Can you tell me about Echo Dot?

Test report: Amazon Alexa and Echo Dot

Alexa is the voice control from Amazon, which is offered in connection with the devices Amazon Echo or Amazon Echo Dot. In this post I will introduce you to the Alexa voice control and the Amazon Echo Dot and show you what you can do with it.

Since I can not only get positive feedback from Alexa, I will also show you how I found my personal approach to Amazon Alexa, because even if voice control is a fascinating technology at first glance, it should be viewed and used with a little skepticism.

In order to get a little Smart Home experience with Amazon Alexa on the hardware level, I tested the voice control with the Smart Home System Homematic IP.

Table of Contents

Who does not remember Spaceship Enterprise, where voice commands are immediately implemented and Captain Kirk from the command bridge delegates his commands in a relaxed manner. Alexa is a voice control from Amazon that reacts to certain commands and thus brings a spaceship enterprise feeling into your own four walls.

I experienced the Alexa voice service in connection with an Echo device for the first time at the ISH 2017 in Frankfurt. The Echo Dot has a W-LAN module, a Bluetooth module, a microprocessor and seven highly sensitive microphones with integrated loudspeakers.

Voice control itself is a cloud-based voice service and, if asked, is described as follows: Alexa, do you have arms?" Answer: "I don't have a body. It's best to imagine me with lots of zeros and ones living in the cloud..

The voice control is permanently on standby and reacts to a stored activation word which "Alexa„, „computer„, „Amazon"Or"echo" can be. The activation word is processed locally and then recording begins for 8 seconds. What is heard is then transmitted to the Amazon server via W-LAN and evaluated.

If the said words correspond to a command for the Alexa voice service, Alexa will respond. You can then control your room temperatures and lights (if the appropriate devices are available), play music or have messages read aloud. There are currently various skills (similar to apps) for Amazon Alexa * and various hardware providers who offer suitable smart home components for Alexa *.

I ordered an Amazon Echo Dot and would like to show you what this device can do. As an alternative to the Echo Dot, you can also get the slightly bigger brother Amazon Echo *.

scope of delivery

The packaging of the Echo Dot is small and handy and contains the Amazon Echo Dot, a power adapter (9 W), a USB charging cable and a quick start guide. The Echo Dot has seven highly sensitive microphones, a loudspeaker, a micro USB port and a 3.5 mm stereo audio output for external loudspeakers.

Here you have the option of connecting the Echo Dot to a music system or to a Bluetooth speaker *. The action button is located on the surface of the Echo Dot, a button for loud and quiet as well as a “microphone off button”. If the microphone is deactivated, the color of the light ring changes to red.

Amazon Echo VS Echo Dot

Since I only have the Echo Dot available, I don't want to withhold the data of the big Amazon Echoes from you. There is a little comparison here.

 Amazon EchoAmazon Echo Dot
Illustration:  No products found.
Amazon
Rating:
No products found.
Dimensions: 235 x 83.5 x 83.5 mm 83.5 x 83.5 x 32 mm
Weight:approx. 1064 grams approx. 163 grams
Audio:63 mm woofer and 50 mm tweeter.Integrated speakers for voice feedback,
alternatively: 3.5 mm stereo audio output for external speakers (audio cable * not included).
Connection:WIRELESS INTERNET ACCESS: Dual-band WiFi with two antennas (MIMO). Supports WLAN networks with the standards 802.11a / b / g / n. Does not support connection to ad hoc or peer-to-peer WiFi networks.

Bluetooth: Supports Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP). Voice control is not supported on Mac OS X devices.

WIRELESS INTERNET ACCESS: Dual band WiFi. Supports WLAN networks with the standards 802.11a / b / g / n. Does not support connection to ad hoc or peer-to-peer WiFi networks.

Bluetooth: Supports Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP). Voice control is not supported on Mac OS X devices.

Conditions:Connection to WLAN necessary, compatible systems: Fire OS, Android, iOS devices as well as via desktop browser.Connection to WLAN necessary, compatible systems: Fire OS, Android, iOS devices as well as via desktop browser.
Scope of delivery:Amazon Echo, power supply / cable (1.8 m) and quick start guide.Amazon Echo Dot, power adapter (9 W), USB charging cable and quick start guide.
Price:Price not availableNo products found. No products found.
 To the shop*No products found.
last update22.05.2021No products found.

installation

Installing the Echo Dot is very easy. I placed the device near my music system in order to connect it to the Echo Dot with an audio cable * (not included) after the setup.

The power pack is connected to a voltage source and connected to the device. The blue light ring then begins to rotate and turns into an orange / yellow ring after about one minute. Next, the Alexa app must be installed on the smartphone / tablet.

