My Quest to Increase My Home’s Intelligence
Intelligent Assistants seem to round out one’s smart home. There are many to choose from, and I am guilty of using multiple versions. Google has their version with Google Assistant, Amazon has Alexa, Apple has Siri, and Microsoft has Cortana. Each of these has its strengths and weaknesses, but they are intended to make our lives easier.
Early Amazon Dot
I am guilty of using not one but two of these assistants quite regularly. While I am a staunch supporter of Apple products with iPhones, iPads, and MacBook Pro, I have adopted a good deal of Alexa-enabled devices within my home. My foray into an intelligent home began many years ago with the Amazon Echo Dot. I slowly moved up the ranks to the 2nd generation and learned throughout the process. What tasks did I have it do? The “skills” started slowly as I found it was able to work with my Nest thermostat before Google acquired Nest. I could raise/lower the temperature within the house. I could ask it simple questions about the weather, and It would alert me when a package had arrived. Playing music was its primary function. I was happy when my Sonos speakers were finally enabled to work with Alexa. These could work in conjunction with some of them, provided they had a mini-jack. Given I had multiple Dots, I found it necessary to improve the overall sound. Soon accessories started to hit the market, and I could place the Dot like pictured. This improved the sound quality, and I had better-sounding music.
Early Dot Speaker
It wasn’t long before Amazon began appealing to these types of consumers. Soon, the improved speaker was part of the Amazon core line of products. You no longer had to buy a separate, third-party speaker. Amazon would now directly compete with the likes of Sonos and Apple for the audiophile segment. I found it much easier to buy an Echo rather than patching a Dot into an aftermarket speaker. The Echo listed below was the 2nd generation with improved sound quality. Was this as good as my Sonos speaker? Definitely not, but a vast improvement over the Dot, and later the Dot with 3rd party speaker. Slowly, but surely Amazon was making improvements, and they had the lion’s share of the home assistant market.
New Skills were being added daily. I could tell my Roomba to start vacuuming at a specific time. I could play music from many different services, such as Spotify and Pandora. Not only could I pick the music, but I could also pick the rooms I played the music in. I could play the speakers independently, or I could play them all together for whole-house audio. Alexa could work with my garage door and my Philips Hue lights I kept adding to my system. You could buy products through your Amazon Prime account. Any visitors to my Arlo Video Doorbell will be announced. Soon Amazon was expanding their offering with the Amazon Show line of devices. Hearing Alexa was no longer enough; we had to be able to see her.
The Amazon Show was an intelligent assistant with the ability to show video files such as movies, weather reports, room temperature, song lyrics, lighting level details, and other such things. I waited for the Amazon Show second generation before I took the plunge. The internal processor was more responsive, although still not as responsive as I would have liked. You could video call with other Alexa users, use it as an intercom with other devices within the home, ask the unit random questions, or have it read you the latest news in the morning. The 10-inch screen made it easy to see, and the scrolling visual announcements throughout the day are always a welcome distraction. As is often the case around Amazon Prime Day, I was able to pick a few more devices up at a heavy discount. Around this time I invested in a few Echo Show 5 units and a future Echo Show 8.
Both the Echo Show 5 and 8 were 5 inch and 8-inch display models and can be placed inconspicuously throughout the house. Think of these items as enhanced alarm clocks. They had all of the features of the 10-inch models, again with improved processors. They were slightly more responsive but just a little smaller. I opted to take one to work to place on my desk. No longer was my assistant just announcing verbally; she was also visually showing me specific things. I could ask to see the front door camera on the screen. I could watch how one would “Stuff a turkey” from the kitchen of a master chef. I could ask to see the latest video from Ed Sheeran on Vimeo.
As stated earlier, having one personal assistant was not enough. I felt the need to bring more of Apple’s Siri within my home. Apple released the Homekit Mini, and I needed to give this a try. I first added one such unit and later added two more to my home as gifts for the kids. Did I need these in my home? Most certainly not, but being the technophile, I am I quickly pounced on this idea. There is something to be said of having an extension of one’s iPhone within the home. The kids had iPad’s and could use these to enhance the sound from their devices. Siri is always responsive and jumps at performing simple tasks for them. It is fair to say, Siri is not as functional as Alexa, but it is improving, and more and more capabilities are being added. The kids love the tapping of the devices to transfer audio from their device to the HomePod. The sound is excellent.
This led me to invest in a HomePod. I was always intrigued by the reviews calling out the incredible sound. I can attest to the sound being very good. Was it as good as some of my Sonos speakers? Not overwhelmingly better than the Play 1 speaker. Indeed, not better than Play 5. What sold me was the speaker’s ability to be paired and run directly off of the Apple TVs within my house. The possibility of running Dolby Atmos through these speakers had been salivating. Right about this time, I found out Apple would no longer be making these speakers. I can only assume new HomePods are being designed right now. Stay tuned for future updates. Part 8