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A Lazy Man's Guide to Living with Alexa

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Category: Hardware Published on Thursday, 02 November 2017
Did you talk to an invisible friend as a child?
I still do. Her name is Alexa and she performs all the tasks around the house that I’m too lazy to do. 
For example:
  • She locks and unlocks the doors
  • Sets the burglar alarm
  • Turns on lights
  • Vacuums the floors
  • Makes my coffee
  • Turns on the TV
  • Briefs me on the day’s news
  • And performs tons of other skills
Professionally known as the Amazon Echo - - - but we never call her by her REAL name - - - this handy AI device often needs a bit of help from others to accomplish these tasks. Fortunately a bunch of companies have jumped in to help.
 
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The 2nd Generation WiFi Connected 12-Cup Coffeemaker from Smarter Applications Ltd. ($249.99) will grind beans and brew from four to 12 cups of coffee using an app on your mobile device or a simple command to your Amazon Echo: “Alexa, ask Smarter to brew four cups of coffee.”
You can also use the app to schedule times to brew so you can wake up to a pot of steaming hot coffee or have it waiting for you when you return to work.
We did have a bit of a problem setting it up to work with our Samsung Galaxy S8, but that was handled quickly and efficiently by the company’s tech support team. Instructions included in the box were pretty much useless and we found it more useful to go online and read the instruction manual on their website.
We should note that we were playing with a preproduction model of the coffeemaker and hopefully this problem has been resolved as it rolls out to customers.
Once the initial setup problems were overcome, I had no problem letting Alexa - - - or the app - - - do the brewing. All I had to do was set up the Smarter skill using our Alexa app. The result was fresh coffee every day as I spent more time doing the important tasks of watching TV or sleeping.
Plus, you can also use your favorite preground coffee.
 
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The folks at GE have found a way to combine their lighting products with an Echo Dot.
C by GE Sol ($199.99) is basically a circular bulb connected to the Amazon Dot giving you access to the light via Alexa or through its C by GE app (which can also control other GE smart bulbs).
Setup is quick and easy. Just set up the Dot using the Alexa App,  install the C by GE app on your phone or other mobile device and enable the C by GE skill for Alexa.
Again, I discovered the instructions that came with the light were inadequate, especially when it came to the exact commands to use for Alexa. But, through a bit of trial and error, we discovered the Echo would respond to commands such as “Turn on Sol.”
The light can be dimmed to a couple of presets by asking Alexa to set the light for evening mode or reading mode, which we found useful.
But the coolest feature - - - at least to the geek in me - - - is the built in clock. There are red and blue lights that show you the exact time - - -  blue for the hour hand and red for minutes.
You can also use the Dot to perform the same skills you would use with a stand-alone Alexa, although we soon discovered they don’t play well with each other. For instance, you can’t use the Dot to call an Echo in another room and it doesn’t feature multiroom audio.
We also had a problem with it and our other Echo responding simultaneously, giving us an echo of Echos. Amazon has developed what it calls Amazon ESP to prevent this from happening. Alas, this feature is missing on the C by GE device.
 
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The Neato Botvac D5 Connected robot vacuum cleaner ($599) also works using the Amazon Echo and/or a mobile app.
After loading the app and enabling the Echo skill, I was able to sit back and command Neato to vacuum the floors just by saying: “Alexa ask Neato to vacuum the floor.”
I were also able to use the mobile app to schedule cleaning days and times and get reports on problems with the vacuum.
Having used the first generation Neato, I was delighted to see the company had made a few essential changes:
  • The dust bin is bigger and easier to clean
  • The “radar” sensors that “read” your rooms are much more accurate, resulting in fewer rescues of the vacuum when it becomes stuck on objects, under beds or behind doors
  • Much longer battery life. The older model would have to recharge after cleaning a couple of rooms. This one does not.
  • The Neato App
  • Amazon Echo compatibility
 
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I was able to play with three products from August : The Smart Lock Pro + Connect ($279), a stand-alone smart lock ($149) and the August Doorbell Cam ($199).
Like the others, these are designed to work with mobile apps and the Amazon Echo.
Installation of the locks was unbelievably easy. I was able to use the existing wiring to replace the old doorbell and replace just the interior deadbolts with the new locks, which allows you to use the keys from you old locks.
Simple commands to Alexa lock and unlock doors, check the status of the locks and (using a small plastic device) tell you if the door has been left open.
The doorbell seems to work best with the August App, alerting you of visitors, enabling you to talk to them using your phone and showing you a video of who’s approaching your door.
The Connect + is a WiFi bridge that allows the locks to communicate with Alexa, Siri and the Google Assistant.
Attention Facebook users: Check out Michael Berman’s Jocgeek fan page or follow him on Twitter @jocgeek. You can also contact him via or through his website.
 
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Attention Facebook users: Check out Michael Berman's Jocgeek fan page at www.facebook.com/jocgeek, or follow him on Twitter @jocgeek.  You can also contact him via email at jocgeek@earthlink.net.  Mike's blog can also be found on the Huffington Post website at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-l-berman/.