Setting up the app

The Alexa app is available as a free download for Android, iOS and as a desktop version. After the app has been installed, you can start teaching the Echo Dot straight away. First, go to Settings via the menu item, select "Set up a new device" and then have the choice between an Echo, a Tap and an Echo Dot. If you have chosen your device, the language selection of the device comes.

The Tap is currently not available in Germany. The Amazon Tap is a mobile Bluetooth speaker with integrated Alexa voice control.

You can now start setting up the Echo Dot. To do this, click on "Connect to WLAN" and wait until the light ring on the Echo Dot turns orange. If the light ring does not turn orange, you can click on the link “You don't see a light ring?” And you will then be asked to press the action button. After a short time, the ring of light circles orange. The app tries to establish a connection to the Echo Dot.

If the connection with the Echo Dot does not work automatically, you can also connect the Echo Dot to the app manually. To do this, you have to connect to the Amazon-xxx network via the W-LAN options of your smartphone / tablet. The Echo Dot is then successfully connected to the Alexa app and the W-LAN connection can be set up.

To set up the W-LAN, select your W-LAN in the "Select WLAN network" list, enter your password and click on connect. If the connection is successful, the setup is complete.

If the Echo Dot is successfully connected to the WiFi, you will be asked in the app how you want to use the Echo Dot. Here you have the following choice: Bluetooth, audio cable or no speakers. I decided to connect the Echo Dot to my music system.

Then you can watch a small information video from Amazon about the Echo Dot in the app, which in my opinion has really worked and briefly summarizes the most important information.

The first contact

The Echo Dot is set up and I can start testing. My first question for the Echo Dot is: "Alexa, what's the weather like?" and I get a short summary of the current weather situation. I'm happy because it works! Since I don't really know which questions Alexa can answer, I start asking wildly and usually get no answers, but sometimes really funny and interesting. How do you deal with this voice control now?

I want a song: "Alexa, play Paint it Black from the Rolling Stones.". In response I get that this song not free is, but I can listen. If I like the song after a short teaser, I can subscribe to Amazon Music Unlimited * to lock. Ok, now I already know how Amazon wants to earn money with Alexa in the future.

IMPORTANT: Under Settings> Language Purchasing you can deactivate voice purchases. This prevents unintentional purchases from being processed via Amazon. Alternatively, you can set up a 4-digit confirmation code that has to be read out loud when making a voice purchase.

However, since I Spotify as a music program, I don't want to take out another subscription. What now? It's time to get to grips with the Alexa app.

To select Spotify as the default music service, I went to the settings of the Alexa app, linked the Alexa app to my Spotify account in the Accounts> Music and Media area and then selected Spotify as the default music service. In addition to Amazon Music Unlimited and Spotify, the streaming service for radio stations "TuneIn" is offered as a further music service.

After Spotify was set as the standard music service, I was able to listen to Paint it black from the Rolling Stones via Spotify on Alexa 🙂 Here there is also the possibility to play your saved playlists from Spotify.

After many more questions to Amazon Alexa, the yield was a bit sobering, as the answer and understanding function of Alexa is not really mature. Sometimes I didn't understand why Alexa didn't understand me and was mad at the small box. So there is still a lot of room for improvement in order to really pass through as an assistant.

Sound quality Echo Dot

At the beginning I have to say one thing clearly: Even if I like to listen to music loudly, I am not a sound and audio expert. For this reason, I think the quality of the small Echo Dot is extremely good. For this size, I expected a much poorer sound quality.

In order to have a pleasant and good sound quality, I still recommend the Echo Dot with a system, a good music box * or with a No products found. connect to.

I have connected the Echo Dot to my system via AUX cable * and can now hear music in the usual quality. The volume can be set using the two "loud" and "quiet" buttons directly on the Echo Dot or by voice command on a scale from 1 to 10 via the Alexa app. Volume 10 corresponds to the loudest and volume 1 to the quietest level. The voice command for volume control is then, for example: "Alexa, volume five.

Microphones

Here I can only say one thing: Incredible technology! I haven't seen anything like it before. You can say the activation word softly from a distance of 5 meters while the music is playing and the Echo Dot reacts to it.

How is that possible? According to Amazon, there are seven microphones under the light ring that work with directional beam technology, noise suppression and far-field speech recognition. Quite a few buzz words at once ... I'll try to explain it a bit more simply:

Noise, reverberation or current music can be identified and suppressed as interference in the room using the seven microphones. Since Alexa only focuses on the activation word the first time you listen, the Echo Dot is designed to recognize it and only react to it.

