Surely it comes as no surprise after reading my previous article about the Google Home Mini vs. Amazon Echo Dot 3, that the Google Home Mini is sitting, unplugged, on a table in my studio. Yet the Amazon Echo Dot 3 sits on a milk can in my kitchen at home, getting daily use.
After serveral weeks of day-to-day interaction with Alexa, here is an update on how I feel about it.
Christmas Music Was Awesome
This past Christmas season, our house was filled with all kinds of Christmas music. When one type got tired, we’d just say “Alexa, play Christmas music from the 1940s” and were surprised it would oblige perfectly. Even my mother in law, when visiting for Christmas dinner, was dancing with my niece in the kitchen to some crooner Christmas music thanks to Alexa.
I Plugged The Power Bar Into The Christmas Tree
It was kind of neat to be able to say “Alexa, turn on the Christmas tree.” It only took 5 minutes to configure, and worked perfectly.
We Got Tired of Saying “Alexa” – So We Changed Its Name
Our Amazon Echo Dot 3 now responds to the name “Computer”. It felt right, being a Trekkie family. “Computer – what’s the weather forecast?” and “Computer – what’s the date, the date?!” are commonly heard in our home now. It makes the Echo Dot 3 more fun. I didn’t have to open the app or figure it out: I just said “Alexa, change your name to Computer” and it responded with “Okay, you can call me Computer on this device in a few seconds.”
I tried doing the same on the Google Home Mini, and it made some joke about the tides, positioning of the moon, being February 29th, and so-on. It was a long winded way of the Google Home Mini saying “I can’t change my name” and rather than being funny, it just reiterated the feeling that Amazon’s product is far superior. When they finally add the feature to change the name of the Google Home Mini, I’m going to change it to Alexa just to be ironic.
Note: The Amazon Echo Dot 3 does not allow you to change the name to anything you like. These are the options they provide: Alexa, Amazon, Echo, Computer.
I Made Alexa’s Voice British
Alexa’s voice sounds kinda cliche and overdone. I wanted it to sound more sophisticated. So I changed the region code to the UK within the app. Immediately, it started speaking with a nice British accent, and the jokes it told were obviously more UK-centric humor. I liked that. The one caveat was that unfortunately, now it no longer gave accurate responses to local requests. “What time does Starbucks open” would give me a result for thousands of miles away.
The novelty wore off and functionality overruled the pleasantry of the British accent, so the region was reset to Canadian English. I wish you could change the accent without changing the region.
SHOCK OF SHOCKS – The Echo Dot 3 Connects to ANY Bluetooth Speaker
At one point, I was wanting the music to fill the house more than the little (yet impressive) speaker could do. I opened the Device Settings for the Echo Dot device in my Alexa app, and there is an option for “Bluetooth Devices”. Clicking that I was easily able to pair a new device. My TV’s soundbar (which I had switched to Bluetooth Pairing mode) was shown, and I was able to easily connect it. Now, any time I want “bigger” sound, I just say “Computer, connect to my speaker”.
I have since also connected a second Bluetooth speaker; my little portable one. Now I can connect to that and move the sound from Alexa to any room in the house, wirelessly and easily.
Alexa Plays My Music Library – And It’s SO Easy
Having done a quick search for how to add my own music to Alexa, as I didn’t want to have to pay $8 per month to have access to Amazon Music Premium, I was disappointed at first to see that while the Google Home Mini apparently supports uploading your own music and playing it back on your device, Alexa does not. Amazon did have that service, but they canceled it last year.
But uploading my music redundantly to a server in the cloud is just that: redundant. I already have a media server: Plex Media Server. It already has all my music on it, and whenever I rip new CDs (like all the ones we bought for Christmas gifts) they automatically go into the Plex media library. It’s organized the way I want it, and the files are tagged the way we like. We have playlists, categories, and so-on. So why re-create that on an online service anyways?
I began to think Google’s way of doing it is stupid.
I changed my search query to plex media server alexa, and low and behold, a skill!
I opened my Alexa app on my phone, jumped over to skills, and added it promptly! During that process it asked for my Plex credentials to connect Alexa to my account. That was it! Too easy.
“Computer, open Plex” was then greeted with a disappointing response. Something about my server ‘Unraid’ could not be accessed because I need to enable remote access. Okay, it knows the name of my server – so that means something is working. I brought up Plex in my web browser and went to Settings -> Server -> Remote Access, and clicked “Enable Remote Access.” Could it be that simple?
“Computer, open Plex.” was now greeted with “What would you like to do? You can say things like ‘suggest something to watch’ or ‘play some music’.”
I bought my wife a 6-CD set called Classical 101, which I ripped last week, so it should be on plex. “Computer – ask Plex to play the album Classical 101” and sure enough, we’re now enjoying the set playing from the Echo Dot 3 in the kitchen!
There is a wonderful cheat-sheet of Plex commands for Alexa provided at https://support.plex.tv/articles/236324808-alexa-voice-commands/
My Current View
It’s been less than a month since I tested both the Google Home Mini and the Amazon Echo Dot 3. I am really impressed with all I’m able to do with the Echo Dot, and I actually find I’m using it for day-to-day tasks more and more. When I cook dinner, it is so great to be able to say “Computer, remind me to flip the chicken in 20 minutes”. I’ll look at that, and other features like the impressive shopping list functionality in my next post.
The Amazon Echo Dot 3 has me feeling really happy with the purchase. On the contrary, the Google Home Mini, I’ll probably use pretty much only for development, just so I can write skills to share with our community. But I don’t like it, having used both. I’ve actually contemplated buying another Echo Dot 3 for the studio, and maybe even one for work.