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More Dots! More Echo Dots!

So, I now have two more Echo Dots to add to my collection. This means I have an Echo in all the major rooms, which is pretty awesome. Those rascals are great for weather, setting timers, bits of trivia and of course the ever decisive coin toss.

I like the little Dots, they are very handy. And to be honest, $50 for all that technology is a damn good deal. I know Apple has Siri in their Apple TV, but it really seems like they should have been first to market with a standalone Siri box. But oh well, Alexa won this round.

I will say, having an Echo Dot in the kitchen is extremely handy. Not only is it good for music, but you can always double check on something without having to stop and wash your hands.

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Amazon Echo, Tap and Dot

So there is a new offering for the Amazon Echo Dot, and a nice price tag to go with it. It’s the new 2.0 version, although I’m not sure what they’ve done under the plastic to warrant a 2.0 revision. The original Echo has been software updated multiple times I’m sure and doesn’t bear a 2.0 moniker.

Nevertheless, a new model is out, this time in white and at a price of $49.99, which is significantly lower than the introductory price. I got my first Echo Dot at the higher offering. However, I did jump on board and ordered another. I decided to get the white one and it will go in the living room.

So why exactly get an Echo Dot? What is it good for? Well, it makes a perfect alarm clock that’s for sure. The original is in my bedroom and is set every night. The alarm is far more pleasant that the horrific buzzing of a regular clock or the static filled music of the radio.

It’s also great for setting a timer and playing a playlist before bed. The speaker is nothing to write home about, but it sounds fine for lite listening.

I also bought the Tap when it was introduced. That went in the kitchen and works great for playing music while cooking and cleaning. Additionally, you can pick it up and wander around the house. It’s been quite nice to take it outside on the deck without having to worry about cords and resetting the network connection.

I’ve seen a lot of people ask, what is the difference between the three? The original Echo, is the best and largest of the lot. It has the better speaker for improved sound. Next, is the Tap, which has a decent speaker and is cordless so you can move it around with ease. As long as there is a network connection it will keep playing. Third, is the Dot. It’s great for asking questions, getting information, checking the time, setting timers and adding items to a list. The speaker is miniature to say the least, but you can hook it to a bigger set.

From a functionality standpoint, they all work the same. They have the same voice, hook into the same system and have the same level of accuracy in voice recognition, which for me, is pretty damn high. It rarely gets something wrong.

Are they worth it? Absolutely. I love these little rascals. I think the Echo is a fantastic piece of technology that has evolved from a glorified speaker to an impressive piece of hardware. Once you get used to it, you’ll be asking Echo or "Alexa" as I know her, all sorts of questions such as when is the next full moon, when is daylight savings, when is Autumn, flip a coin, roll a 20 sided die, and set a timer for 30 minutes so this chicken doesn’t burn.

I don’t know anything about the Smarthome technology such as adjusting thermostats and turning off lights, but I can only imagine it works as flawlessly as the rest. Ironically, it seems like Apple should have been the one to build Echo, not Amazon. Having Siri in a stand alone device, other than a phone, would have been something Apple was keen to make. I guess that wasn’t on their radar. Or maybe they got beat to market. Or maybe Siri is trapped in the Apple TV.

But the Echo is a very useful device. And since we are coming up on the holidays and the price has dropped a few times, it makes a great gift for yourself or someone else. They really are very useful and entertaining.

And just so you know, Alexa does seem to know how much wood a woodchuck can chuck – if the wind is at his back.

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Amazon unveils the Echo Tap and Echo Dot

Amazon has just sent out email about two new devices in the Echo line, the Amazon Tap and the Amazon Dot. Both are variations on the original Echo design, but offer some nice variety.

The Echo Tap is roughly the original Echo, but cordless and portable. You can take it from room to room or if you have a WiFi hotspot, even further. The Tap isn’t always on and listening for the “Alexa” keyword, so you have to push a button for it to respond. That doesn’t seem a problem and was done to save battery life.

The other is the Echo Dot which looks like a little hockey puck. It’s the brains of Alexa without the big speaker. It can still play music, but it’s meant more for answering questions and looking up information that streaming music. It can make up for this with its Audio Out so you can hook up external speakers.

I’ve already ordered the Tap, which will be great during the summer to move music from room to room and out onto the deck. It also means the Tap isn’t in a fixed position like the original Echo.

I’m tempted to buy the Dot as well. The Dot would replace the Echo as an alarm clock and weather gadget. The Echo could then relocate to the office and the Tap would roam around the house bringing joy and happiness wherever it landed.

About the only thing I’m not excited about is the initial price. It’s a good price, but unlike when the Echo first came out, there isn’t a discount for early adopters. The Echo was unproven technology back and had a limited feature set. This new generation is all grown up.

A minor grievance. The funny thing is, you can only order the Dot using the Echo. That will give me some time to decide if I should get one. I already know the answer is I will, but it makes me feel like I’m really struggling with the idea.

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Power Strip Adapters so I can finally plug all my external hard drives into one power strip

I’m not the only one with this problem. You buy multiple drives but because they all these massive power supplies and wall warts the damn things won’t all fit into the same UPS device. No matter how you twist or arrange them, it just doesn’t work. I have a 12 outlet device that can only hold a couple drives because the stupid plus are so big.

