Last year I bought two Amazon Echo Shows as an anniversary gift for my wife Melani. We have had the original Echo for a couple of years and a few of the Echo Dots – so we were quite familiar with Alexa. I thought that adding a visual interface would enhance the experience in many ways – in that it is easier to process some information much more quickly visually – as opposed to auditorily in what is sometimes a painfully slow sequential manner with Alexa. But I was really looking forward to having a dedicated device to make visual calls to the house from work. I sit in front of a bank of 6 monitors most days and am on and off the phone constantly. It is nice to see a device that is pretty much exclusively dedicated to being in contact with the ones I love.
My single favorite experience with this device is, without a doubt, a time I called home over the summer. Everyone was in the back room – and I could hear commotion and conversations going on in the background. I kept calling my wife’s name – to no avail. Then I heard the pitter patter of little feet and our 20 month old saying “Daddy, Daddy, hi Daddy!” while she climbed up one of the kid sized chairs after pushing it to the counter. I could then see just the top of her head as she looked up to the Echo Show to see me while she began to have a conversation with me. It was one of those priceless moments that I will never forget! Eventually my wife tracked the little one down and realized that I had called on the Echo Show and that Sophia was in there talking to me. Sophie is familiar with the device – since we use it nearly daily to have 2 or 3 conversations. Amazing to see how quickly children are able to adapt to technology! I like here being able to see me, and I love being able to see her adorable little face. It makes me feel as if I am more real and present in her day even when I have to be at the office.
Other features I like and use:
Calendar – Being able to speak to Alexa and add an appointment to our calendar makes it much more likely that the event will actually make it into our calendar – and therefore not forgotten!. I routinely add the kids’ dentist appointments and soccer schedule this way. Much like the video conferencing – which could also be accomplished on my phone – I find it more convenient to add appointments and events into our calendar by speaking to Alexa. With a busy family life I have to go with the method that is going to give me the best chance catching everything – so there are no conflicts or missed events. Now if I could only train my wife to be as disciplined! I just start with “Alexa, add an event to my calendar.” – and she walks me through the rest of the process by asking the pertinent questions.
Shopping list and To – Do lists: Much like the calendar events, I find it easier and more convenient to add items to shopping list and to-do lists by speaking to Alexa. My wife and I can both see the lists through the Alexa app.
YouTube & DailyMotion Videos: Amazon & Google need to work out some differences – but it is still relatively easy to get YouTube videos on the Amazon Echo Show. If my 2 year old daughter just asks Alexa to “Play Elmo Videos” Alexa will do a Bing search and automatically play the top result. If she tells it to “Show me Elmo Videos – it will do a Bing search and show the top results – and then she can select one. This is an example of where I think sometimes Alexa is a little too rigid in how things are phrased – and overall needs to improve on being a little more intuitive. To play YouTube videos – The present way (which has changed several times of the last year or so) is to ask Alexa to open Silk (Amazon’s browser). Up should pop up some bookmarked pages – or you can create a new one for YouTube and then browse like you normally would. But please note – You will not be able to do so with voice commands – but rather will need to interact with the screen to navigate.
Customized Responses from Alexa! Alexa Blueprints allows you to customize Alexa’s responses to normal everyday questions. If you create a custom response Alexa will use this as the response, by default, over the standard response. So I have had all kinds of fun with this & even used it to have Alexa chastise my children for too much potty humor! Click HERE to get to the Amazon Alexa Blueprints website.
Upgrading to the New Alexa Shows
This Christmas I will be upgrading both the Echo Show at my office and at the home to the newer one with the larger screen. We will be gifting the 1st generation ones to my father and mother. I expect that the larger screen will provide a better user experience on many fronts – and especially as it relates to the Amazon Recast – which will be the subject of another Busy Parent Review in the near future!