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So, you know everyone and their mother has Alexa now and it seems pretty cool. It can answer questions, play music and turn the lights off… all useful features. But is Alexa really worth the money?
In this article, we’re going to take a good look at what purchasing an Amazon Echo can do for you and why you might want to take the leap. Beyond features and benefits, we’ll also talk about how it works, privacy and which model is best for you.
Let’s start with the big question…
Is Alexa Worth Buying?
As a long-time Alexa user and having owned several Amazon Echos, I can tell you that Alexa is certainly worth it. In a recent poll by VentureBeat.com, more than 65% of users stated that their smart speaker had changed their behavior or daily routines. Close to 75% of those users claimed to use it at least once a day, while 57% said they use theirs multiple times per day. According to safeatlast.co, nearly 70% of all smart speaker owners are Amazon Echo Users.
So, in other words, you don’t have to take it from me – the majority of Alexa users seem to be happy with their purchase decision as well.
In years past, purchasing an Amazon Echo would have also cost you much more money. Now, the barrier to entry is much lower with several affordable models to choose from. This makes it worth it for those who don’t want to spend that much to try it out. We’ll discuss pricing in detail later in this article.
How Does Alexa Work?
Alexa is triggered by a “wake word” (“Alexa” by default), which processes the following command by sending it over the internet to an Amazon cloud server. Alexa’s AI then parses the data, and sends a response back to your Alexa-supported device.
Usually, this is done using an Amazon Echo speaker or display. Echos come equipped with several ‘far-field’ microphones, speaker(s) and a Wi-Fi adapter to access Amazon’s cloud via your wireless router and internet connection.
The user engages Alexa by stating her name (“Alexa“). An LED ring on the Echo device will then turn blue, indicating that Alexa has been activated and is awaiting a command. The user will then ask a question or state their command.
For smart home control, there is a fairly easy setup process for each device. There will usually be a third-party app associated with the device which the Alexa app will connect to. After setup, Alexa will be able to communicate with your new smart home device using your home Wi-Fi.
What Can Alexa Do?
There are literally thousands of ways you can use your virtual assistant. However, to give you a glimpse at what this device is capable of, we’ve rounded up the features we appreciate the most:
Alexa Has All the Answers
Need help with a math problem? Alexa can tell you the square root of 4,672 in an instant. How about someone to back you up with sports statistics every time you have an argument with your best friend? Guess who has the answers to that too? Alexa does a great job of pulling up quick facts. All you have to do is ask.
This virtual assistant is also really great at handing out daily news headlines from your choice of news sources. Just call out, “Alexa, what is today’s flash briefing?” You’ll stay informed all with just a quick request.
Alexa is Your Own Personal DJ
Alexa also has the ability to play your favorite genre of music from your favorite artists or podcasts and playlists on request. Each device grants you the ability to pull up music from Spotify, Amazon Music, or just about any other streaming service you could think of.
Alexa is also compatible with audiobooks via Audible and Kindle Unlimited. If you aren’t interested in audiobooks, you will be interested to know that it also grants you access to live radios via TuneIn and premium access to newscasts and sporting events for a fixed monthly fee.
Alexa Controls Your Home
Alexa can connect with potentially thousands of other smart home devices, including robot vacuum cleaners, smart home security, connected cameras, devices connected to the Wi-Fi, thermostats, smart lights and even unlock your front door.
You will also be able to set up automations to occur based on a number of different trigger events. This could be the push of a button, a motion detection or even a specific time of day.
Alexa Handles Messaging and Calls
If you would like to get in touch with any of the contacts on your phone, Alexa can do it for you. Just ask Alexa to dial their number. If your friend (or relative) has a smart speaker as well, the ring on top of the device will go green again and Alexa will notify them that you want to get in touch.
You can just as easily answer calls and start talking by saying out loud, “Alexa, answer the call.” Of course, your options won’t just be limited to people who have a smart speaker. You can contact anyone with mobile or landline numbers in the US, Mexico, or Canada. If you would prefer to make international calls or emergency calls, you will have to buy an Echo Connect.
For more, check out this article titled, “What Can Alexa Do? Amazon Echo Skills, Tips, And Tricks…”
Is There a Monthly Fee For Alexa?
