Review: Amazon Echo

First Impressions of Amazon’s Echo:

This was a lot bigger than I imagined; at least by twice the size! It’s not huge, but it’s definitely hefty. It requires constant power, which wasn’t exactly unexpected. It’s constantly on, and requires some sort of power. I was under the assumption that you could set the wake name to whatever you want. Unfortunately, at least for the time being, you have the option of setting the wake word to Alexa or Amazon. It’s fine for now, sucks for any family with a family member named Alexa–or oddly enough, Amazon. I even spent the week before receiving it thinking of name to call it. Somehow it ended up with typical stripper names such as: Candy, Diamond, etc. Something that was a name, but not commonly used. I hadn’t settled on name when I realized customizing it wasn’t an option; that was fortunate.

Setting it up was fairly quick. I simply followed the instructions, and in a short bit of time, had Alexa up and running. After that, I tried to match it with a few of the answers that google or siri were able to handle. It was considerably limited when it first started, which I found a little disappointing. One of it’s redeeming factors was not having to press and hold a button! There wasn’t much I used it for. Mostly for the time, alarms, weather. I assumed there would be more features added as time went on. The voice is pretty smooth, and the response time was quick. Given that the updates were all performed via “the cloud” I safely assumed updates would be continuous and uninterrupting.

After a few commands, some of which not being understood, and the consistent attempt at using Bing as a search engine, I noticed the Echo App (iPhone) had a feedback button for every command given. I tried purchasing a song to test out, which, at the time, failed. This might be of my own fault, I didn’t look much into it.

 

After a Couple of Months of Using:

Given how easy it is to access Alexa, I can’t help but miss her those moments when I just need the time. I’ve learned to use the Echo in a productive manner. Furthermore, they’ve consistently updated the the software; often times including a little more quirk! Living up to it’s, “Always getting smarter” claims. They also appear to be opening up to third party software–one of my first suggestions! Though, I’m sure this was a part of their initial plans for the Echo.

I used to watch CNN back in the age of cable television, and have sparsely kept up with the news in more recent news. Often times being oblivious to what’s going on around the world. It’s safe to say that the “Flash News Briefing” has come in handy. With the added benefit of not requiring my complete attention! That is to say, I can move about at my own leisure while catching up on the news! The minor issue I’ve had was the break in the news. They apparently cut off and switch to a different source of news mid sentence. It doesn’t detracts from the news, but it does make me wonder what I’m missing.

With regard to the time management, Alexa has been a huge delight. Setting up alarms and timers is a breeze! Just saying, “Alexa, set timer for 10 minutes.” or “Alexa, set an alarm for tomorrow at 8am.” That’s it! No picking up phone, setting time in app, or asking Siri to do it for you by waiting a few seconds. Eh, less work is always preferred, right? Well, it just feels so natural to ask the machine to set an alarm for me, rather than pressing a button and holding it. I think this is where Google’s glass could’ve really shined. Grant it, “OK, google” is still a bit more verbose than I would prefer, it was functional! Alexa, short and sweet! It’s really a time saver. Not just with the commands, but also with time management. I hope it would at some point support stopwatches, multiple alarms, and multiple timers! But even now it’s been pretty great.

 

Where I see it going:

Well, given it’s pace of advancement, and constant updates. I see this as a useful and powerful tool. Finally, the connected house of the future in it’s infancy! Haha, one thing that Amazon has done right, relative to google, is it’s ability to be practical and pragmatic. It starts with a base beta to test out with it’s people. I don’t expect this to be the last iteration at all, nor anywhere near it, but it’s a start. With google glass, it appeared as a final product, something that was way to expensive for a beta test. Siri with it’s apple watch seems a bit more what I’d prefer, though I’m not to familiar with how it will integrate itself with the rest of the house. So, Amazon does appear to be in the lead of that race. You can already connect your Connected home devices to shut off lights or power sources, along with various apps on your phone. Grant it, the Echo is only limited by it’s stationary base. I would love to see it as a full house, or a mobile device; though the battery life would be an issue. It does appear to be where technology is heading though… one device to rule them all…. ok, yeah too cliche. 😛

I did see an add to a company that is looking to do just that though. I don’t mean a device that turns into a tablet, a phone, or a computer. Something much more than either. You can have a standalone monitor, that connects to this device and morphs into a desktop, but it has all of the same applications, and the same data accessible. This just seems to be the logical place to go from where we are. Implementing has been coming in various forms. Whether it’s google’s OS, and it’s ability to access all information from one browser–which seems to be the closest to this next step in tech– or the cloud synchronizing and polymorphic websites and apps that have been showing up (apple, google). Even the entire operating systems as Microsoft’s Windows 8. An excellent idea, poorly implemented. They tried to make a desktop a tablet, such a horrible idea! Instead, make the OS shape to the platform you’re trying to accommodate. A phone is a phone, a tablet is a tablet, a PC is a PC. Take advantage of what they have to offer, and work from there! So, I hope that’s were we’re heading, because it would be much easier to have one place for all of my data rather than having multiple thumb drives, hard drives, and apps.

eLearning: StackSkills’ Productivity Management Course

The course

If you’re thinking of taking this course, I would be weary of the price on their site. It’s definitely not worth 297 that’s advertised on their course page! http://stackskills.com/courses/productivity-hacks

I did purchase it as a bundle, totaling 19 USD. This course alone would not be worth the 19 dollars, so I’m hoping the other course is able to provide me with the knowledge that my money wasn’t completely wasted; though at this point I doubt it. The productivity hacks was the more interesting of the two courses and it was hardly that.

Why I wouldn’t recommend it

It starts off with tools that are easily found online, if one were willing to look, and then it continues with more online tools, and finally a couple of interviews that are better left for podcasts; which, incidentally, they provide as one of the additional downloads at the end.

The tools aren’t all that bad, in fact, I could see myself using them in the future. Toggl, is pretty useful now; for time management. I’m using it right now. Is learning about it worth 19USD… I don’t think so. The guy claims to have spent several compiling the lists of tools, and figuring out how to use them, but he doesn’t really teach you much with regard to how to integrate them into your life. They’re more along the lines of quick mentions. Fiverr is another one of the tools mentioned in the video that is intriguing. Apparently, for 5USD, or more depending on the task, you can outsource any of your activities! Given that someone has offered them. If you want an assignment done, or a logo created, there’s someone willing to do it! There was even one person offering to take your online course, and guarantee’s an A! Still, the person did not create this tool, and only mentioned it from time to time.

After the tools, he begins to do a few interviews. These were definitely made to be podcasts! The video quality was hardly professional, and the video player from this site was not playing the entire video. I had to pause, then continue playing it, otherwise it would finish playing the video and return to the start before the video was complete. The first interview was him talking about another series he was working on; I’m currently looking into that series. And the second was an interview with a person (Dan Miller) who works with creating mastermind groups. He was fairly interesting. The idea of a mastermind group was interesting, though the entire interview was very vague. The instructor seemed to praise Dan a lot more than he did ask him questions about what the exact tool was, and how people are to use it. It was definitely covered a bit, but he did more selling his other class, and talking about Dan’s class as well. Again, more of a fit for a free podcast than a paid course.

Overall, this class was a bust. Hardly professional, and it only seemed to be advertisement for other tools and courses. The tools are fine, and some are even useful to me now, but the course was not at all worth 19USD. Given that it was bundled, it wasn’t even worth half of that. I’ll review the second course in the following week. Hopefully it’s better than this course!