Category Archives: Alexa Hardware

Amazon Echo With A Screen? Sure I’d Buy It.

Amazon has been rumored to be coming out with an Echo with a screen for some time. And why not? Screens are relatively cheap. They are still great ways to convey information and beauty. Well, the rumors got a long stronger with the recently leaked pictures from multiple reliable sources:

Amazon Echo Screen
Amazon Echo Screen

For those that seem to care about such nonsense, there appears to be a white one available as well.

This new Echo, codenamed “Knight”, supposedly has a 7″ screen and a camera. I could see this as being a cross between the Invoxia Triby and the Nucleus Anywhere Intercom. I think of it as a great kitchen device like the Triby (alas without the messaging aspect, but at least always-listening). The camera could make it be a nice intercom especially over the internet. From the picture itself we get the idea that it has day planning capabilities.

So people think it looks ugly, but I think it looks fine. Perhaps I’m a little biased. I’m also not sure what else people were expecting. Maybe they want a stainless steel version?

There’s no word on how much it will cost. The problem for me is that I already have a couple of Echo Dots, an Echo, and a Tap. I’m almost at Alexa Everywhere at this point. And with the Tap, I literally can have it everywhere very easily. For new customers though, this could be interesting. I might just be interested enough myself if the screen features are helpful and it is priced right. It would be a tough sell with the wife as she’s trying to curb my Alexa/Echo addiction.

Mattel to Bring Alexa/Echo Clone to Kids

I’ve written about 10 Great Alexa/Echo Things for Kids.

Mattel Aristotle

It seems that that I’m not alone in thinking that these hands-free personal digital assistants can be an educational tool for kids. Toy company, Mattel, has a clone of Alexa/Echo aimed at kids named Aristotle.

Personally, I would have gone with Socrates as first version. Then you could naturally follow it up with Aristotle and Plato.

At first I thought the idea of dumbed-down version of Alexa/Echo was silly. However, Mattel has added a few very interesting twists. Most notably, it’s combined it with a baby monitor and turn on nightlights and/or play music. That’s useful if I happen to be awake watching television at 10PM. However, if it’s 2AM, the last thing I want to do is wake up my wife by talking to a device. (Fortunately, we’ve advanced beyond the need of a baby monitor.)

Another feature is that Aristotle is able to be trained to understand children’s voices. That’s important, because my kids have had some difficulty summoning Alexa (which may be a blessing!).

Aristotle appears to have two basic modes: kids and parents. The “kids” mode is invokes the Aristotle assistant for things like reading stories and playing games. The “parents” mode seems to be powered by Amazon Alexa. Sounds like it has a bit of a split personality, but it could be promising.

It looks like you’ll have to pay $300 for the niche focus. That seems very expensive in the world of $40 Echo Dots. It’s a little more reasonable compared to an $180 Echo, but it still tips the scale as being too expensive in my opinion. Maybe they are looking to start high and lower the price over time.

Hat Tip: The Verge

Echo Dot is Amazon’s #1 Top Holiday Seller

Amazon declared today something that readers already knew… Amazon Echo devices are awesome.

Amazon Alexa
Amazon Alexa

Specifically Amazon noted:

  • “Sales of Amazon Echo family of devices up more than 9x over last year’s holiday season”
  • “Echo Dot is the best-selling, most gifted item on Amazon.com with millions sold worldwide since launch”
  • “Alexa devices made up top-selling products across all categories on Amazon.com including Echo Dot, Fire TV Stick, Fire tablet and Amazon Echo”

From this we can gather that Echo hardware is selling extremely well… probably better than I even thought possible. The Echo Dot was the key to the growth as its price point ranged between $40 and $50 through most of the holiday season. Finally, devices that are Alexa-enabled are doing quite well. I’m not sure that I’d call a Fire tablet an Alexa device as it did so many things before Alexa, but Amazon’s free to categorize things how they want.

The Amazon press release gives more details about popular Alexa questions. One thing I found notable is that there are a lot of people who don’t know how to make chocolate chip cookies.

Alexa Coffee Maker: Raspberry Pi and Arduino Working Together

I’m not a big fan of coffee. I had this master plan that I would avoid it. Then I couldn’t get addicted to it like adults. You know what they say about the best laid plans… Instead, I started to get caffeine from diet cola and now I drink more of that, which arguable is worse for me.