But I just found a solution to the problem. I don’t know why I didn’t find it sooner. While checking on Amazon I found a set of 10 little extension chords. They are a mere 12 inches long and don’t look that exciting at all, but they are exactly what I need! They are 3 prong, UL listed cables that give you just enough length to plug in the drive and let it drape down the side of the UPS. I’ve been looking at all sorts of different UPS designs because I didn’t know these rascals existed.

I literally ordered them last night and they showed up this morning. I was a tiny bit skeptical because 10 of these was $18, which is less than $2 per chord. But, they are fine quality and well molded. They don’t need to be insanely high gauge wire since this is for a hard drive.

They work perfectly and I quickly plugged in half a dozen drives and got rid of the mess of power strips and all sorts of spaghetti wiring. In fact, I just ordered another set so I have them for later.

These are not to be used to hook up a computer or some other high draw device. They are made for low consumption devices so don’t get all crazy and overload the damn things. Like I said, they are perfect for my hard drives. Yeah, the picture is a little dorky, but cables work great and the price is great.

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Power Strip Adapters (Set of 10)

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A closer look at the Amazon Echo

So let’s take a few minutes to have a closer look at the Amazon Echo and go over what’s good and what needs work and who would benefit from such a device.

First off, the device is heavily reliant on Amazon Prime. Obviously, this is the first group that is allowed to buy it, so if you’re not keen on Amazon Prime and don’t see the benefit, Echo clearly isn’t the right device for you.

The Echo is really a device to push the benefits of Amazon Prime Music which I think will develop into a pretty good service. Amazon has vastly improved Prime for shipping and the catalog for Prime Instant Video continues to grow. I have no reason to doubt their music collection won’t grow and many more albums will be available under the Prime umbrella. To that end, Echo is a nice way to hook into that service.

You can easily talk to the device or you can use the companion app. I used my iPad to hook into Echo and although it doesn’t offer a slew of features, it does work well and I have no problem selecting albums or songs.

The offerings are a bit Spartan at the moment. You can either stream music off Amazon or pick from IHeartRadio or TuneIn. I’m sure there will be more offerings in the coming months, but for now you still get to pick from a lot of Internet based radio stations or podcasts. Using the iPad app, I navigated through a whole series of Internet radio channels and within a couple of seconds I could hear the broadcast. I’m not a huge radio fan, but it’s nice to have it there.

Echo does answer simple questions and can look up certain types of information for you. Don’t expect Alexa to read entire Wikipedia articles to you, but it can give a simple recap. You can also ask Alexa to put items on the included ToDo list. It’s all pretty basic, but this is the first pass. It would be nice to see an improved ToDo list as well as things more related to building a shopping list. I guess that begs the question, is Echo a streaming media device, Internet Appliance or Personal Assistant? It has a touch of the last two, but not enough.

The setup is easy and it’s just as easy to pick up Echo and move it around. Just plug it back in, wait a few seconds to reconnect to your WiFi network and it’s all back up and running. This means it’s easy to move from the office to the patio and bring the music. That will be a nice way to play music outside during summer.

Since Echo is only available to Prime members currently, the price is $99, down from $199. I can live with the $99 price tag, although I think it’s a bit high for what we currently get. I expect more features to come online and that is the price you pay for early adoption. Even fully loaded, I think $199 is far to expensive. For the first generation it seems more reasonable to price Echo at $79 or $69. It would have been nice to pay $99 and get a year of the Prime Music Subscription thrown in. That’s a hard bundle to argue with.

A small disappointment is the fact the original Kindle Fire doesn’t integrate with Echo. Ouch, not good. I jumped on board with your first generation Fire device and you can’t write software for it to control Echo? Come on, that’s pretty lame. Are you really saying you couldn’t come up with a simple playlist interface?

I guess that proves the point, read the fine print to make sure it’s compatible before buying. If you don’t have a recent Kindle Fire, iPad or Android you could be in trouble. And if your PC isn’t wireless, that can cause issues as well. So yes, a few setup tricks you need to be weary of.

Another issue of contention, which I’m sure will be worked out shortly, is that Echo can’t play any of the Prime Stations. Amazon has built up quite a few of these based on genre – like the 80s and 90s, as well as for artists like Pink, Elton John and others. Pity Echo doesn’t know what to do with these, but I’m sure it will be able to play them before too much longer.

While the feature set is somewhat limited, I still like Echo. It’s a simple and efficient way to stream music without using an additional computer or laptop. If that is your goal, you can be happy with Echo. If you’re looking for Echo to be a personal assistant and data miner, then you will be disappointed.

In some ways I’m surprised Apple didn’t come out with this sort of device first, it’s right up their alley. They’re version would probably cost $400 though.

So, is this a device for the masses? If the masses have a Prime account, then yes. If the masses are looking to fill a small space with music, then yes. If the masses want a small appliance that can answer a few questions, set an alarm or timer, take simple notes and talk about the weather, then yes.

If the masses are looking for a completely hands free device that can play music from multiple sources and scour the web looking for new and exciting information, Echo isn’t quite there. Yet.

Let’s keep an important detail in mind though. Amazon, not a multi-billion dollar computer company, beat Apple, Google and Microsoft to the punch and got a stand alone voice activated device on the market. That’s a pretty impressive task.

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