Amazon Echo Dot: Creating a Smart Home for less than £150
Remember imagining your dream house as a child? I am guessing that – at a minimum – it included a secret bookcase door, a slide to get downstairs, and voice-activated lights. Well people, I have discovered that with minimal fuss and little cost, part of that dream can now become reality.
Last week I invested in the following ‘Smart Home’ technology:
- Amazon Echo Dot (£40)
- Philips Hue Starter Kit: Smart Hub + 2 Bulbs (£60)
- 2 x Philips Smart Bulbs – White E27 (£30)
- 5 mm stereo cable (£4)
For a total of £149 I can now enter the kitchen, order my lights to switch on, and low and behold I am bathed in their warm glow. Then when I finish cooking I say “Alexa, kitchen lights 40%” and they instantly dim down to create a bit of ambience. Seriously cool.
The fulfilment of this childhood fantasy is thanks to a new gadget called the Amazon Echo Dot, which went on sale in the UK in September. If you have not already heard of this device, I imagine you soon will. The Amazon Echo Dot is a hands-free, voice-controlled gadget that allows you to play music and control other smart-home enabled devices like central-heating and lights. It is a bit like Siri for the iphone only better, much better.
It can read the news, set timers/alarms, do sums, read audio books, provide recipes, give traffic information, order a pizza, tell you the weather, make jokes – the list goes on. All you do is utter the activation word “Alexa” plus your command, and it will do its best to oblige. There is a video demonstration on Amazon’s product page: click here
My initial motivation for buying the Echo Dot was to find a new way to play music in our kitchen. We have a speaker with an old iphone 4 dock which was rendered useless after a phone upgrade. I was able to connect the Amazon Echo Dot to this speaker with a stereo cable, and hey presto, anything I want to listen to I now just ask:
“Alexa, play me some 90s Indie” – no problem
“Alexa, play David Bowie” – you bet
“Alexa, skip three tracks” – okeydokey
“Alexa, turn on Radio 4” – but of course sir
“Alexa – Volume 9”
Brilliantly, it supports Spotify, so I can also access all my existing playlists:
“Alexa, play my washing up playlist” – my wish is your command
It will even choose music for you. When it caught me dithering “Alexa, play some err…..” it took the liberty of suggesting I might like The Script’s latest album (very good by the way).
My wife, who I thought would be rather sceptical of this technology, is a total convert. A favourite feature of hers is being able to say “Alexa, add red lentils to the shopping list”. This automatically adds the item to a shopping list in the Echo App on your phone. Goodbye to scrappy lists written on an envelope and stuck to the fridge!
There is, of course, the privacy issue. Once you utter the activation word “Alexa” the Echo will listen to what you say (and store it away on a server somewhere) before finding the appropriate response. Perhaps prompted by this concern, the number 1 customer question on the Amazon Echo Dot product page is: Will Alexa become self-aware and try to take over the world with an army of cybernetic organisms?
Smart Hubs like the Echo are going to be big in 2017. Apple and Google will shortly be releasing similar products, so Amazon are flooding the market with the Echo at the minute and offering it for around £40. Having experienced the Amazon Echo Dot for a couple of weeks, I would rate it as a total bargain. Apart from anything else it is a great fun bit of home technology – fulfilling that childhood dream of switching on lights and summoning music from thin air. But we are finding the many genuinely useful benefits too – the shopping list, to do list, timer for cooking, radio, diary reminders to name but a few. I gave one to my parents (both 60+) and they have been immediately hooked, particularly my dad who uses audio books. The first thing he asked it was “Alexa, play my book from audible”, and it immediately picked up from where he left off.
I am convinced that over the next couple of years, Smart Home technology is going to boom in the same way that mobile phones did in the early noughties. I reckon we will soon consider it completely normal to walk into the kitchen and talk to our appliances – “oven to preheat to 180c” and “dishwasher, how long left?”. I’m sure our children will look upon us with wonder as we explain that we had to physically pick up a remote control to change TV channel. They will not believe that adjusting the central-heating required us to raise a finger and push a button on the thermostat.
If you want to read up a bit more on the Amazon Echo Dot I came across a few reviews that explain how it works (a lot more articulately than my ramblings): The Guardian: Echo Dot Review and CNET: Echo Dot 2nd Generation Review
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