Meet the Echo Dot
By Harold Glicken
If you subscribe to Amazon Prime, you already know that for $99 a year, you get free two-day shipping on orders from their massive catalogue of products that range from lawn mowers (bought one today) to their wide range of electronic devices, such as the new $50 Echo Dot 2 (ditto). If Amazon had a paper catalogue, you’d need a forklift to bring it in from the mailbox.
You also know that you get free movies and TV shows on Amazon Prime. (Newer movies and shows still cost from $2 to $5 or more.) If you don’t already have Prime, you’re missing out on one of the greatest bargains of the century.
But it’s the 2nd generation Echo Dot that I’m gushing over today. Its big sister, the $180 Amazon Echo, features a humble expert called Alexa. Ask her for the forecast for L.A. for next Tuesday, and in an instant, she tells you that it will be a balmy 76 degrees and sunny.
The Echo hooks up to a wireless network and will find music for your taste, and turn on the dining room light, if, as I do, you have smart-home hardware such as the ones Insteon makes.
With its new music streaming service, for $8 a month for Prime members, Alexa will find millions of songs for you, even if you know only some lyrics and not the title of the selection.
The hockey-puck-size Echo Dot 2 does everything the bigger, heavier Echo will do, and its microphone is more sensitive. It also costs $40 less than the old Dot. Alexa works flawlessly on the Dot, independently from the bigger Echo. Its sound isn’t great, but it will connect either through bluetooth or a cable to external speakers. Since space is tight in my home office, I bought the $100 UE Boom, version 1, to stream my music. Folks with a more powerful sound system will be able to get even better sound from the Dot.
The Echo Dot works independently from the bigger Echo, so different music can be played in different rooms around the house. For folks with different musical tastes and different alarm wakeup times, it’s not too far-fetched to make use of a bunch of Dots.
Like the bigger Echo, Uber rides can be arranged, pizza can be ordered and, of course, Prime members can order products from Amazon (“Alexa, order an Echo Dot,” for example). Echo has amazing hearing. Summon Alexa from across the room, and she’s at your service. Unlike the portable Amazon Tap, which requires a tap on the microphone button, the Dot isn’t portable; it’s tethered to a power outlet.
I still have some reservations about privacy. In a troubleshooting call to Amazon about lights that wouldn’t come on when I asked Alexa to turn them on, I discovered that Amazon knows which home-control devices I have, and when they’re programmed to work. They also know my musical tastes and can tell me the last commands I used. But that hasn’t stopped me from ordering both the big and small Echos.
Like all Amazon-branded gadgets, the Dot is packaged beautifully and efficiently. Setup, via a smartphone app, couldn’t be simpler, and, unlike some gadgets from other manufacturers, the quality control is excellent; the Dot worked right out of the box.
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