Amazon Echo Dot Review

Last month, a new device joined my technology collection, and has quickly become one of my new favorites. I don't have to worry about making it accessible, because it is perfect right out of the box. I can control it with my voice and get more information about the world around me. This little device is the Amazon Echo Dot, with Alexa technology. Here are some ways it has helped me as a college student with low vision.  This post is in no way sponsored by Amazon, and I received no compensation for writing about it- I just genuinely love this product.

What is Amazon Echo?

The Amazon Echo ($180) and Amazon Echo Dot ($49) are two devices that use Amazon's voice assist technology, called Alexa. The only difference between the Echo and Echo Dot is that the Echo has a large speaker built in, while the Dot does not. When the device is summoned by saying the name Alexa (or Echo or Amazon, depending on the set wake word- my brother uses the word Computer), the user can request it to complete several different tasks.  I have the 2nd Generation Amazon Echo Dot in white.

How do you set it up?

If you are using the device at home, simply connecting to the wifi hotspot is sufficient. However, if you are setting it up at college, where the wifi requires a username and password, the setup is a little different. My school has a device registration website where the user can register up to five wireless devices that connect to the unsecured internet. By registering the MAC address on the college website, which can be found in the Amazon Echo app, the Amazon Echo can be used on a college campus. I keep my Dot across from my bed, on top of my printer, and it can easily pick up my voice no matter where I am standing in my dorm room, without picking up on my suitemates' voices in the hallway.

What common functions do you use the most?

I'm constantly asking Alexa what time it is, as I don't have to worry about focusing to read numbers on a clock. I also can easily set timers and alarms, though it isn't as easy to get the alarms to turn off, which I think is a good thing because I am prone to sleeping through alarms. I also have found the weather forecasts to be very accurate and helpful. In addition, I have used the Echo to add items to my Amazon Fresh shopping list and place orders through Amazon, or just add a product to my wishlist, something that's especially helpful when I am reading something. I also love Amazon Music and have that on frequently.

How do you use it as assistive technology?

The talking clock has been a great feature, but the Amazon Echo can be used for other assistive technology purposes. I installed a calculator function on it from the Alexa App Store, and can use it to perform basic calculations, much faster and less frustrating than a traditional calculator. It can read daily news stories from several different news outlets, sometimes with a live feed of the news channel, so I don't have to worry about reading or flashing lights on the TV. I can also perform simple Google searches and other tasks.

What about those other devices you can hook up to the Alexa?

I haven't tried any of the lightbulbs, thermostats, or other environmental control devices yet, but I'm hoping to set some up in my room next semester!  They look awesome.

Can you create your own Alexa functions?

Yes! Stay tuned, I will have a separate post on this soon. By using the app If This Then That (IFTTT), you can sync the Amazon Echo with several other apps and devices. I have mine hooked up to my Android phone and iPad.

When do you mute the Amazon Echo?

I mute the device when I will be leaving the apartment for more than three hours or when I'm on a voice or video call with someone who enjoys summoning the device (shoutout to my friend that frequently asks Alexa to add bananas to my shopping list while we are on voice calls together). From where it's sitting, the Dot can't pick up on anything going on in the hallway or any other room, only in my room. It can hear if someone on speaker says "Alexa."

Does the Amazon Echo Dot use strobe or flashing lights?

I have never seen the device use strobe light effects. It uses a mild flash effect when processing information, but not one that is intense enough to cause a migraine or seizure- it's similar in frequency to a car blinker. Sometimes it may cycle through the color gradient at a slow speed when loading information or syncing, but it will not flash.

Aren't you worried about the device spying on you?

Not really. My other devices are spying on me anyway. I have taken cybersecurity classes and understand that the device is always listening to me, but I don't say anything that would cause alarm, or anything particularly exciting.

Overall Review

I love this device and it has greatly helped me with accessing information. Almost anyone can learn to use it in two minutes or less, and it has many great functions that can replace more expensive assistive technology devices, such as talking clocks. I would recommend it to anyone, especially college students and people with low vision.

Comments

Posted by Diane BraunerApr 13, 2017

Denny Huff has a new list serve for using the Echo.

Want to know more about what you can do with the Echo and Alexa?  Join the Echo email list serve created not only for the visually impaired but for anyone that has an Echo. The Echo is simple to use but there are a lot of ways to use it that you may not know about and more ways are coming out everyday.

For example, did you know you can ask Alexa to find a recipe for you, give you the ingredients and then step by step directions for making it? You can even pause it during preparation until you are ready for the next step.  Just say, Alexa, enable Recipe Buddy.  Alexa will then guide you through what to do next.

There are literally thousands of skills you can enable on your Echo and this list serve will expose you to many of them.  Or maybe you want to know what appliances and household items you can control with Alexa.  The list is growing everyday.

You'll also be able to ask your questions on how to set up the Echo for the first time and be able to share with other subscribers some of your favorite skills and uses for the Echo.

To join the list just send a blank email message to, echo-join@gatewayfortheblind.com.  Reply to the message you receive in return and you'll be added to the list.

Please don't reply to this post; if you have questions send them to, gfb@gatewayfortheblind.com.

 

Posted by Hillary KleckMay 10, 2017

We recently received an Echo Dot for my daughter (12, blind) and she loves it! We have been trying to find new games (skills) and uses for it as well. We have found that it's a little fussy when listening during games and certain words and spellings, but hopefully they will make it better with updates.

And LOL on the cybersecurity... I feel the same way! #BigBrother

Posted by Diane BraunerMay 10, 2017

Thanks for sharing!  What games does your daughter like to play with the Echo Dot?  I also love my echo - I never thought about playing games though!

Posted by Steve PuglieseJun 14, 2017

Enjoyed your review. You didn't say much about Alexa's ability to play music. But that is, I believe, her greatest virtue. With the Amazon Music account at a mere four dollars a month, you turn Alexa into the Galactic Jukebox. Basically plays anything. But, what I'd like to get reviewers to comment on is that it doesn't do a true shuffle when you ask it to play, say, 70's music. Just plays the same sequence it did last time. Let's get that changed. Thanks for your review!

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