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.

David Cross Is Letting Fans Name Their Price And Download His First Film Creation Hits On BitTorrent

Haha, such an awesome idea! Pay what you want!!

TechCrunch

Actor David Cross is foregoing the usual indie film distribution model for his darkly satirical film HITS. He’s letting the public pay whatever they want to download it on BitTorrent for the first two weeks, starting this Friday, February 13.

But is this really the best way to distribute something that the film’s producers have worked so hard on?

Cross and his producers said they already had plenty of offers at the film’s Sundance premiere in 2014, but that most of them were from the same old “cookie-cutter” distribution proposals.

“You know the sort of thing; a poster, a trailer, ten cities, some New York Times ads and then VOD simultaneously or shortly thereafter,” explained the film’s producer Giles Andrews. “The idea that HITS was going to go through the sausage factory for independent film distribution didn’t fit with the type of film David had made.”

The film starring Meredith…

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Tech-Savvy Communes Could Be The Answer To SF’s Housing Issues

Well, this is an awesome idea! And it benefits everyone! Lower cost of living, and hopefully an awesome group of peeps.

TechCrunch

The communal spirit of the 60’s has returned to SF, but with a modern twist. Software engineers, founders and tech workers alike are now flocking to giant, Victorian mansions that promise peace, love and open source API integration to help you live more collaboratively.

I’m greeted with several long, loving hugs upon entering one such communal living space known as The Lair – a seven-bedroom mansion nestled just on the edge of San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighborhood. We then gather around an old dining room table, breathing out “Yummmmmmm” (instead of “Om”) before partaking in the shared nightly meal.

These digital hippies mostly work in tech jobs writing code or in some capacity touching the SF tech scene. Their aim, they say, is to live with like-minded individuals in the next wave of the sharing economy. This is the difference between the communes of yore and today’s modern collective. Where…

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Romain Jerome Releases Spacecraft Black “Undercover” Watch

Looks cool, love the colors, but that’s not a price I’d ever pay.

TechCrunch

It’s Basel time again, and that means we’re going to be seeing some amazing watches coming out of Switzerland that cost more than an office block in downtown Detroit. Today we’re looking at the Spacecraft Black by Romain Jerome, a driver’s-style watch that is covered in black PVD and features a unique jump-hours display on the front edge and a rotating minutes hand on the top.

Romain Jerome, you’ll recall, is run by Manuel Emch with his partners Eric Giroud and Jean-Marc Wiederrecht. The company makes watches at are eccentric to say the least. One of their models, the Titanic DNA had to be kept in an air-tight bell jar and never worn because the entire thing would begin to corrode if exposed to air.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 9.07.17 AMThe Spacecraft is unabashedly a watch for nerds. It looks like a star cruiser and requires at least a few liquidity events to afford…

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Microsoft’s Free OneNote Hints At Its Larger Strategy

Can’t say I’m not a fan. It’s pretty nifty. Just discovered the various templates on my PC. Still want to keep my customized keyboard, so I’ll stick to my Word for course notes. Not sure what I’ll use the OneNote for… maybe org notes, or the like.

TechCrunch

This morning, Microsoft announced that it was making OneNote, its note-taking service that syncs across platforms, free. The PC app, the new Mac app, and a variety of small tools for the service are now available for anyone to use without cost. Paid upgrades and corporate sales as part of Office 365, however, still exist, and that may hint at Microsoft’s overall strategy for Office going forward.

Until today, Microsoft offered a mixed OneNote experience, with most people getting OneNote through their Office subscription or purchase, the free web app or through Microsoft’s free Metro app for Windows 8 and mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

Microsoft wants to drive OneDrive usage, an experience that is tied closely to OneNote. So the company lowered friction to entry by increasing its platform support in OneNote and by ending pricing questions. No matter where you want to use the service…

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Online community connects 3D printer owners with people who need prosthetic hands

Haha, this is awesome. Saw it done a year ago on YouTube.

Gigaom

Around the world, there are people who have lost all or part of their hand, or were born without one. There are also people and institutions with 3D printers. Pair the two, and you can print a custom mechanical hand for $20-150 — thousands less than the typical prosthetic.

e-NABLE, which functions through a website, Facebook page and Google+ page, stepped up to connect the two after site founder Jon Schull came across work by American prop maker Ivan Owen, who made a metal mechanical hand for South African carpenter Richard Van As. Van As had lost four of his fingers in a carpentry accident.

Owen was then contacted by a mother whose 5-year-old son needed a hand. He again made a metal hand for the boy. But then he turned to 3D printing. MakerBot gave both Owen and Van As a 3D printer.

The pair developed…

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NSA Protest Day Drives More Than 200K Emails And Calls To Congress

And, yet another reason why I love the US. We can actually change the way out government functions. Long live old glory!

TechCrunch

A planned day of protest against the NSA’s surveillance efforts called “The Day We Fight Back” got off to a strong start. So far, more than 69,000 phone calls have been placed to Congressional representatives, along with more than 140,000 emails as part of the effort. In-person protests are planned, as well, both in the United States and abroad.

The day’s work is also focused on pushing for the passage of the USA Freedom Act, which would curtail the NSA’s surveillance activities. For a quick primer on the USA Freedom Act, TechCrunch has you covered.

Today’s push is somewhat reminiscent of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) protests of two years ago, in which websites big and small blacked out their pages in anger against the proposed legislation. Sustained furor beat the bill back. As TechCrunch pointed out earlier today, while the public does appear to be making noticeable…

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