Do you want to instantly make your room / house more techy? Just get the Amazon Echo. It is a “smart speaker” (essentially a physical version of a virtual assistant). I cannot guarantee, that it will be helpful in your specific case, but is it cool? Of course yes.
I have the smaller, and less expensive, Echo Dot. It is only marginally larger than an ice hockey puck. It doesn’t really scream “machine”, but it is not really designed to blend in with your furniture and decorations.
On the inside, it has the same microphones and processing technology as the taller Echo. The microphone array works very well, and can hear me from anywhere in my room. If I am sitting at the desk, even whispering will do. Setting alarms / timers, asking for weather, doing simple conversions… All of that is handled with ease. The real problem comes when you start asking more complex questions, which require deeper understanding of context.
Where a device like this really fits is controlling “smart homes”. The idea is, that you don’t have to get up to turn off your lights, but instead, you end up searching for a phone, the right app, the right menu… You get the point. We have dreamed of this for decades. Just saying a command, and stuff just happens. Now it’s real. The on-line store of “Skills” (apps), translating a wide range of compatible devices. This + the very good far field voice recognition mean, you can shout “Alexa” followed by a command, and it all just works. No need to search for a phone or have a smartwatch strapped to your wrist.
Let’s not lose focus though. The Echo is a speaker after all. Well, don’t expect to use the built-in one for anything but listening to podcasts. It sounds tinny, roughly comparable to an iPhone 6S speaker. Luckily, it has a 3.5 mm jack on the back, so you can plug it into a speaker system of your preference. Of course, it’s the 21st century, so pairing a Bluetooth speaker is possible too.
For £50, this small little gadget is a great toy to make you feel like you are living in the future. However, even if you just look at the facts, you are getting an extremely good value for money. Mostly because you get a very functional, always-ready, virtual assistant + potentially a breath of new life into any set of older speakers.
If you want to see, how it all works in practice and how I use my Echo Dot, be sure to watch the video below.