Amazon quietly unleashes a sleeping giant – Alexa – to a TV near you

5 03 2016
Fire TV Stick now comes with Alexa

Fire TV Stick now comes with Alexa

What this isn’t

This post isn’t about Amazon Echo, a device that has received rave reviews from most of its owners.

It isn’t about the newly announced Echo Dot or the Echo Tap devices that extend the Alexa experience around your home.

As great as those devices are, they won’t extend Alexa into a household unless someone buys a new (relatively expensive) tech gadget.

What this post *is* about.

Amazon have started giving Alexa away for free!!

Alexa is a very powerful cloud platform, not a cute name associated with an expensive gadget for upwardly mobile techies.  You maybe able to use Alexa on a device you already own – a Fire TV or Fire TV Stick for nothing. The latest software update to Fire TV and Free TV Stick has Alexa technology built in. You may already have Alexa attached to your TV which is ready to respond to your commands, you just didn’t know it.

You can be excused for not knowing about this. While the Amazon Echo Dot and Tap have been getting all the press lately, on the Verge and Lifehacker, articles announcing Alexa as “coming” on Fire TV devices have gone largely unnoticed.

The Amazon Echo is quite expensive at $179, the Tap at $129. Alexa on your Fire TV comes in at $0. Free. Nada. So now instead of looking at Alexa as a device (Echo, Dot or Tab) we now see it for what it is,  an all encompassing cloud platform. This is just the start of something huge Amazon are building.

Fire TV Set Top Box

Fire TV Set Top Box

Using Alexa on your Fire TV or Fire TV Stick device.

Your Fire TV device needs the latest Fire TV software version, version 5.0.5. You probably already have it, if not, it’s easy enough to request an update.

Next download the Fire TV App on your Android or iOS phone. Turn on your TV and Fire TV device, launch the app and sync to your Fire TV device. That’s it you’re ready.

You’ll notice a microphone icon at the top of the app interface, drag it down and *hold* it down. It works like a walkie talkie, you have to hold the microphone button while you talk. Speak your command like, “add sausages to my shopping list”. Alexa verbally responds on your TV speakers “Sausages added to your shopping list” and there is your shopping list displayed on your TV. Echo can’t do that, it hasn’t got a 56″ HD display to work with.

Try something else like “Play Adele”, and Adele plays on your TV. Say “Downton Abbey” and your Fire Tv device shows a tile for the TV show. Much quicker than searching with the remote text input on fire TV.

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Sometimes Alexa is dumb.

Some commands fail, either Alexa didn’t understand what you said, or doesn’t know how to respond. For example instead of understanding the word “Democrat” she may hear “Dimmock Rat”. Current affairs typically trip her up. So how do you figure out what she heard?

Next you need to download the Alexa app to your smart phone. Once installed you can look at the history of voice commands and in plain text is what Alexa heard you say. You ca also play back the audio of your command. A little bit creepy to think Amazon stores your voice commands indefinitely, but at least you can see and hear what they have recorded. Transparency helps with the creepy factor.

The Alexa app also shows you your shopping list, useful at the store so you don’t forget the sausages you wanted.

Alexa also has a to do list you can mange verbally. If you already have a calendar and don’t want another ‘to do list’, then you can attach your Google Calendar to Alexa instead and then have Alexa read you calendar to you audibly by saying “What’s my schedule?”.

Alexa can also play your current Audible book to your TV, just say “Play my Audible Book” and it starts and aslo shows the books cover art. It is fully whisper sync compatible and synchronizes with your other audible playing devices. If found it important to say “Stop playing my book” to be sure it recorded my place in the book.

Managing links to other services such as Uber or Dominoes pizza is best done on your compuer via Amazons Alexa website alexa.amaxon.com

If you like it, add the voice remote for Fire TV for $29.