To make matters worse, I couldn’t escape coffee as my wife loves it and can’t function without it. I usually set it up for her as my little gesture to show her that I love her (“awwww!”)

Well David Frank and Carter Hurd may be making my life a little easier thanks to Amazon’s Alexa, a Raspberry Pi, and an Arduino. Give the video below a watch.

Obviously, it’s not the best coffee machine, but I’ll give it some major style points. I’m not sure if I really need my coffee maker to be Alexa-enabled. First I’d need a machine that has the basics of being able to replace its own filters, pump its own water, and measure an appropriate amount of coffee. (Bonus for being able to clean out the used grounds.)

Once you get a gadget that does all that, it’s just a matter of sending the signal to make the coffee. I don’t think it matters if that signal comes from a timer, a press of a button, or an Alexa command.

However, if we can put together multiple breakfast making machines together, I’d love to create an Alexa macro of, “Make me breakfast” to make it all happen.

Hat Tip: The Verge

Alexa Powers Nucleus Anywhere Intercom

There’s an intriguing new Alexa powered device on Amazon. This one isn’t from Amazon, but instead is from a start-up, named Nucleus. That’s similar to Triby, another Alexa device by Invoxia.

So what’s a Nucleus Anywhere Intercom? Quick and dirty, it’s intercom/video calling hardware powered by Alexa. Here’s their video pitch:

That video should give you an idea that this is geared towards families and bringing people closer.

What are the specs? It’s essentially an 8-inch tablet with a wide-angle 5 megapixel camera. It has speakers and a microphone naturally. It has Ethernet and WiFi for internet connectivity. It requires an outlet or Power over Ethernet (PoE), so if wireless and mobility is your thing, you might be disappointed. A single unit is $249, but a pair can be bought for ~$200 each. You’ll likely want a pair too, because the sound of one intercom calling is a little like the sound of one hand clapping.

Nucleus Anywhere
Nucleus Anywhere

So where does Alexa fit in? In some ways it seems like an afterthought. You can press an Alexa button and use some (maybe even most?) of the Alexa services. However, it can’t play Pandora like the Echo.

And notice that you seem to have to press a button… you can’t just call out, “Alexa, call Grandma.” Granted that might get annoying, it was the first thing I thought of when I heard of an Alexa-powered intercom/video phone.

That might be a pessimistic view of what Alexa can do. You can still ask it to play certain artists/albums/songs, what the weather is, read the news, etc. So it feels a little like an Echo light, but with the big advantage of video calling.

There’s a lot of good things here and I’m tempted to buy in. However, there are a few things that are stopping me:

  • Price – For 3 rooms and 2 grandmother’s houses, it’s a thousand dollar purchase. Is a dedicated Skype device worth that? Amazon has been able to sell Fire tablets at around $40 a piece. I’m not saying these should get that low, but the tablets arguable have more functionality and an extra component or two (such as a battery).
  • Closed System – I couldn’t find out if I can use it to Skype with friends (and since it isn’t Apple, I’m sure it can’t Facetime). I’m more interested in the easy videophone aspect than the intercom aspect, but your family may be different.
  • Redundant – If you are already an Alexa fan such as myself, you probably have an Echo and a Dot or two.
  • Mobility – Even if the battery life was bad, it would be nice to take the call with you. What if the cat is doing something really cute in another room and you want to show grandma? You can’t.

I think I’ve been a little overcritical of the Nucleus Anywhere. Let me take a step back and realize that this is the first device from a start-up company. I can’t think of a version 1.0 that was perfect. I’m looking forward to seeing the next version.

I’m probably one of the frugal tech enthusiasts out there, so I don’t think I’d take a flyer on this unless it gets to the $99 range.

Why I Bought an Amazon Tap

Remember back in March when I wrote that won’t buy an Amazon Tap yet? You can forget about it, because I’m the proud owner of an Amazon Tap.

The biggest reason I had to not buy an Amazon Tap is the biggest reason why I love the Echo… I like that the Echo is always listening. I don’t have to navigate a screen of a phone or do anything other than just call out what I want. The Tap requires you press a button and then ask what you want. (It does this to save on battery so that it can be portable.)

