Amazon Voice Services: Do You Hear an Echo?

February 3, 2017 | Leave a Comment

by David Flament, Manager of Adaptive Technology

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The Amazon dot with a sleek design, about the size of a hockey puck
It seems that lots of you are getting one of the Amazon Echo devices: the Dot, Tap or Echo. The new year has started with me fielding a lot of calls and emails about how to set it up and what to do with it. So here goes.
 

What is the Difference?

All of these devices use the same Amazon Voice Services and can perform all the same tasks. They all must be connected to your Wi-Fi Internet connection to work.

The Echo ($179) comes with what is billed as a high quality sound system. This is the device I have at home.  I think the sound is okay, but not great.

The Tap ($129) is portable and comes with a rechargeable battery. The Echo and the Dot are hands-free and always listening. With the Tap you must press a button before saying something to it.  Since it is a portable device and not always plugged in, this helps to conserve battery life.

The Dot ($49) is like a mini Echo. The Dot comes with a smaller speaker than the Echo. However, the Dot does come with an audio port for headphones or a hook-up to a sound system. The Echo does not have this option.
 

What Does It Do?

Think of your new Amazon device as a computer without a keyboard or screen. That’s right, no more typing or touching the screen. Everything you do with these products is done with voice commands and a top quality speech response known as Alexa. In fact, Alexa is one of the best speech outputs I have heard. You can use these devices to do everything. Here are some examples:

  • play games like Jeopardy,
  • get the news,
  • listen to music and podcasts,
  • look things up,
  • get the spelling of words,
  • control lights and devices around the home, and
  • manage your Google calendar.

Did I mention …

  • order a pizza,
  • find a local restaurant,
  • hail an Uber ride, and
  • look up movie times and reviews?

Yes, these products can do all that!
 

Setting It Up

First, you’ll want to find a place for your Amazon device. For best results, place your device in a central location, not too high or too low and at least 8 inches from any wall or window.

Next, go to either the Amazon Echo web site or download and open the Amazon Alexa app on your mobile device.

Then, plug in and turn on your Amazon device. Wait for your device to greet you. For those with partial vision, a lighted ring or front indicator lights (depending on the model) will light up blue, then turn orange. This accompanies the vocal greeting.

Finally, follow the instructions in the app or on the website to connect your device to the Wi-Fi Internet connection.
 

How Does It Work?

Using your Amazon device begins with a wake word. When I need a timer, I say “Alexa” to wake my Echo up and let it know I am talking to it. I follow the wake word with a command like “set a timer for 20 minutes.” Then I hear a cheerful response “20 minute timer starting now.” For the most part, that is all you do.

Much like a computer has programs or apps, your Amazon device has skills. You may need to link an account to a skill to use it. To order a pizza, for example, you will need the Pizza Hut or Domino’s skill enabled and linked to an account to that pizza chain. Some skills can be enabled by simply asking your Amazon device to do so, however linking accounts is done in either the Alexa app or on the Alexa web site mentioned above.
 

Where Can You Learn More?

The more you use the Amazon voice products, the more you will find what they can do for you.

When you are ready to learn more, do a Google search on the Internet for “Alexa commands” or “Echo commands.” This web post on CNET has some great ideas, too.

You can also join us at Second Sense on Thursday, March 9, 2017 at 1:00 pm for an in-depth workshop on Amazon voice products. Call our front desk at 312-236-8569 or send me an email to register.

David loves Apple products and loves to encourage others to take advantage of all they have to offer.

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