Is Alexa the Virtual Family Assistant You're Looking For?

by ParentCo. April 19, 2016

“Alexa add coffee to the shopping list” is a common refrain in our house.

Occasionally at the grocery store some random item like "magical pony" (not sure about that one) or "real muscle milk" (I'm cheap and buy the store brand) will appear on the list, a joke from one of our four kids (likely the youngest, a mirthful prankster.) Amazon Echo is a hands-free speaker you control with your voice. Echo connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather, and more—instantly. All you have to do is ask. The shared shopping list is one of the most brilliant features of the Echo device and paired app. The paired app allows you to speak to Alexa from any iOS, Android, or Amazon Fire device synced to it. My wife and I both use it on our phones. It's brilliant and solves the whole texting and calling back and forth when invariably there is SOMETHING needed in the minutes between leaving for the grocery store, arriving, and checking out. Usually now I just get a text "added to Alexa :)." So much easier. I hate one handed texting and pushing a shopping cart. Problem solved. My last request before I leave for work in the morning after shuttling the kids to school is "Alexa, play the last station on TuneIn." Alexa responds with "Playing VPR classical." We play classical music for the dog while we're away at work and school. He hasn't shredded a shoe or any furnishings, and has only had a couple accidents since he was a puppy. He seems chill when the kids get home from school to walk him. (Relatively speaking for a high anxiety rescue dog who the kids says looks/ acts like Dobby the house elf from Harry Potter.) Echo features a bunch of other features like weather updates, news summaries, streaming Spotify/Pandora etc through the wifi speaker (which BTW is suited more for soothing classical for dogs, nerding out to a podcast or listening to a baseball game than say, dance party vibes, despite what Alec Baldwin and Missy Elliot might have you believe). amazon-echo-top-header

Amazon is regularly adding “skills”’ to the platform.

Skills are voice-driven capabilities that enhance the functionality of Alexa. For example, you can turn on skills that allow your device to tell you about upcoming concerts in your city or play math games with you. At last glance there were over 50 skills in the app I haven't enabled, like "open Hacker News" to “read LDS daily message.” There’s no shortage of things you can ask Alexa, from brogrammer diatribes to Mormon daily affirmations. But seriously, I haven't had time to check out everything in between, though given that amount of variation there’s got to be some pretty cool "skills" Alexa can learn and incorporate in your day to day. I'm going to look into some of the connected homes features like syncing with Phillips Hue lighting devices. I'm also planning to use it to voice order items from Amazon, though I haven't toyed with that yet. The Echo is worth every penny just for that shopping list feature IMHO. And if you can ask random questions about Game of Thrones or what the weather is in some far flung location, or if my kids can ask it search questions while doing homework in the kitchen, even better. I'd recommend getting an Alexa to speak with of your own :) Read more and order Amazon Echo here. Note that does NOT collect affiliate or referral fees on purchases from Amazon, nor any kind of commission. Maybe we should look into that. ;)



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