear opening is too small (pain and slipping out) or too large (vibration from the headphones) or witchcraft.

For another: I'm not in any way an audiophile and know nothing of its ways (as my last post on audio probably displayed), but about a decade ago, my mother made the mistake of getting me some V-Moda headphones for Christmas when up until then, I'd been content with $20 Sennheisers and the ones you can get at Wal-Mart for $10 and you can see where this is going. Having made the shocking discovery music has way more sound than I ever imagined, it took off from there. So my ears have become moderately spoiled and also demanding, which is why my last pair were Sony WH1000XM2 after some very careful budgeting and a lot of worry about future ear escalation. Like, no I can't pontificate on the difference in bass between V-Moda, Sony, Bose, and Beats--they all sound different?--but a depressing foray into some well-reviewed Audio Technica taught me a very valuable lesson: while I don't know the technical terms, 'that ain't right' encompasses the general sound difference, sometimes followed by taking them off and throwing them far from me like they're plague-ridden. (I dare you to judge me without knowing what horror they committed on Rihanna's helpless voice; it was evil, that's all I can say.)

Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen), $119.99 - Cute, more powerful, and more compatible with more devices!

Echo Show 8, $129.99 - which gives us now three sizes of Echo Show (5, 8, 10.1). I can't lie, I'm on my second Echo Show (10.1) and love it. In addition to great sound and excellent video and all Alexa functions, I can turn the screen toward the rabbits before I leave and drop in to check at them every so often with the camera, and the video stream compression is way more friendly to mobile data than regular home security cameras. Right now, if you buy the Echo Show 8, you can add an Echo Show 5 (retail $89.99) for only $40 more.

Echo Studio, $199.99 - High fidelity smart speaker with 3D audio. It pairs with the Fire TV Stick 4K (Gen 1 and Gen 2), Fire TV (Gen 3) and Fire Cube so wireless music continues.

Echo Flex, $24.99 - plug in smart speaker with Alexa, or basically a third gen Dot that doesn't take up extra space and has a USB port for charging your phone or adding a night light. It's actually kind of cool if you have excess wall plugs and nothing to do with them, unlike some of us who have to make serious investments in surge-protecting power strips due to lack of. Not that I'm bitter.

Echo Smart Speaker (3rd Gen), $99.99 - yes, a new generation of smart speakers! Now with added Dolby 360 sound.

Echo Dot (3rd gen but different!), $59.99 - this baby comes with an LED display that show time, outdoor temperature, and your timers. Can't lie, it's kind of cool.

Note: I'm watching second season of Eureka while I write this and can't help but wonder if someone at Amazon is using S.A.R.A.H. as a template. Hopefully without the weapons of mass destruction linked to a secondary personality part.

One of the problems with the Alexa cottage industry (you know, other than privacy, corporations, plausibility of Terminator occuring, etc) is this: Amazon has many many Alexa devices and an order of magnitude more Alexa-enabled devices such as Sonos speakers, Bose speakers and headphones, some Sony speakers and headphones (like, oh, mine), Fitbit Smart Watch, the list goes on. As in, not things that just interface with Alexa Voice Control, but devices that, when you talk to them, they talk back.

There are only four wake words: Alexa, Echo, Amazon, and Computer.


In theory--and this does work, mostly--all the Alexa devices you own that use the same wake word are networked together and the one closest to you will be the only one to respond. That means if you have two devices in the same room that can both plausibly both hear you as 'near', you just name them different things. Example: my Sonos Beam and my Echo Show are in the same room so they have two different names.

However, 'closest' can be relative and acoustics are a thing, so generally, greater than two devices require some thought when assigning wake words.

Example: I have three dots, an Echo (smart speaker), an Echo Show, and a Sonos Beam with Alexa, and no lie, having all but the Show on single wake word does make life convenient; I can control any lights in any room, I always get notified when a package is delivered and if I forget the value of pi, Alexa is there for me

Also, something I don't think a lot of people realize: Alexa speakers are among the cheapest and easiest ways to create a multi-room (or in an apartment or small home, full house) music system for under $250 + tax (and less than that during sales, special buys, or buying refurbished). The Alexa app lets you add all your Alexa speakers to a group called Multi Room Music, so even if they have different wake words, they'll all play music together. Whil first and second gen Dots had terrible sound, the third gen are a big improvement, and if you add one Echo smart speaker to three 3rd gen dots, the overall sound is great. Perfect for when you're cleaning, showering, or just want some soothing background sound. (My system is three third gen Dots, one Echo smart speaker, and Echo Show: I love it.)

(Unfortunately, you can't integrate Sonos speaker--Amazon devices only at this time--but even without it, it's genuinely surprisingly good. If you want better sound, you can add an Echo Sub for $129 or wait for a sale when it drops to $89.)

However, it did take some time and trial and error to place all the Alexa devices so generally, no more than one would respond when I said "Alexa".

That was a stationary situation; the math changes when Alexa is going mobile on one or more human bodies in a given space.

Example: in Alexa glasses frames in a room with a Sonos Beam and an Echo Show or Echo Dot or Echo/Echo Plus...either all three need to have different names, good, provided you're not wearing your FitBit watch, but if you are, four. But you and two of those devices wander from room to room and your naming conventions for your Alexa devices are gonna need a decent floorplan of your house and a spreadsheet to get right.

Yes, you can turn off Alexa on your glasses and Fitbit while home, but if you are regularly using your glasses frames to chat with Alexa--I just stopped to imagine year 2000 me reading that sentence and thinking her future includes going utterly insane--you're generally not going to remember or simply don't want to because you're used to talking to your personal accessories and don't care what anyone says.

(If you're not using the glasses to chat regularly with Alexa--why on earth did you buy them?????)

Like, there is a reason my phone and my headphones are both Alexa capable and neither are enabled; I did it once--I was curious!--and realized immediately upon coming home that this wouldn't go well.

Right this second, it's only a minor annoyance and inconvenient if you happen to have a lot of speakers, but when Amazon thinks there's a market for Alexa enabled glasses, that implies there's no limit to how many items in your home will sometime in the future be able to tell you the value of Pi on demand as well as control any devices that interface with Alexa Voice Services. And if you tell me the Amazon Echo Robot isn't going to be sold in multiples when it shows up (and why on earth hasn't Amazon released one yet????), come on; I'll be skipping meals to get two I can send back and forth through the apartment while telling me the value of Pi for hours.

...yeah, I'm not over Alexa-enabled glasses.

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Tags: my relationship with electronics
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