Two weeks ago, Amazon’s newest entry in their Echo line of personal assistant products, the Echo Dot 2, was released. At $49.99, it’s significantly cheaper than the company’s full-sized Echo, but uses the exact same friendly artificial intelligence named Alexa—meaning it can do everything the Echo does (albeit with crappier speakers) for around a quarter of the price.
After spending two weeks getting to know Alexa and her quirks, Jezebel staffers Kara Brown and Bobby Finger chatted about what it’s like to have a robot roommate who only understands what you’re saying like 40 percent of the time and doesn’t even pay her share of the rent.
KARA: Bobby we’ve both had our Dots for what? Two weeks? What were your initial thoughts?
BOBBY: Wow, has it been two weeks? Time really flies when you spend most of it screaming at your Dot for not doing what you ask. My initial thoughts are:
- I’m glad this was only $50.
- I’m glad I can control Spotify with my voice.
- This is a nice timer.
What were yours?
KARA: Wow, very similar. I heartily echo (haha get it?) the relief that my Dot only cost $50. Though, I will say, I feel like I’ve received a $50 experience. The Instagram videos I now produce are alone worth at least $15. This also feels like an excellent warning about the dangers of getting sucked in by advertising because that damn Amazon commercial led me to believe my Dot/Alexa would make my life a lot easier than it has.
BOBBY: Oh god, that commercial is what sold me, too! That woman seemed so much more productive than me. And happier! And more fulfilled! All because she had a new Amazon Echo Dot! In the weeks following my pre-order, I had this grand visions of myself talking to Alexa all the time. Getting my news from Alexa. Checking my calendar with Alexa. Calling an Uber through Alexa. But, turns out, I can still do most of that stuff much more easily with my phone.
KARA: I actually would like to start using the calendar function more because it is pretty helpful. I haven’t called an Uber yet because I’m worried somehow it won’t go through? Plus, I like to see what the fare is going to cost. Does Alexa tell me that? I have no clue. I recently moved into an apartment by myself for the first time and I imagined Alexa becoming my roommate of sorts. I did tell her I was sad once to see what would happen and it got pretty dark in a “Her” kind of way.
BOBBY: What did she say? Does she have follow-ups? In my experience, the more “Her”-like questions have been met with something like, “I can’t find the answer to that question.”
KARA: Yeah, she doesn’t know a lot of shit. She told me something about how she’s sorry and that I should talk to a friend or go on a walk.
BOBBY: Wow. Well, that’s something. I also get nervous about Uber. The only “app”—or what do they call them? “Skills?”—that I’ve used more than once is the flip a coin thing. It’s fun to be like, “Alexa, flip a coin.” Even if you don’t have to make a decision!
Did you connect it to your Spotify account?
KARA: I did. Ok, I’ll admit that the music thing is very nice. But she get’s things wrong a lot so it’s a double edged sword. I also feel like I have to enunciate verrrrryyyyy caaarrreeeefuuuullly when I’m talking to her lest we go in circles while she plays the wrong version of “Irreplaceable.”
BOBBY: Yes. And even if you set Spotify to the “default” music app or whatever, she has trouble finding things. Even if she heard it right! Sometimes she’ll literally repeat the song I requested and say it’s not there. Then I ask again, and it miraculously starts playing.
Honestly the only thing I use it for every day is the weather. It’s actually become part of my morning routine. I get up, open the bedroom door, and say, “Alexa, what’s today’s weather?” And she’s always so excited to tell me!
KARA: Oh that’s nice. I should start doing that, though the weather report in LA isn’t very exciting.
Earlier this year my dad told me that voice activated technology is going to be the future. Considering your Dot experience, how do you feel about that?
BOBBY: Ha! On Sunday, I tweeted about my frustrations with Alexa as a music player and ended with, “Why the fuck did I buy this thing.” A friend responded, “so Amazon can assimilate you into speaking robot.” And I thought, “Wow, true.” It’s totally so that we can be eased into doing this 24/7 in the future.
KARA: Hm. Not very comforting.
BOBBY: I don’t drive, but I can totally understand wanting voice controls in cars. Your hands are busy! You can’t look down! But in my apartment, I can just grab my phone or look at my laptop.
KARA: Right. I think my dad likes voice control because it’s faster than him Googling something with his fingers.
BOBBY: The only time I was like, “Wow I love this,” was over the weekend when I was cooking. My hands were dirty and I needed to put something in the oven, so I said, “Alexa set a time for 10 minutes.” And she did!
KARA: I do not have that issue.
BOBBY: Then the problem was the timer wouldn’t stop. I kept screaming, “ALEXA TURN TIMER OFF!!!!” but she just kept making her horrible timer ended noise. “ALEXA STOP” is supposed to be a catch-all, but it wasn’t working.
KARA: That’s your glimpse into the future right there.
BOBBY: Yup. Horrifying.
KARA: The one thing I haven’t tried is ordering Domino’s through Alexa which I’ve very excited about because I fucking love Domino’s. Other than that....If you could turn back time, would you purchase your Dot again?
BOBBY: I think so. Like you said, I’ve gotten...uh...$15-25 of enjoyment out of it in two weeks. And people say it gets better the more you use it. (Or am I making that up?) Plus, it never hurts to have another speaker for music, even if the quality is only so-so.
What about you?
KARA: I think my first Domino’s experience will be the real test but yes, probably. I’m guessing the skills library will improve so that’ll b something to watch. Also, I like the idea of getting a jump start on understanding our robot overlords. Plus, until I lock down a husband or something, Alexa still makes me feel like I’m talking to someone. It’s basically a way for me to talk to myself without the stigma of being a weirdo.
BOBBY: Haha. I think I’ll try Domino’s this weekend. Have you already added the “skill”? I wonder if it’s time consuming to pair an account...
KARA: Dammit, no I haven’t. I but I’ll report back. Pizza with Alexa which is totally not pathetic!