Smart speakers have taken off in recent years with voice control being the defining characteristic. Also known as digital home assistants, because of their wide range of functionality controlled merely by speaking.
The full capability of smart speakers includes shopping and controlling connected smart home devices like lights, doors and alarms all with your voice. However, even the more basic features make the price tag (Normally $49.99 for the Amazon Echo Dot – our favourite pick*) well worth it.
This type of technology can seem daunting to some but once set up, it actually simplifies the technology in one’s life along with many daily activities.
There are several brands of smart speakers on the market now. Amazon, Google and Apple are the key players with Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri being their respective voice assistants. Their devices are all excellent, and they each offer a rich ecosystem of services to make their smart speakers do a lot for you. At their full utility, these devices can control many functions within your home and even do your shopping for you, but you don’t need to use them to the full extent to get good value and great use from the one you choose. Here are some of the simple everyday functions we love:
1. Get help in the kitchen.
With your hands in a bowl of dough…
“Alexa, how many millilitres in two cups of milk?”
Having a hands free helper in the kitchen is useful while baking or cooking. Get recipe suggestions or possible substitutions with a simple voice command. You can also ask Alexa to take dictation of your shopping list and set timers to make sure nothing gets forgotten in an oven. Keep tabs on your bacon crisping in the oven and the eggs boiling on the stove. Voila!
2. Hear news updates and weather reports.
“Hey siri, WHAT’S the weather in Denver this weekend?”
Not sure if you need to dress in an extra layer today or if you can set the table outside to enjoy a meal al fresco. Just ask your digital assistant. You’ll get the latest weather report for your home town or any location you specify. You can program your assistant to deliver a news update at a specified time of day or ask for it any time the impulse strikes.
3. Use Voice dialling.
Something just reminded you of your niece.
“Alexa, call sally.”
We love this function. Talking to a loved one is a voice request away – no need to hold your phone to your ear or go through a menu of options. You’ll be chatting to your friends and family through the smart speaker. If Sally lives in Sydney, ask Siri to give you the local time before calling. This hands-free approach is quite freeing and is also a useful safety feature which could be life-saving in an emergency.
4. Listen to audiobooks and podcasts.
You’re in the middle of folding laundry; why not listen to something riveting.
“Alexa, play my audiobook.”
If like us, you love audiobooks and podcasts, this function is for you. You can play episodes from your favourite podcasts and listen to audiobooks through your smart speaker while going through your daily chores, lounging in your favourite chair, or soaking in the tub. Alexa will pick up where you left off, skip an episode, or switch between titles in your library.
5. Get answers to all types of questions.
“OK google, how do you spell longevity?”
Having a digital assistant gives you access to all the information available on the internet. Any time you need some information, it is a mere question way? “Alexa, who was the actress in the leading role in The Birds?”, “What is the gold price today?”, “When is the best time to plant carrots?” Whatever your interest or level or curiosity, your digital assistant is a font of knowledge and can help settle many a dinner time discussion. You can even ask Alexa to settle a score by flipping a coin or rolling the dice.
6. Find your phone.
“Hey Siri, find my phone.”
If you’re anything like me, you’ve also ‘lost’ your phone in your own home and forgotten where you last put it. Ask your assistant to ‘find your phone’ which will prompt it to ping a sound or play a song from your device. If only finding your keys was this easy!
7. Set timers and reminders.
“Hey Siri, set a daily reminder for breathing exercises at 4 pm.”
Besides the handy kitchen timers mentioned earlier, you can set timers and reminders for all sorts of things.”Alexa, remind me about my dance class tomorrow at noon.” Set daily reminders for things like taking your medication or making birthday calls. And set ad hoc reminders for any task or event you can think of. “Alexa, set a timer to turn the garden hose off in 15 minutes.” You can also select more than one timer to run concurrently to help you keep your daily routine in check.
8. Listen to any music you can think of.
“ok google, PLAY MOZART.”
Turn your home into your own personalised concert venue and listen to music to suit any mood. You can choose any song you can think of by artist, from any genre, and even from a string of lyrics that come to mind. “Hey Siri, which song has the lyrics, Nothing’s gonna change my world?” You will need a subscription to a music streaming service such as Apple Music, Amazon Music or Spotify to enjoy this function.
9. Plug into your favourite radio station.
“Alexa, PLAY CLASSIC FM.”
Listening to a favourite radio station is like being in the company of a good friend. Familiar and comforting while offering variety too. You can use your smart speaker to connect and listen to radio stations from all over the world via pandora and other radio services.
Our favourite smart speaker is the Amazon Echo Dot because these small speakers have surprisingly good sound and are relatively inexpensive. You can put them in a few rooms of your home where you might want voice-operated assistance. This will open up a bonus feature called Drop In where you can use the speakers as an intercom between rooms. “Alexa, drop in on the kitchen – Honey, could you make me a cup of tea, please?”.
The Echo Dot is currently on promotion Amazon (at time of publishing)
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