I admit I am not a fan of the invasive nature of modern technology. Though I certainly make use of resources that may improve my quality of life when available to me.
Recently I have been exploring another branch of tech, smart home devices.
Naturally it all started with Amazon Prime Day. A sweetheart of a deal on a third generation Echo Dot with a smart plug.
Many in my family got on board the Alexa train when it first started. I was not so keen, until I found out they can read my kindle library to me! Let’s face it audio books are expensive and unless your local library participates in a program such as OverDrive your S.O.L.
That was my tipping point so when a viable sale came my way I jumped on it. Though it has been wonderful to read to me when my symptoms are flaring and focusing on a screen is more than I can handle; I am always keen to learn any way a mainstream product can improve the life of the chronically ill and disabled.
Which brings me to a lovely feature of Alexa I did not discover until after I purchased my Dot. It can act as an intercom! Accessed either by voice through your Alexa device or the app. Considering the price and hassle of installing a traditional intercom having multiple Alexa devices can be a more financially viable option for those on a fixed income such as Social Security Disability. Since you can access this intercom feature (referred to as “Drop In”) by voice its an excellent in home alternative to services such as Life Alert.
As an example I am a fall risk but not all areas of my home are wheelchair accessible. Say I’m trying to load the washing machine, lose my balance, and take a fall. Even if I have taken my phone with me what are the odds it’s going to be within reach of my potentially injured arm when I need it assuming it survived the fall better than I did?
With an Alexa device within ear shot I can say “Alexa, drop in on bedroom” at which point it will “call” the second Alexa device and give me the opportunity to get help without screaming and hoping someone at home is near enough to hear.
Alexa also offers the option to “call out” to contacts you have added in the app. Thought I don’t use this feature frequently it has come in handy. In the Alexa app under “communications” you have four options.
- Call (Voice call out to phones)
- Message (Text to others via the Alexa app)
- Drop In (Intercom between devices in your home)
- Announce (Drop in on all devices in your home at once)
These features can also be accessed through voice commands to your Alexa device and through the Alexa remote. Not too shabby for a device that hovers around $30 USD (Dot 3rd Generation)! If you are interested in reading more about these functions please visit here.
I admit though the features I use the most are the reminder and timer. They have similar function but different notifications.
- Can be set by voice only. For example you would say “Alexa, set laundry timer for 40 minutes”
- You can check status (such as time left), alter, and stop timers by voice or through the app. Example “Alexa, what are my timers?”
- Timer states what task it was set for as it sounds.
- Will pause and interrupt any audio playing from the device to notify you. Audio resumes once timer is acknowledged (Example “Alexa, stop”).
- Can be set by voice or through the app. For example you would say “Alexa, remind me take meds 6pm”.
- You can check your reminders by voice or through the app. Example “Alexa, what are my reminders?”
- You can cancel but not alter reminders by voice. Example “Alexa, delete laundry” or cancel all reminders by saying “Alexa, delete all reminders”.
- Reminder states what task it was set for as it sounds.
- Will pause and interrupt any audio playing from the device to notify you. Reminders sound twice then automatically stop. They do not require acknowledgement.
- In app you can set your reminder to sound on your choice of device (if you have multiple) or receive notification from the Alexa app on your phone.
I get the most use out of the reminder feature as it is more suited to my needs. Primarily medications that must be taken at regular intervals but are not always at the same time of day. For example I need to take my anti-emetic 45 minutes before I eat, my enzymes 15 minutes before I eat, and my fat soluble supplements within an hour of when I finish eating. Its very easy for me to set these reminders on the fly using my voice.
As I take several medications at regular intervals I can set all my reminders for the day once in the morning. Example “Alexa, remind me take [medication] in 6 hours” then “Alexa, remind me take [medication] in 12 hours”. Now I am set for the day!
One last feature I would like to highlight are the Routines –
- This feature is only available through the app and cannot be programmed by voice commands.
- You can name each routine.
- You can set a routine for a specific time, a location, trigger via pressing a button on your Echo device, or speaking a trigger phrase. Example “Alexa, good morning!” There are a few other options relating to specific echo companion devices as well.
- You have many choices of actions for each routine. Some of which include having Alexa speak a phrase aloud, read your calendar, read e-mail summaries, read you good news stories, send audible announcements to your Echo devices, play music, initiate a skill, set smart device actions (smart plug, smart bulb, smart alarm, ect), or read you traffic and weather reports.
- You can set routines for specific days and times. Example you can have Alexa speak a phrase on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4:30pm “Simon get ready for soccer!” Or set for daily tasks at a time you wish such as “Time for dinner!”
- Holiday time? Alexa can turn those garland or tree lights on and off via voice or routine with the use of a Smart Plug companion device.
The routine I use most frequently is to speak a phrase at a particular date and time. One from my home for Monday through Friday at 6:55pm is “Get ready for Jeopardy!”. I also use it for more practical tasks including “Feed Pets” and to remind me of my weekly injectable medications.
The Alexa family includes some handy accessories. I only own two myself; the smart plug and an Echo remote. Here are a few highlights of my experience with each.
Remote (My only experience is with the Echo version) –
- Especially handy if your device isn’t immediately next to where you typically sit.
- Allows you to speak quieter and still achieve clear commands. Especially when there is a lot of ambient noise. I have not tested if this is compatible with “Whisper” enabled devices.
- Can be used for “drop in” and “calling out”. Note that to use these features with the remote you must use the remote as a “walkie-talkie”. Depress the mic button on the remote to transmit speech, release the mic button to allow incoming audio (hear the person speaking to you).
- Adjust the volume of your Echo device and for music.
- Skip forward/back and play/pause.
Smart Plug –
- Control items via Alexa voice commands. Example “Alexa, turn on bedroom light” or Alexa, turn off humidifier”
- Schedule start/stop times for devices. Such as having your coffee maker begin brewing at 7:30am. Or using routines set your lamps to turn on and off at specified times such as when you get home from work. Expecting a hot morning? Have Alexa turn on a fan positioned near your bed.
- Going to be away and don’t want people to notice? Take advantage of the routine feature to have light or TV go on and off at expected intervals.
Not all my uses are purely practical. Alexa has many fun features and skills as well. Such as playing music from multiple services (read more here). A few skills I enjoy are word of the day (in multiple languages) and fun animal facts.
If you own or have been considering an Alexa device I hope this summary has been useful to you in improving your day to day life.