I didn’t think I’d be able to get used to pressing a button before talking, but it is surprisingly natural. Since the device is designed to be portable, I have it near me anyway. Pressing the button doesn’t typically require me to walk across the room like it would with my Echo. Also, when you press the button, you can skip addressing it as Alexa. That saves a step.

I was also concerned about playing music outside of my home’s WiFi network. What good is portable if you can’t leave your home, right? Well, I found a guide on CNET that shows you how to take your Amazon Tap anywhere, by setting up your phone as a mobile hotspot. I thought it would be more difficult, but it appears that the Amazon Alexa application is designed for this in mind (YES!). In about 5 minutes, I was up and running with a mobile Tap that I could bring in the car (fits well in a cup holder) or anywhere I happen to have my phone.

Of course, I didn’t know all this before I bought the Amazon Tap. I took a leap of faith like I did with the Echo. It was much easier to take that leap with the Alexa/Echo Deals Galore around Amazon Prime Day which made it $70 instead of the usual $130. At a price of $70, I figured I could always sell it on Ebay for a profit if I really didn’t like it.

So far one of the best uses I’ve found is giving it to my 3 year old to use. It’s a little easier to show than crowding around the Echo and the physical connection of pressing the button and speaking into it simply seems to make sense to him. The only part we need to work on is that he still tries to call Amazon Tap, Alexa before asking it to do something.

Alexa Hardware Beyond Echo: Invoxia Triby

When I first started this blog one of the earliest articles I intended to write was the Invoixia Triby. And then I got really busy (as you might have noticed). I’ve still managed to cover quite a bit about Alexa/Echo universe, but this one slipped through the cracks.

However, the long announced Triby is
now available for sale
. It’ll set you back $169… at least at the current discounted price. It’s quickly got 22 reviews on Amazon, which is pretty notable for such a new product.

So What’s the Invoixia Triby

I think it’s the first hardware to use Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service that isn’t from Amazon itself. It’s pitched as a family messaging center that conveniently stay on your fridge. It looks like a retro-radio, but with an E-ink screen and a physical messaging flag that comes out when there’s a message left on it (presumably for another family member).

This review isn’t going to all-encompassing for three reasons:

  1. The most practical reason is that I haven’t bought the Triby and I don’t plan to. Without actual hands-on experience with the device, I don’t want to get too specific into the details that I might mistake.
  2. I read that the always-on aspect of the Alexa is only good for 2-hours when it isn’t plugged-in. Otherwise, you need to press a button like the Amazon Tap. I suppose it’s nice to the portability option, but I’d need it always plugged-in.
  3. My refrigerator is stainless steel, so the magnets wouldn’t stick to it. Other than that, my 2 and 3 year olds aren’t really at the age of needing this… or taking advantage of it. So it would just be my wife and I using it to communicate. I think for less than half the price of an Echo Dot, we can make due with a pad of paper.

On the bright side, the hassle-free calls seems like a great feature. Also, there’s real value to having an E-ink display… or at least there’s potential value.

Final Thoughts

Overall the Triby is interesting and I’m almost finding myself talking myself into it. If my life was in a different place (say 8 years from now), I might feel differently about it. In fact, I feel like this review from The Verge covered how I might feel about it well.

I’m personally going to wait and see what the next version has in store. At that point, I might be willing to nearly $200 for it, but I think I’d feel more comfortable paying $75 for the Triby.

CoWatch with Alexa

CoWatch: Alexa Coming to Watches

It seems like interesting in getting Amazon’s Alexa is growing. The latest evidence is that there’s an Indiegogo campaign to package Alexa in a watch.

It’s easy to create an Indiegogo campaign, but this particularly notable because it comes with some pretty extensive media coverage. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first I’d like to point out that they already reached their funding goal.

And before we get to the media coverage, it’s worth describing the watch. In my opinion it looks beautiful. What do you think?

CoWatch with Alexa
CoWatch with Alexa

The CoWatch seems to come from a Chinese company called iMCO. A lot of good things come from China, but there are also a lot of things such as media sticks that aren’t particularly high quality. It seems like this intention is to bring a very quality product, but I’m a little skeptical that’s possible for the pricing.

