Back to School with Alexa and Echo | Toronto Teacher Mom

Back to School with Alexa and Echo

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Amazon Echo - Charcoal Fabric - Echo Dot

As much as I love back-to-school season and heading back to work every September, making the shift from our laidback summer routines to a busier, sometimes hectic, schedule is one thing I often dread. My goal as of late is to simplify my life in whatever way I can and make this yearly transition as smooth as possible. This has included:

  • purging my office at work and reorganizing my desk
  • sorting through the kids' old clothes to be donated or handed down
  • being more selective of any extra work I take on
  • coaching my kids to be a little more independent
  • asking for help whenever I need it
  • taking more time to enjoy life's simple pleasures
Sometimes I feel like I could really use my own personal assistant. And then I met Alexa.

For the past few weeks, the family and I have been testing out Amazon Echo and Echo Dot. These hands-free voice-activated devices allow you to connect to Alexa, a cloud-based voice service, from anywhere in the room. While the Echo boasts incredible 360° omnidirectional audio, it is so much more than a powerful speaker.

Amazon Echo - Charcoal Fabric


Setting up Echo and Echo Dot was rather straightforward. I just had to plug them in, download the Alexa App and follow the prompts. Now I can tell Alexa to stream a song via Prime Music or continue a book that I'm listening to on Audible. And that's just the beginning.

Since Echo is always connected, it automatically receives updates and new features, making it one pretty smart device. This means that I can not only ask Alexa to provide traffic conditions on my morning commute, but I can also ask her to reorder items from Amazon.ca, check my calendar to share what's on my agenda for the day, or ask her for the square root of pi. My daughter took advantage of Alexa's ability to quickly solve math equations while she worked in her grade 9 math workbook over the summer. She needed a new scientific calculator for back-to-school so, of course, I told Alexa to add it to my shopping list. It was easy as the other pie!

My daughter also relied on Alexa to count down the days until the first day of school. My son, however, called on Alexa to count how many days were left until Christmas vacation...

In the weeks leading up to back-to-school, my son tried to enjoy as much outdoor play as possible. And as he so often does, he would come barreling through the front door to ask for the time out of fear of missing his favourite TV shows. Only now he could bother Alexa instead of me! (Honestly, I don't know why I ever bothered buying him a watch that he never wears.) He also relied on Alexa to set a timer on Echo Dot to help him limit the amount of time he would spend on his Xbox. I would even hear my ever-inquisitive son asking Alexa for random facts while simultaneously listening to his favourite George Michael and Michael Jackson music. When it's time to say goodnight to Fortnite, you might even hear him ask Alexa for simple recipes or how long it takes to boil an egg, for example. It's a great way to boost his confidence while also supporting his need to be a little more independent.

The neat part about Echo and Echo Dot is that they feature beamforming technology, noise cancellation and Amazon's 2nd generation far-field technology. This means that Alexa can hear you ask a question from any direction - even while playing music. You can also ask her to adjust the volume, tell you the weather forecast, quiz you on the Word of the Day, set a reminder to study for a test, set up an alarm on school days, tell you a joke or randomly select head or tails to help you decide what outfit to wear. Plus, Alexa can learn new skills from a growing bank thousands of additional capabilities, as well as customizable routines, creating a more personalized experience. For example, you can use the Alexa app to program a morning routine that tells you the forecast, traffic conditions and any events on your agenda with a single prompt, such as "Alexa, good morning!" 

Of the two devices, Echo is my favourite simply because of its powerful speakers that provide incredible sound. It retails for $129.99 but it is currently on sale for $119.99. Echo Dot is a more compact and affordable version at $69.99, currently on sale for $44.99. Although it has a built-in speaker, the sound isn't as crisp but if you already own a decent speaker, you can connect to it over Bluetooth or with the included audio cable to play music. 

Disclosure: I received product help facilitate this review. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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