You can add a voice remote

You can add a voice remote

Using the free Fire TV smart phone app is great, but navigation isn’t as easy as with a physical remote. Its easy to trigger a TV show accidentally while scrolling through a list of episodes. The Voice Remote can be purchased from Amazon for $29. I have the original Fire TV Stick, the new 5.0.5 software has made the device a little less responsive than it was, Amazon maybe stretching its capabilities to the max, you may instead decide to upgrade to the new version of the stick that comes with the voice remote or get the full featured Fire TV.

The fire TV Stick can’t do all features of Alexa. Home automations such as switching on lights, changing thermostat temperature aren’t available. You can’t train ALexa to understand your dialect better. For those functions you need the full Fire TV set top box device or one of the Echo products.

Alexa on your TV – not just a me too upgrade.

Alexa's response to my question about Mt Everest

Alexa’s response to my question about Mt Everest

Actually seeing your full shopping list visually, seeing the album art for that music adds to the experience of Alexa. If you do a search for Mt Everest it shows you a picture of the mountain on the TV as well as tell you the basic facts. That’s neat. This isn’t just a me too experience. Amazon are smart, they realize giving Alexa away for free will drive sales of Alexa compatible devices as you get to use the service more and more.

Some may not want to sink $180 into a fancy speaker system you can talk to and listen to music on. Alexa on a Fire TV ($100) or Fire TV Stick ($50) is much cheaper and does much more as a true set top box device with video and the ability to run applications such as YouTube and NetFlix. Alexa on your TV It isn’t always listening, so may allay privacy fears from people who are concerned with Amazon listening in.

 





Amazon PrimeNow – Nashville

28 11 2015
Screenshot 2015-11-28 at 10.28.59

Amazon PrimeNow

As of November 20th 2015 Amazon now offer their same day delivery service in the Nashville area. This service is available for Prime members only. There is a promotional checkout code GETITNOW that gives you $20 off your first order of $50 or more. That’s a pretty good incentive to try the service, so I did.

2 Hour Delivery Promise

My first impression of the service was that once I place an order with the PrimeNow service I’d get it delivered at my house within 2 hours (1 hour for an additional $7.99). That’s not quite how it works. Orders are delivered in a 2 hour delivery window, time is also added for picking and packing the items. So an order I placed at 8:04 am was available for delivery 10am-12pm the same day at the earliest. So worst case scenario is almost 4 hours from time of order. Still pretty amazing, but don’t think you can get that last minute item delivered in under 2 hours. It is possible to select later delivery windows when placing your order if the first window doesn’t suit you, so there is no need to wait until 3-4 hours before you want an item. There is a reasonable amount of flexibility.

Ordering and Selection on Mobile Devices only

To select and order items using PrimeNow, you must use a specific Amazon PrimeNow application which is for mobile devices only. It is not possible to order via a laptop or desktop computer. I found the experience on my smart phone to be rather limiting. A much better experience can be had on an Amazon Fire Tablet, the app there is much easier to use thanks to the larger screen. I did install the iOS app on my iPad, but the app is made for the iPhone only so is very limited on that device as well. For the best experience use an Amazon Fire Tablet. Amazon really should develop a native iPad app.

If you have a tricky place to find or need to provide the driver with special instructions, that can be done in the app during the checkout process.

Wide selection of items

The Nashville PrimeNow warehouse, located close to Nashville airport, carries a wide range of products. I hadn’t expected items such as Ice Cream and Eggs to be available. I had imagined more durable and non perishable goods. Even though they deliver grocery items, this is a different service to Amazon Fresh. Fresh isn’t available in Nashville, but PrimeNow is pretty close to it.

When you see bulky items such as 50″ TV’s or a smoker offered you realize that this is more than a convenience service. This service could impact Best Buy and other electronics outlets in the Nashville area. If your car isn’t big enough for a large TV, the Amazon delivery maybe quicker than the local stores delivery and you don’t have to change out of your PJ’s!!

