What is it? It looks like one of those Bluetooth speakers everyone has at the beach. But the Amazon Echo is a pretty amazing piece of tech. Dubbed Alexa, you plug the cylindrical speaker into any power outlet, hook her up to your smartphone or iPad, and she can run all your appliances, order you food, play your favourite music, grab you an Uber, and generally just get stuff done.
How does it work? Thanks to some dodgy region settings, Alexa and our family got off to the wrong start when she tried to charge us US$92 to order a pizza from Chicago. Good deal, but I didn't feel like waiting six days for a deep dish pie to arrive. Once we changed our regional settings to New Zealand, we got on a lot better. Now I'm used to her omnipresence in the living room, and I kind of like her. The kids certainly do.
What's the best thing about Alexa? The constant addition of content. I get emails every week that show just how much stuff Amazon keeps adding into the mix. My kids love her terrible jokes ("How are you?" "I'm AI okay"), crazy stories and super creepy laugh. Definitely don't ask her to quack like a duck. She's also hooked up to Amazon's Audible system, so the kids just have to ask to hear their favourite books. She has an opinion too: her favourite band is Daft Punk, and her favourite movie is The Empire Strikes back. I approve.
And what's the worst? Alexa can easily pick up my son's voice, but not my four-year-old daughter's. That makes her pretty frustrated. Also, one day, alone at home, I asked Alexa if she recorded all our conversations on the sly. "Hmm, I'm not sure about that," she replied. Then, I asked her if she sent any of our information back to Amazon. Same answer. Hmm, all right.
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What does an eight-year-old think? "What I like about Alexa is that she tells jokes like, 'How much does a grampa weight? Just a bit more than a gram.' She also tells stories and sometimes I don't get them. But she is a good invention and good for kids."
So how much is it? The Amazon Alexa is surprisingly cheap at $159.99. There's a mini version for other rooms called the Echo Dot that retails for $69. But we're not ready to invite Alexa into our bedrooms just yet.