One concern I have is the battery. A 300 mAh battery isn’t very strong. It’s powerful enough to work for a watch, but as we’ve seen with the Amazon Tap having Alexa work, even by touch, requires a fairly large battery. In fact, a teardown of the Amazon Tap shows that it has a 2850 mAh battery. So at nearly 10x the battery it doesn’t have hands-free, always on listening like the Echo or the Echo Dot.

My initial reading of “With up to 32 hours of battery life in an always-on mode, CoWatch works as hard as you do…” lead me to believe that Alexa is always on. Unfortunately this just applies to the watch. (Which begs the question, “It’s a watch supposed to be ‘always on’?”)

It wasn’t clear until that I read the reviews that you’ll have navigate to an Alexa app and then speak a voice command to it. Suddenly the battery life makes a lot more sense. Of course, if the watch isn’t used to play music like the other Alexa devices from Amazon, perhaps the battery will last longer. Then again, the watch adds fitness tracking sensors such as an accelerometer, a gyroscope, and optical heart rate sensors.

I’m not sure the value of Alexa on a watch when you have to navigate to an app and then tell it what you want it to do. The suggestion is that you can do simple home automation tasks, but those typically have their own apps. What do I get by using the Alexa app when I can use my Nest app? At a minimum an Amazon Tap-like dedicated Alexa button would be useful. That would avoid navigating through apps, which really takes full advantage of Alexa’s potential. Of course, it is easier to get information back than having to type on a watch screen. That said, it would seem like this is what Google Now and Siri are for. It’s not that Alexa can’t do it, but that functionality already exists on smart watches.

The watch uses Cronologics OS which is neither the two obvious watch OSes from Google or Apple. That’s an initial cause for concern, but the Cronologics OS is based on Google’s Android, so maybe it is a good choice. That said, I’d feel more comfortable about the watch if Amazon itself was making it using Google’s official Android Wear.

There’s a lot of skepticism in this post, but I’ll end it with a big media review, The Verge and what they say:

Normally we approach crowdfunded hardware with a fair amount of skepticism, given just how hard it is to make hardware. But CoWatch, which has been in the works for a year, and Cronologic OS have shown me just enough to think they might be on to something.

If they can convince a writer at The Verge, then who am I to argue?

Official Alexa on a Raspberry Pi

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how to Access Alexa on a Raspberry Pi. At the time, it was about how some very smart hobbyists were able to get it all to work.

Less than two weeks later, we have an official Alexa-Raspberry Pi guide from Amazon.

I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that you can build something like an Amazon Tap (not always listening) for $60. The bad news is that it appears to be a good amount of work and a high-level of technical expertise to make it happen.

It’s not the prettiest device around:

However, if you are looking for a project where you can learn a lot about computer hardware and Alexa, this may be a good fit.

Why I Won’t Buy an Amazon Tap (Yet)

When Amazon announced the Echo Dot (thoughts), I rushed to register and create this site.

How do I feel about the Amazon Tap? Not the same.

The reason I love the Echo line of devices is that it is hands-free and always listening. The Amazon Tap does neither. I love portability, but it comes at the cost of having to keep the battery charged and having to activate it like a smartphone voice assistant.

Amazon can make the Tap great by creating another version that does two things:

  1. Becomes an Echo When Docked – When it is docked to a power source, it should have the ability to be hands-free and always listening like the Echo. This would allow Amazon to sell me charging docks for around my house and perhaps a couple of Taps for family members.
  2. Can be Always Listening when Portable – I know it will drain the battery… perhaps quite fast. However, if I’m only going out for a few hours, I might not mind. This would be especially true if I have multiple docks as noted in above idea.

The other thing that isn’t clear with the Tap is if it needs a mobile hot spot to use Alexa Voice Services. It sounds like it does. However, it should be able to connect through Bluetooth and use my phone’s LTE or Wifi connection to route the request. This saves me the effort of putting my phone in mobile hot spot mode.

While you may be able to use the speaker on the go without being connected a mobile hot spot or Alexa Voice Services, that makes it a pretty plain Bluetooth speaker.