Delivery is Free – Sort of

Amazon deliver within the 2 hour window for free. You can’t argue with free. However there is a delivery driver gratuity of 10% added to your order. Amazon promise that 100% of the gratuity goes to the driver. You can alter the tip amount up or down, a tip isn’t mandatory, you could reduce it to zero if you really wanted to.

The odd thing is that the tip is charged when you place the order, not at the time of delivery. Tips should be a reward for good service and the amount set as appropriate. It is possible you’d tip a driver well and he/she be late or rude. That wouldn’t be good. There should be an option to add a tip on your mobile device after the delivery is made.

Drivers are instructed to refuse tips in cash, so giving a cash tip isn’t possible.

Good prices

I purchased 5 items, they were at or below the prices on Amazons main website. One item was $15 cheaper via PrimeNow in two hours versus ordering online with 2 day shipping. The online item that was more expensive was sold through a merchant, not Amazon directly, which explains the price variance.

Before ordering online check the prices of items on PrimeNow, the savings may more than cover the cost of a tip for the driver!!

Uber like tracking of Delivery vehicle.

Screenshot_2015-11-28-09-25-04

Amazon PrimeNow

Using the mobile app it is possible to see the location of the delivery vehicle in real time on a map. This is handy, if the driver leaves early or late you’ll know roughly when to expect him/her. Or if they get stuck in traffic you’ll see that’s the case. I was able to see that the driver was delivering to other homes in our area 30 minutes before he came to ours.

Amazon prefer if you are at the delivery address when the delivery occurs. This is understandable with perishable items such as ice cream. It is possible to opt for items to be left without anyone being present.

1 Hour Delivery only available in select locations.

Screenshot 2015-11-28 at 10.29.43

Service availability is determined by Zip code.

My home is about a 30 minute drive from the Amazon PrimeNow warehouse.  As such Amazon do not offer 1 hour delivery for the extra fee of $7.99 in my zIp code. Not that I needed my items that quickly anyway. Don’t expect 1 hour delivery in all locations in the PrimeNow service area. It would be handy if they had a map showing the service area and delivery time windows available by zip code.

How Amazon select which zip codes are covered is also a mystery. My Daughters home which is about the same drive time from the warehouse is not covered. Maybe it’s based on the number of Prime Members in a zip code as well as distance/travel time. Transparency isn’t Amazon’s strong suit.

Did they turn up on time?

Yes, the items arrived during the 2 hour delivery window and less than 3 hours from time of purchase.

8:04am Order Placed and email acknowledgement received.

10:28am Text Received to say Geoffrey was close.

10:53am Driver arrived with order

10:54am Text received indicating delivery has been made.

Drivers use their own vehicles.

My driver arrived in a saloon car which appeared to be privately owned. I don’t know if drivers get paid for the miles they drive, my guess is not and that gas and wear and tear on their vehicle comes directly out of their own pockets. Amazon hire the drivers as independent contractors. All the more reason to be sure to give them a tip!!

Items packaged in a brown paper bag.

Small items are grouped and placed into a brown paper bag. Much less waste compared to the shipping boxes we have grown accustomed to with mail order. The bag has your address and the delivery time window prominently marked on a large label that is used to seal the paper bag.

 

 





You can have any color you like as long as its cheap

1 11 2014
White is cheap.

White is cheap. Turquoise is expensive!

Google Chromebox is one of the cheaper computer options. One would expect the devices to be very utilitarian and no nonsense. However fashion has its price even with discount hardware.

At the time of writing a white HP Chromebox at $136 is $36 cheaper than a turquoise one with identical hardware inside. Why would someone looking for a cheap computer pay $36 for a color? Take a look at the Amazon listing and see what happens to the price when you select different color options.

Here are are the color options with pricing

White $136.76
Black $166.54
Turquoise $173.60

I’m all ears, let me know why you think this is!