Now it is also clear why one is currently only four activation words and can't just come up with one. The activation words “Alexa”, “Echo”, “Amazon” and “Computer” are essential components of the voice service.

Once the voice service has recognized the activation word, the music in the background, if it is played via the Echo Dot, is turned down so that the microphones can clearly identify further commands. Interestingly, the Echo Dot also reacts very well to other loud ambient noises. So the microphones in the Echo Dot are really highly sensitive.

Alexa skills

In order to exploit the full potential of Alexa, it makes sense to install so-called Alexa Skills. Skills are skills and work in a similar way to apps. You install the skills via the Amazon Skill Shop * in the app.

This gives Alexa additional skills and can, for example, tell a joke, order a taxi or welcome guests.

If you have installed compatible Smart Home devices for Alexa *, you can also control them by voice command. Here, however, it is also necessary to install the associated skill, since it is not possible to control the smart home components without the installed skills. I will go into this again in the following chapter.

To get an overview of the current skills, go to Settings in the Skills area. Here you will find an initial overview, you can sort the skills according to categories and you will receive an overview of the skills installed so far via the item "Your skills".

To install a skill in the Alexa app, go to Properties> Skills and search for a skill or install a suggested skill. Here I show the installation using the example of the “ZDFheute Express” skill. ZDFheute Express shows the latest news and summarizes the news day with the most important topics.

Have you selected the skill you can activate it. The activation takes a few seconds and after successful activation you can go to the point "Manage in Flash Briefing"Select whether ZDFheute Express should be included in the daily summary.

About the command"Alexa, what is my daily summary?"The current news from ZDFheute Express is then read out, along with other activated skills for the daily summary.

Setting up smart home components

Since I had installed the intelligent heating control of the Smart Home System Homematic IP during the Alexa test and Homematic IP is compatible with Alexa, I tested the whole thing with it right away.

In my Test report from Homematic IP you will find all further information about this smart home system. I used the following components from Homematic IP:

To set up Homematic IP as a smart home component in the Alexa app, go to the “Smart Home” area in the menu and first install the appropriate skill for Homematic IP. To do this, open the item "Get more Smart Home Skills" and look for the right Homematic IP Skill.

After you have activated this, you will be asked to enter the activation key for the Homematic IP Skill for coupling with the Alexa app. You can find this in your Homematic IP app under Settings> Amazon Alexa.

The next step is the notification that Alexa has been successfully linked to Homematic IP. Then select "Detect devices"> "Search" and the Alexa app searches for the devices. If the devices have been successfully linked to Alexa, you will get an overview of the devices with the linked groups.

In my case there are the following four groups:

  • living room (Heating group / room via Homematic IP)
  • kitchen (Heating group / room via Homematic IP)
  • Eco Mode (heating group / room via Homematic IP)
  • bath (Heating group / room via Homematic IP)

The voice command to the Alexa app is now, for example:

  • Voice command temperature increase living room:"Alexa, set the room temperature in the living room to 22 degrees."
  • Answer Alexa:"Living room is set to 22 degrees."

If you want to activate the energy saving / eco mode, a scene activated.

  • Activate voice command Eco mode:"Alexa, activate Scene Eco mode."
  • Answer Alexa:"OK."

In order for the voice commands to be recognized by Alexa, it is important that the group names are clear and unambiguous. For example, Alexa may have problems with the names "Room 1" and "Room 2". It is therefore advisable to assign clear names that can be processed by Alexa.

Alexa without an echo

Yes, it is possible to use Amazon Alexa without an Echo or Echo Dot. The free app "Reverb for Amazon Alexa“On Android and iOS. If you want to get your first experience with Amazon Alexa, you can try it out with the app. However, music services do not yet work on top of it.

In order to use Alexa Reverb, the Alexa app must also be installed, as this is where the basic settings are made. Reverb does not work via an activation word, but you hold down the "microphone button" on the screen and speak your command. The answer then comes in the usual format from Amazon Alexa.

Alexa Reverb is really good for trying out Amazon Alexa. However, it does not really convey the feeling of a voice assistant.

Data protection at Amazon Alexa is an exciting topic, because nobody really knows exactly what is being overheard and evaluated by Amazon. Some media reports that Echo and Echo Dotrecord permanently and this data is continuously evaluated by Amazon servers.

According to the current state of knowledge, this should not right and the recording and evaluation on Amazon servers only takes place after hearing the activation word for approx. 8 seconds. The activation word is therefore evaluated locally. An overview of the evaluated commands, responses and used skills can be viewed at any time via a kind of "protocol" on the start page of the Alexa app.

