Amazon Alexa is a voice assistant that will transform your home into a Smart Home. Alexa can do a lot more than simply regulate light bulbs, tell jokes or give you the weather forecast. In this article we give a review to its characteristics and we make a comparison with other products of the competition to give you a first impression about it.
What is Alexa?
Alexa is the name of the voice assistant whose artificial intelligence is being developed in Amazon’s huge data centers. You can find this assistant in the form of Amazon Echo or Echo Dot. These two cylinders are waiting to hear the voice command “Alexa”, after which, you can give orders by voice. In this way, you can control your Smart Home devices, ask about the time you are going to do, make a phone call or ask for the song you like from the Amazon database, Spotify or even turn on the radio.
Although, as often happens sometimes, is accompanied by some handles. Especially since Amazon’s multimedia ecosystem is still closed. In addition, some Smart Home devices can not be used with Alexa or their use is, at least, limited. If you use Google Cast devices, like Raumfeld’s cubes, Alexa will make life impossible for you to stream Spotify through Google Cast. However, if you connect Echo Dot via the classic jack connector, this will make the music sound even through your old hi-fi equipment.
Alexa: the gateway to the experiences of the Amazon world
Already in free application of Alexa, you can give you an idea of the possibilities that this assistant based on AI (artificial intelligence). These often include offers related to the Amazon shopping ecosystem. The basic commands of the Alexa application allow us (among other things):
- Music and books: Play songs, broadcasters, series or Kindle eBooks as audiobooks to listen to them through your device Alexa.Outside of Amazon services it is only possible to use Spotify or TuneIn.
- Lists: You can create and edit shopping lists and to-do lists, and link them to Anydo, Todoist, Google Keep or Wunderlist.
- Timer and alarm clock: you can put a notice to remove the pasta from the fire in seven minutes or an alarm so that on Saturday you wake up at nine in the morning.
- Skills: Expand Alexa’s abilities using voice-controlled functions, such as using Wunderlist.
- Smart Home: Connect your Smart Home devices like Philips Hue with Alexa. Although for this, you may need some additional Skills.
- Calendar: You can connect Alexa with the typical calendar accounts like Google or Microsoft. This facilitates the integration of other services and saves you having to transfer data manually.
What exactly do these Skills do?
Alexa alone can not do much. The voice wizard can tell you what time it is, if it’s going to rain tomorrow, you can play the next song with Amazon Music, send a movie to Fire TV Stick or start an application; And little else as far as their basic functions are concerned. The rest comes in the form of Skills.
Meanwhile, the competition opens its systems (see below) through interfaces for third parties. In this way, you can also control by voice commands services that until now were used in the smartphone as applications or in the internet as websites. Web service vocabulary and feedback are still limited to simple question-answer combinations, although in the future it could allow for more complex interactions through parallel bot development.
What makes Alexa special?
Amazon takes off the chest and presumes to take your privacy very seriously. You have the possibility to delete “a posteriori” previously recorded voice commands. Someone who knows Google could say, “But I can do that with Google Assistant!” However, this is only partially true. With Google you can unlink your recorded voice commands from your account, but Google will not remove them from your servers, as indicated in its support page.
With Amazon, however, this is supposed to be possible. The disadvantage is that, logically, learning material is lost for the development of artificial intelligence, which is important for continuous improvement. You can find more details on the Alexa helppage . Although because recordings are also available for law enforcement agencies, this option remains little more than a declaration of good intentions.
Another special feature of Echo devices (not the Alexa voice assistant) is the mute button. If you press the button with the crossed out microphone, on top of the Echo device, the outer ring turns red and, in theory, the microphone is disconnected from the power supply. However, you will have to press this button on each and every Echo speaker you have in the house if you want your Smart Home to be a zone free of Alexa’s “ears”.
What alternatives to Alexa exist?
With the Echo Dot and Echo devices, Amazon could bring its Alexa voice assistant for the first time to many homes in Europe. The feeling is that Apple, Google and Microsoft solutions still do not have dedicated hardware, but rather are integrated through upgrades to the different devices that many of us already have.
We can find Siri on the iPhone and on Apple TV, Assistant on the Google Pixel, as well as Android Wear 2 clocks, and Cortana on all Windows devices and Xbox One. Soon we will see the arrival of new Wizards for each of the other systems. In the case of Alexa, however, Amazon did not have a lot of hardware in the home and had to take out, at a relatively low price, both the Echo Dot and the Fire TV Stick (which has remote control by voice).
One thing that all these systems have in common is that they are based on an application, in the style of Alexa Skills and are integrated in some way with Philips Hue. In order to use their basic functions, all of them need an Internet connection, and they have some type of listening function that expects to hear something like “Ey Siri”, “OK Google”, “Ey Cortana” or “Alexa” for Start recording and send it home. The question is now who learns faster than you say.
Will Alexa succeed?
It seems that Amazon is one step ahead in this competition in the world of attendees. Echo devices are already improving from the point of view of hardware, while in many countries we are still waiting for competing products to start arriving. However, a critical look at the list of Skills available shows that there is still a lot to work on as far as quality is concerned.
In everyday use, there is a lack of quality in the form of misunderstandings, complicated voice commands and, above all, obstacles difficult to understand from the point of view of the user. Amazon does not want us to use Google Cast, or other competing services. It is not yet possible to hear Apple music or make Skype calls through Alexa.
Alexa can only win this race, if I, as a user, can keep my habits and continue to use my devices, as I do so far, with the new system. If this is not possible, it would be desirable that at least this transition should not be an additional effort for me or my contacts. And this is something Alexa does not offer me right now. For me, the limitations of the system are still much higher than the advantages it brings me