New SharePoint 2010 book published by Wrox

15 11 2010

Wrox publishers have released a new SharePoint 2010 book‘Real World SharePoint 2010: Indispensable Experiences from 23 SharePoint MVPs

It promises to be very useful for those looking to setup and/or migrate a SharePoint farm from SharePoint 2007 (MOSS) to SharePoint 2010. My first impressions of the book are that it is very comprehensive and a boon to anyone working with the latest version of SharePoint. Each chapter of the book is written by a different author. The book claims each author is an Microsoft SharePoint MVP so the information should be some of the best available.

I purchased a copy in Kindle format from Amazon. I have found the book to be easy to navigate and search using a Kindle app on my PC. The table of contents is full of hyperlinks so you can quickly get where you want to go. Search is the real reason I got the e-book over the paper book. This type of technical book is very much a reference book, you don’t read it cover to cover like a novel. Being able to search is a very very useful feature. The book is always available to me on my Android phone or my Kindle or a PC; no leaving it at home or have the inconvenience of lugging this heavy book around.

Amazon are quite a bit cheaper than Barnes & Noble for both the paperback or the electronic e-book. Amazon are selling the title for about $28/$31 versus $33/$36 at B&N. Interestingly the Kindle e-book is $3 dollars cheaper than the paperback, but the Nook Book is $3 more. I wonder why Barnes & Noble want to charge more for the e-book?  The cover price is $49.99 so both retailers are discounting heavily.

Click to enlarge

I have included below a list of the chapter titles to give you a flavor of what the book contains.

So buy it here while you can!!





Kindle in short supply again

28 09 2010

After being ‘in stock’ for a few weeks Amazon have put a small shipping delay of 3-5 days on the Kindle 3. Both the 3g + Wifi and Wifi only models are subject to this restriction. The more expensive DX is in stock.


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In addition, Amazon are limiting customers to a total of 5 Kindles per account. If you have a genuine need for more than 5, you have to email Amazon at kindle-sales@amazon.com.

When the Kindle was first released at the end of August it was on back-order for a few weeks due to strong pent-up demand. On September 15th Amazon showed the Kindle being in stock, presumably having received a new shipment and satisfying all outstanding orders.

Click image to Enlarge

E-book sales in July 2010 showed a surge in demand of over 25% compared to previous months, signaling that e-books are becoming main stream. Amazon recently announced that their sales of e-books exceeded the sales of hardcover books. The e-book revolution is here.





Amazons first paid Kindle game – Scrabble – tops the charts

26 09 2010

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The latest Kindle game, scrabble costs $4.99 and was released on Thursday 23rd September 2010. It shot straight to the top of the best selling Kindle titles besting out the latest ‘bestseller’  Freedom, by Johnathon Franzen which is featured in the Oprah Book Club.

Amazon don’t release numbers, but to very quickly outsell an item endorsed by Oprah is no small feat. To see what all the fuss is about I obtained a copy and found the game to be easier to use and navigate than I had anticipated. I beat the medium difficulty level readily, so will try my luck at the advanced level. It may not be very challenging for a Scrabble enthusiast. The game plays its turn within 2-3 seconds so one is not left waiting for your turn as with a human opponent.

There are several different scrabble rules variants programmed, Classic, 75 Points, 150 Points, 8 round, 12 round. The game will ‘help’ you with the ‘Best Word’ feature, it shows you the highest scoring word given the letters you have available, you only get a few turns using this feature :-) The game uses the ‘Official Players Scrabble Dictionary’. In our ever increasing politically correct world, ‘offensive words’ have been removed from this dictionary, which amounts to just over 800 otherwise valid words.  It would be nice if you could specify which dictionary to use to overcome the political correctness or for the game to be played in foreign languages. Maybe in the updated version.

I found the ‘blank’ tile to be confusing, for several turns I thought I had been jipped out of my seven tiles, the blank tile looks like a tile is missing, they need to make it a little more obvious, maybe by putting a point value of zero on the tile. I accidentally played one of my blanks, the game chooses the blank if you spell a word which includes a letter that is not in your rack, I’d prefer if it asked you if it was OK to do that.

