Most Well Guarded Secrets About Amazon Echo


Alexa is an extremely well designed piece of hardware, as is the Dot for that matter. Alexa’s speaker produces excellent sound for a device of such small size. The range of music available with Prime, if not comprehensive, is still very broad, and one has the option of uploading music to the cloud to fill in the gaps. Try asking “play some baroque music” and she [a female pronoun sounds better than “it” somehow] will give her stock ‘can’t help you with that” reply. Fortunately, Alexa can continue to evolve without having to replace the hardware (as Amazon and 3rd party app designers keep improving the back end), which is a nice change from the usual technology path where one’s phones and laptops are ‘over the hill’ in a year or so.

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So… why only four stars? The range of knowledge to which Alexa has access is surprisingly (and sometimes annoyingly) limited. Yes, she can convert currency, metric equivalents, tell you news, weather, etc. But just today, a friend wanted to test her and asked, “Who wrote The Great Gatsby?” Many, many people know the answer to that as it’s a literary classic.” Alexa could not come up with F. Scott Fitzgerald and instead of admitting she didn’t know, she said “The History of Things to Come, the dark horizon trilogy by Duncan Simpsin.” Say what??? Each of us asked again, same response. So that’s a baffling one. In fact, there are quite a few questions Alexa cannot answer or answers vaguely.

She is prompt with tons of trivia such as the ages of celebrities, the height of the Eiiffel Tower, geography, and so forth. But try asking, “Alexa, what is $138 dollars plus 15%.” And she says she can’t answer that. Nor can she answer something simpler, “What is 15% of 138 dollars?” [We laters discovered the word “dollars” was confusing Alexa. She could do the math if we omitted the word.) Google returns the correct answer to our original question in under two seconds–“one hundred fifty eight dollars and 70 cents). So the difficulty with Alexa is not the design of the hardware but the information she can access and/or the inquiries she is able to process. Google is exceptionally competent at both of these, and gets better just about every day in terms of intuitive responses. Google can follow a line of questioning, understanding that a follow-up question is based on previous ones.

I can’t help but think that a collaboration between Google and Amazon Online Coupons in developing Alexa would have been brilliant. Yes, I know that Amazon wants to keep its customers snugly enfolded in Amazon World, which no doubt is considered a wise business strategy, and is reminiscent of Apple’s closed ecosphere. But just imagine what Alexa could do if Google provided the brains behind it. Given Alexa’s limitation, we may well switch to Google Home, but for now, Alexa and her two “sister” Dots are providing good music and can answer many questions indeed. We have no need of smart home functions–I can certainly change the thermostat myself, and turn lights on and off. Who really needs that? Some of us recall when we had to get up and change the CHANNEL on the TV. Manually!

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