Amazon Echo is a remarkable smart home product. Having sold more than 3 million units according to one study, Echo holds a central place in many smart homes. However, the credit goes to Alexa, Echo’s persona. Without her, Echo is just a glorified speaker. But did you know that you can now enjoy Alexa’s voice features even without an Echo device? It’s possible, and you can do so using any of the following five devices.
Triby is the first third-party device to have Alexa Voice Service. It is a kitchen companion that looks and functions like an old-style radio, only adjusted to the way we listen to music today much like Spotify. But it isn’t just another speaker; it can also be used to make calls via VoIP or as a speakerphone for your smartphone.
It features a 2.5″ e-paper screen that you can doodle on using the Triby app. You can use it to create reminders or to send a note to someone in the kitchen. There are also four shortcut buttons on both sides of the e-paper screen. On the right are two shortcut buttons for your favorite playlist or radio station, and the two on the left are for your shortcut contacts.
How does it compare to Amazon Echo? First of all, it is advertised as a magnetic kitchen radio that you can stick on your fridge. You can use it to ask Alexa for recipes or to play music.
Second, unlike Echo, it runs on battery. According to Invoxia, the creators of Triby, it can stay powered on for several weeks in standby mode. When playing music, it lasts for 7 to 10 hours. Here’s the catch: If you use it with Alexa’s Voice Service, it will always be listening for the wake word “Alexa”, which cuts down its standby battery life to 2 days. Triby charges via a microUSB cable and the average charging time is 2-4 hours.
Third, Triby’s speaker and microphones are mediocre at best. The speaker quality is understandable as Triby is only intended as a kitchen speaker. But the microphones are a bigger issue. Customers have complained that Triby doesn’t hear well and that it activates when they say a word that sounds like the wake word.
Finally, it lacks access to a couple of Alexa’s features. First, you can’t ask Triby to play music from Spotify or Pandora. It does play music from Spotify, but only through Spotify Connect. Second, you can’t use it to pair Alexa with Belkin WeMo or Philips Hue Lights unless you want to buy an Amazon Echo device. If you do, you can use Triby to control the devices.
Triby is available on Amazon for $199.
Nucleus is another third-party device with Alexa Voice Service. It has a touchscreen interface—the first Alexa-enabled device to offer such a feature. You can think of Nucleus as a dedicated intercom. It allows you to place voice or video calls with family and friends who have a Nucleus intercom or the Nucleus app on their phones. You can even have multiple Nucleus intercoms at home to communicate with family members in a different room.
Like Amazon Echo, Nucleus needs constant power. You can directly plug it in using a wall adapter or by using Power over Ethernet. It can also be mounted on a wall by drilling, or you can simply set it on top of a table.
Nucleus’ Alexa voice service is a little more limited than that of Triby’s. As of now, it cannot connect to Pandora or Spotify in any way. It can only play music from iHeartRadio, TuneIn, or your Amazon Prime Music library. Also, it cannot control smart home products from Nest, Belkin WeMo, or Philips Hue.
Nucleus currently sells for $249 on Amazon, but discounts are offered if you buy 2 or more.
Alexa will no longer be confined to your home; she will soon live in your car too. The car manufacturer Ford recently announced plans to integrate their connected cars with smart homes by partnering with Amazon and Wink. Alexa, of course, plays a big role in the partnership.
The first part of integration is using Alexa to voice control your car. You can tell her to do things like turn on/off your engine or lock/unlock the doors. You can also ask her information about your car’s status. You can ask the current mileage, fuel level, location, and more.
The second part of the integration is having Alexa inside the car. According to Ford, compatible car models will have an Alexa button attached to the steering wheel. By pressing the button, you will gain access to Alexa’s voice service. You can ask her questions or control your smart home products like you would with other Alexa-enabled devices.
Echo Dot, The Voice Remote, and Tap
While not one device Dot, Tap, and the Remote all belong in one category. They are all Amazon devices that use Alexa.
Echo Dot is Amazon Echo but a shorter and less costly version. It stands 1.5″ tall, significantly shorter than Echo. The difference in size is a plus and a minus. If you want a smaller device, you will need to be willing to give up your omnidirectional speaker. But don’t worry; Dot can connect to your existing speaker system using Bluetooth or an audio jack. Aside from that, Echo and Dot’s features are the same. Dot sells for $89.99.
If you have an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, you can use the Voice Remote (a Bluetooth remote control) to access Alexa. It features a volume up and down buttons, previous and next buttons, play/pause button, and a voice control button. Pressing the voice control button wakes up Alexa. If you’re too far away to say the command directly to your Echo or Dot, you can say it to the remote’s integrated microphone. The Voice Remote costs $30; however, only on remote can be connected per device.
Amazon also created a portable Bluetooth speaker with Alexa Voice Services. The speaker is called Tap. It uses the same omnidirectional speaker that Echo uses. It connects to your smartphone using Bluetooth. And when connected to WiFi, it will play music from internet radio stations like iHeartRadio and Spotify or soon, Amazon’s own streaming music service. The difference is, Tap runs on battery. According to Amazon, it can play music for up to 9 hours.
Because it runs on battery, it doesn’t have the always-listening capability of Echo and Dot. Instead, you’ll have to tap the voice control button on the device. Its mobility causes another possible downside: Alexa Voice Services only work when there’s Wi-Fi. When you’re out and about, you’ll need to use your phone’s mobile hotspot to enjoy Alexa’s features. Tap currently sells for $129.99.
Though also an Amazon device, Fire TV deserves its own spot on this list. Fire TVs and Fire TV Sticks that run Fire OS 5 include Alexa. You can wake Alexa up by pressing the voice control button on your Fire TV or Stick’s voice remote. (Note: Fire TV and Fire TV Stick’s voice remote is different from Echo and Dot’s voice remote.) Aside from the typical voice commands you can give to other Alexa-enabled devices; you can also tell Alexa to play movies or shows and launch apps on your TV. You can play shows from your Amazon Video Library, Prime titles, add-on subscriptions, or even third-party apps that offer video content. However, voice control doesn’t work with Netflix or other similar video services.
The advantage of using Alexa on Fire TV vs. other Alexa-enabled devices is the display. The display allows Alexa to not only tell you her response but also show you. The visual display works with multiple commands including those you would assume would be incompatible. On the display, she will provide feedback if you ask her to play music, answer questions, put things on your shopping list, and more.
EXTRA: Alexa On Your Web Browser
If you aren’t sold on Alexa, you can test her out. All you need is a computer or Android device that runs Chrome, Firefox, or Opera, and you can experience Alexa’s awesomeness via your web browser. The web app Echosim.io is a simple web app that only requires you to log in to your Amazon account. Once logged in, you will be directed to a page containing a picture of Echo with a voice control button on top. When you click and hold that button, Alexa will start listening. The experience of using the web app is similar to what you would get with an actual Echo device down to the voice and response time.
Alexa Is the AI of Smart Home
Alexa is, once again, a step ahead of Apple’s Siri and Google Now. By making Alexa available in several smart home products and opening up the Alexa Voice Service to third-party developers, Amazon has secured a spot in the future of smart homes. We expect to see more third-party developers incorporating Alexa to their products, which can, in turn, put Alexa in every room of your house. If that happens, Alexa will be the all-around AI of smart homes.