The obvious missing feature is online play. With on-board 3g the ability to play scrabble anywhere against real opponents would be a major addition to the game. Wonder if they will ever add this feature.

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It is quite odd to think of a dedicated e-book reader to be used for gaming, however if one looks at the top selling free titles on Amazon, two of the top three titles are games.

Personally I’m waiting for a Backgammon title to be released.





New Kindle Owner – Week 2

22 09 2010

Reading Experience

I’ve read a fictional novel in the past week and have started to read a non-fictional book. It was great for the Kindle system to keep my place in the books and be able to easily switch between my Kindle and my android phone and pickup where I left off on the other device. I did not use my PC’s to do any reading last week. It is neat to see your progression through a book represented as percentage complete.

I found if light got low and a reading light was not readily available, switching to the droid allowed for low light reading. I didn’t do this often, most of the time I had enough light to read by, as one would with a physical book. The automatic bookmark synchronization between devices was very convenient. I never lost my place once :-)

Why I chose the Kindle in the first place

Amazon Kindle

Several of my blog readers asked me to compare the Kindle to the Nook. I don’t have a Nook but will share with you  my reasoning for picking the Kindle over the other e-book readers on the market. I was looking for an e-ink device so will not compare to the iPad in this analysis.

In my opinion the front runners in the e-book reading marketplace are the Kindle and the Nook. The Kobo and Sony are e-ink readers but I quickly eliminated them from my choices available based on the market share they have and reviews about them I had read online. The Kobo got poor reviews and the Sony I saw in Office Depot and did not like how it handled or looked.

The Nook and Kindle are both backed by large libraries of e-books, and both offer free classics.

B&N Nook

The Nook has some unique and interesting features that make it very attractive.

  • Free assistance from employees at Barnes & Noble stores
  • Read any e-book for free for one hour while at a Barnes & Noble store.
  • Color touchscreen book covers and menus, (book text is black & white).
  • Ability to ‘lend or borrow’ books between Nook friends, restricted to 14 day loan period.
  • Reasonable quantity of  Text Books in e-book format.
  • Extend-able memory through Micro-SD Memory slot.
  • EPub ‘open’ e-book format supported.
  • Runs on open source Android operating system, a true computer OS.

The Kindle 3 also has some unique features.

  • WhisperSync – keeps your place between reading devices (Nook website says ‘coming soon’).
  • Integration and account synchronization with Audible.com audio book library.
  • WebKit based browser which results in great web page rendering.
  • Extraordinary battery life – one month without wireless.
  • Lightest e-book reader in its class.
  • Free 3g web browsing.

The Nook features are very strong and technically it probably is the better reader, so why did I choose the Kindle over the Nook?

The two clinchers for me were

  1. The Financial solidity of Amazon. With e-books they are stored by the host company in a library. You can download from the library to your device. If you lose your device or it breaks, the books you purchased are still with the host company and available for download again. Barnes & Noble are unprofitable and in August 2010 put themselves up for sale. What will the future of the B&N e-book library be? No one can know and the uncertainty of this makes me skittish about putting dollars into a library of books I may lose control / access to in the not to distant future.
  2. Integration with Audible.com. I have been an Audible subscriber for 6 months or more and have quite a collection of audio books. These are instantly available on the Kindle because Amazon own Audible.com. I have listened to some of my audio books on the Kindle and they play as well as any MP3 player I have. For now one still has to buy audio and e-books separately and could end up paying twice. I am hopeful, as Amazon continue to integrate Audible into the Kindle ecosystem that a single payment will give access to both formats.

Had Barnes & Noble been more financially stable, my choice would have been much closer.

Books Read last week

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larrson. Murder Mystery fictional book. Highly recommended

Lies, Damn Lies and Science – Sherry Seethaler – Non fictional – Not enough read to recommend.

Oh yeah and I read the Kindle Users Guide :-)