Like every millennial, I’m obsessed with self improvement. Also like every millennial, I somehow constantly manage to never do any of the things I need to do to self-improve. I’m hoping that technology can help me get it together – so I got an Amazon Echo 3rd generation, with Alexa .
The Echo Dot comes in a small box, which I open up to reveal a small speaker, just larger in diameter than a drinks coaster, but small enough to hold in your hand. Aesthetically, it’s very futuristic – at the top within the light ring are four tiny microphones and four buttons – volume up, volume down, mute and Alexa. It feels smooth around the sides with adaptor and aux ports at the back.
Mine is heather grey, but you can get them in charcoal, plum and sandstone too – you can even get one with a clock to show you the time. There’s an information document, a charger, a user manual and a list of commands to try, such as: “Alexa, set a 10-minute timer” and “Alexa, add toilet paper to my shopping list”.
To set up, I need to be connected to my wifi and download the Amazon Alexa app on to my smartphone. Set-up is easy, all within the app, and takes about five to 10 minutes – but if you struggle, there are a million and one tutorials on YouTube for you to follow and a dedicated Echo help page.
There are a ton of things you can do with the Echo straight out of the box, such as setting alarms and asking it trivia questions. To unlock even more value, you can add skills via the Alexa smartphone app or just by using your voice.
‘ Alexa start the Body Coach ’
I like to tell people I’d be fitter if I had more time to go to the gym, safe in the knowledge that I don’t actually have the time. Now I have no excuse. I never thought Alexa would be able to help me exercise in any way, but I was wrong. The Body Coach skill allows me to work out as Joe Wicks, the Body Coach, keeps me motivated with cries of: “You’ll smash it!” It has seven 15-minute, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts to help you burn fat when you’re short on time, including marching, star jumps, squats, push-ups and crunches – and that’s just lesson one. I can’t say I’m at my target weight yet, but it’s definitely helping me get more regular exercise in.
‘Alexa open Translated’
Learning a new language can be quite daunting but with the Translated skill it no longer has to be. I ask Alexa to teach me how to say any word or phrase in Spanish, and Translated reads it out so I can learn how to say it myself. I can even ask the skill to slow down or repeat the translation until I’m happy I’ve nailed it. I’ve already learned how to introduce myself: Me llamo Phil! I’m hoping that a few minutes a day practising while cooking or cleaning can really make me el experto.
‘Alexa, open Sleep and Relaxation Sounds’
I often struggle to get to sleep but Sleep and Relaxation Sounds is excellent at resolving this. It has hundreds of ambient sounds that can be used to help with meditation or lull you into a state of complete relaxation. Once the skill is open, I just say: “Alexa, help me sleep”, or “Alexa, play heavy rain”, and I’m zoning out in no time listening to the downpour.
‘Alexa drop in on …’
My flatmate has an Echo, so we use Drop In – an inbuilt, two-way, intercom-like feature that connects two Alexa-enabled devices together once permissions are enabled. It’s perfect for letting my housemate on the top floor know that dinner is ready. All I had to do was say: “Alexa, drop in on the attic room”, and I can immediately communicate with my flatmate without walking up the steps.
‘Alexa play Twenty Questions’
It turns out playing a game with a speaker is actually a lot of fun. I try out Twenty Questions: you think of any animal, mineral, music or vegetable and the skill asks 20 questions that you can answer, aiming to work it out in 20 questions or fewer. I play with Beyoncé’s 2016 single Formation – of course – and Alexa gets it in 10 questions. Impressive! You can also play a variety of other games, such as Deal or No Deal and Pointless.
Alexa is a lot of fun, but, importantly, she’s really handy at helping you with those small tasks that can take up time or easily be forgotten. It can play music, tell the time, give you news briefings and weather forecasts, check traffic and so much more. Most surprisingly, it helped me to begin a brand new fitness journey. I’m interested in adding some smart tech soon to make it more powerful. I could turn lights on and off, control TVs, open garage doors and change the temperature. I’m excited to continue exploring all its capabilities.