The Consumer advice center emphasizes in her contribution, which is well worth reading, "Amazon listens:" Echo "now also in living rooms here."clear risks sees.

The "WannaCry scandal" that has become known in the last few weeks, which has caused over 200,000 computers in over 150 countries to be damaged via a security hole in old Windows systems, also stimulates thought, because secret services such as the CIA and NSA are open to hackers useful software codes hoarded and perhaps also exploited.

An open questionI am now asking: Why shouldn't Amazon Alexa, the Echo Dot and the Echo also have an open vulnerability that can lead to permanent eavesdropping and data being continuously evaluated? Of course, this also applies if the “microphone off button” is active?

From my point of view, the highly sensitive microphones would be a perfect espionage tool, which could make it easy for secret services and hackers to obtain private information if necessary. Sensitive handling of Amazon Alexa and the associated devices is therefore entirely appropriate.

I have to admit that after two months I have been using Amazon Alexa with very mixed feelings. After unpacking the Echo Dot, I really thought briefly: Oh God, the Stasi would have been happy if I had voluntarily put something like this in my living room.

I was also really amazed at the beginning how highly sensitive the microphones of the Echo Dot are. You can whisper “Alexa” almost 5 meters from the Echo Dot and the Echo Dot will respond. Since, from my point of view, it has not really been clarified what happens to the stored data, over time an uncomfortable feeling with a large portion of skepticism spread.

On the other hand, I sat excitedly in front of the Echo Dot on the first evening and asked Alexa everything I could think of, partly laughed and partly cursed at Alexa, had the weather report and the daily news read to me in 100 seconds as well as a few ebooks and by voice command Heard the music that came to mind My enthusiasm was limitless at the beginning and on the second day I began to speak of "YOU".

Alexa, my new friend in the living room, who controls the room temperature and lights, but also plays my music, reads my calendar and helps me organize my life - somehow practical.

I talked to many friends about it, wanted to share my enthusiasm, and had an extensive and extensive discussion with my sister and your friend. My sister's friend just said to me: “Hey Martin, you personalize this part after two days, say“ you ”and“ It ”is your girlfriend before you plug it in! Do you notice anything else? ".

A first damper and shake-up. Someone who does not share my enthusiasm without a doubt and can also support that with arguments. Questions arose that I hadn't been able to ask before. What influence does voice control have on me, my consumption and my communication behavior? Why do all voice controls like Siri and Google Home have a female voice or a “female character”? Does this serve an image of women? Why is “she” my assistant and friend from the start?

In fact, I didn't notice anything and was infected with the "Alexavirus" within two days. Of course I asked myself how that works? On the one hand enthusiastic about this future technology, on the other hand shocked about the personalization of a machine and the loss of any skepticism about this new technology and although I am not clear what is happening with the processed data.

My first step towards de-personalizing Alexa was to use the activation word from "Alexa" in the activation word "Computer" to change - as on Starship Enterprise. Within a very short time, I noticed how I was no longer talking about Alexa as a person but about the computer as something neuter. A first step to look at the whole thing a little more distantly.

My second step was to switch off Amazon Alexa and only use it if I had made myself aware beforehand that it would be of use to me. For example, when you lie on the couch in the evening, read a good book and want to listen to relaxed music in the background: time announcement, temperature, light and volume control by voice command are the perfect support here to not get up from the cozy couch.

From my point of view, it is important that you are aware of when and how you want to use Amazon Alexa, that you do not simply trust the technology blindly, that you find your way of dealing with it personally and that you are also somewhat skeptical.

In addition, it is difficult to assess what really happens to the processed data and whether only the data that can be viewed in the log is actually processed. The question of current and unknown security gaps must also be asked and be aware of the possible consequences.

From the technical side all you can say is that it is really crazy what Amazon has brought to market here with the Echo and the Echo Dot. It's cutting edge technology for a great price. In combination with a compatible Smat Home System, Alexa and the Echo Dot are definitely an interesting support and extension.

In contrast to technology, the Alexa voice service is not fully developed, but it has enormous potential. Often there are no answers and sometimes desperately wondering why the command or question was not understood. Therefore, here is my test result:

[P_REVIEW post_id = 10849 visual = 'full']

I have listed all components again below.

Prices last updated on 05/22/2021. Information provided without guarantee. / Image source: Amazon Affiliate Program

I hope I was able to give you a little insight into the voice control Alexa from Amazon and the Echo Dot. I look forward to your questions, suggestions and criticism in the comments.

Best regards! Martin

Further links and sources:
Amazon Echo Dot Quick Start Guide
Contribution consumer advice center


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