No, Amazon doesn’t charge a monthly fee for Alexa. The only thing you need is a Wi-Fi connection and a free Amazon account. There are benefits to subscribing to Amazon Prime, such as a better music selection and the ability to watch Prime Video on Echo Show. Additionally, some Alexa skills might be connected to a subscription service with a premium option such as Spotify or a Ring Protect Plan.
Is Alexa Always Listening?
Alexa is always listening, but only for its wake word. In other words, your smart speakers will only begin recording or transmitting sounds once you’ve said the wake word (or occasionally something that sounds like the wake word). Only when activated, will Alexa begin to record voice snippets and transmit data.
All Echo devices also have a way of indicating when they are listening in. A blue LED light will light up signifying that your device has been activated and is recording sounds to transmit in its pursuit to figure out how it can respond.
As another vital security measure, you should know that Amazon encrypts its data, both in transit and at rest. The Alexa app also grants the user the option to playback any recorded data and permanently delete anything at will.
If at any time you’re uneasy, there is always a ‘mute’ button on your Alexa speakers which will even keep Alexa from listening for a wake word. In doing so, Alexa’s ring will turn red, indicating that Alexa has her ears covered for the moment.
Why You Should Buy An Alexa
While there can be a long list of reasons why you should buy an Alexa, we’ll list 10 of the best we could think of.
- Instant weather updates before leaving the house
- Daily news alerts
- Set alarms and timers without even stretching a muscle
- Have Alexa add an event to your calendar app
- Access podcasts via Spotify, AnyPod, or Tune In
- Play music from Spotify, Prime Music or any other playlist
- Instant measurement conversions or other logical metrics
- Check facts instantly
- Control other smart home devices in your home to make life easier
- Look up film screening schedules in your local area
Which Alexa Should I Buy?
Amazon Echo (4th Gen)
The 4th Gen of the standard Echo is a great smart speaker all around. It sounds really good with rather crisp highs and well-balanced low-end frequencies. You’d be surprised the level of bass coming out of something that only stands 5″ tall. Arguably, it has the best bass quality of all the previous Echo products, aside from the Echo Studio.
If you’re a self-proclaimed audiophile, then you might want to read more about the Echo Studio in our article about the best Alexa for music.
This sound quality is based largely on its 3″ woofer and dual front-facing tweeters combined with accompanied Dolby audio technology. With a built-in Zigbee smart hub, Zigbee compatible smart devices can connect directly to your smart speaker without having to use your Wi-Fi.
Echo Dot (4th Gen)
The Echo Dot has always been my recommendation for smart speaker newbies. With this entry-level model, you will have access to just about anything Alexa is capable of, at about half the price of the regular Echo.
With that reduction in price, the Dot comes in at about half the size of it’s big brother. The single 1.6″ front-facing speaker delivers less volume and bass, but at 3.5″ tall, it’s still quite the little speaker.
The Echo Dot can do just about everything the Echo can do, except connect directly to Zigbee supported devices since it doesn’t have its own bult-in smart hub. This doesn’t greatly affect your experience though, because you can still connect to smart devices using your Wi-Fi.
One thing we really like about the Echo Dot is that its price tag allows you to buy multiple speakers and scatter them throughout the home in unique stereo configurations. This can also make it easy to control smart home devices from a completely different room in the house, making it more convenient than ever to manage lights, appliances, and energy in your home.
Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen)
This interesting little piece of tech is part of Amazon’s Smart Display portfolio of products. The new model has been termed Echo 10 and there are numerous new updates and changes from its prior generations. The biggest change, however, is that the Echo Show can follow you around the room.
The Echo Show 10’s smart display is fixed over a motorized base, which allows it to swivel around to face you whenever you call out to it. It does so by combining cutting edge vision technology with echolocation.
The Show 10 can also sense when you enter a room or turn itself to offer you the best viewing experience possible. This is great when cooking in the kitchen or taking video calls while doing housework. This newer generation device really takes the Alexa experience to a whole new level.
To wrap this article up, I thought it best to ask my Echo Show why she thought people should use Alexa. Here was her response:
Using your voice, you can ask me to play any song or artist, set timers and reminders, control smart home devices, reorder products, and call or message hands-free.Alexa
There you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. The question still remains thought – Do YOU think Alexa is worth it?
Until next time.