Amazon Echo vs Google Home: Which is Better for a Blind Person to Use?

In a previous blog post, I talked about the skills available on the Amazon Echo range of smart speakers.  The Amazon Echo first appeared in the UK in late 2016, and in April 2017, the Google Home range became available.  These smart speakers are a real challenger to the Amazon Echo and they have their own strong points.  Deciding which to buy can be tricky, so I will be comparing both smart speakers.

Like the Echo, the audio version of the Google Home is available in two versions; Google Home and Google Home Mini.

The Google Home and Google Home Mini both have the same features but the Google Home is larger than the Mini and it produces more bass.  At first glance, the Google Home range and the Amazon Echo range are quite similar in functionality but there are a few differences to consider when buying.

The Amazon Echo works with Amazon services such as Audible books and the Amazon shop.  Google has just introduced Audiobooks in the UK, but the service is not as well-known or extensive as Audible.  Also, although Google does have the ability to shop, it’s not in the same league as Amazon!  In general, the Amazon Echo and Google Home do not interact with each other, so you must choose whose services you prefer.

The set up process for Google Home requires either an android or an iPhone.  Access to a smartphone is essential to register the Google Home and connect it to Wi-Fi.  You can use any computer with a web browser to connect the Amazon Echo.  However, I feel that the set up process for the Echo is not as easy as the Home.

Moreover, you’ll need to consider whether and how you intend to connect your smart speaker to other speakers for improved sound quality.  Both systems benefit considerably by being connected to higher quality speakers such as a Hi-Fi system.  The Google Home can connect wirelessly via Bluetooth or by using Google’s own wireless connection system called Chromecast.  You can’t however, connect the Google Home to speakers with a cable such as a 3.5 mm stereo jack, typically used for headphones.  This is a real disadvantage for those who might want to connect to older systems which need a wired connection.

With the Echo, you can connect to other people with an Echo by using your phone’s contact list.  At present, the Google Home does not have the ability to let you talk to others with a Google Home.  Instead, you can ring anyone in your contacts list whether they have a landline or a mobile phone.

Both the Echo and the Home can have apps written for them which give increased functionality but they take a different approach.   Anyone can write an Amazon Echo app and publish it.

These apps are called skills.  To enable skills, you ask Alexa to enable a skill name.  For example, there is a skill to find out if there are delays on the Tube and to enable this I can say “Alexa, enable fast Tube status.”

Google does not have skills but they work with an increasingly wide range of partners, so you can now shop with supermarkets such as Asda because Google has partnered with them.  You don’t get individuals writing skills for the Google Home but the partnerships with other services that you do get tend to be higher quality.

Moreover, Google tends to be smarter when answering questions than Amazon, particularly when you want to ask related questions.  I can ask Google “How many hits has Elton John had?” followed by “How old is he?” and Google will understand I mean Elton John in the second question, whereas the Amazon Echo will forget the first question I asked.  In conclusion, Google tends to be that little bit smarter but it’s a close run thing.

Amazon Echo & Google Home
Photo of the Google Home and the Amazon Echo Dot

Written by Graham Page, ELVis Assistive Technology Adviser

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Why I Like Volunteering for East London Vision Charity

Some of us reach our ambitions, others don’t and some people have no idea which path to take but are looking for fulfilment.  As I wandered along my path looking at various side tracks I knew I wanted something that satisfied my need, as well as being of benefit to others.

I had worked in various professions, but I hadn’t found the one thing that set my soul on fire.  Then a miracle happened which gave me hope, I stumbled across an organisation called East London Vision looking for volunteers.  No matter how young or old you were you could help someone.  Skilled, unskilled you were offered training and there were a wide variety of causes to choose from.

As I have a disability that worries me, which is my failing eyesight, I was scared about how I would cope, but I feared even more the thought of becoming useless.  So I decided to apply as a volunteer without hesitation because I wanted to learn about life with no vision and to enhance my skills.  I had stereotyped visually impaired people as lifeless like vegetables, unable to do anything or move around, and wondered if I might get bored helping them.  I remember my first invitation to an event which was an awards evening.  I thought it was going to be a very formal affair and boring, but surprisingly it wasn’t! I saw blind and visually impaired people in a different perspective.  There was entertainment and to my amazement people were dancing and having fun.  They were enjoying life with a little bit of support.

Being new to volunteering with other vision impaired people, the users were more than understanding.  Sometimes I would make a mistake, but they were very supportive of me, and it made me feel valuable to them.  The best thing about helping other VI people is they’re all different and know how they want to be supported.  I had discovered so much about the users and have enjoyed many activities from coffee mornings, outings and even sport!

There are no barriers to becoming a volunteer as you’re given the skills to fulfil the role that’s needed.  The age range varies, but we all enjoy getting together, and the advantage is the older people teach the younger ones and the younger ones teach the older ones.

Before volunteering, I was feeling like my social life was to an end, but with the encouragement of the people I met, users and staff, to become more active in activities, I am feeling the benefits of belonging to ELVis.  I have been given a new lease of life which I love and I have learnt so much.

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Photo of Christine standing in front of a palm tree in Hackney.

Written by Christine Maker, Volunteer for East London Vision

ELVis Collecting Donations on Geranium Day, Friday 18th May

Everybody knows that the symbol of the poppy represents those who have fought and died in military conflict, but how many people are aware of the symbol of vision impaired people in London?  For those who don’t know, it is the geranium, a five-petalled flower that blooms from springtime to early autumn.  While it’s uncertain as to why this particular flower was chosen to represent people with sight loss, the symbol was first used in the early 1920s and was the brainchild of newspaper magnate Sir Arthur Pearson.

Pearson, the founder of the Daily Express, was an early campaigner for vision impaired people.  Having lost his sight through glaucoma, he spent a large part of his life raising awareness of the difficulties that VI people could face.   Pearson was frustrated by the barriers faced by vision impaired people who not only had to go about their daily lives in a society that was largely unaware of their needs, but who also had to contend with post-war poverty, which often had a greater effect on their lives than it did on the lives of their fully-sighted friends and neighbours.

He therefore decided to spearhead a publicity campaign that would encourage the public to donate money to causes that would help to support the vision impaired population of London.   Just before his death in 1921, Pearson organised a ‘Geranium Day’ appeal to raise funds for the blind and partially sighted people of the capital, having used his contacts to gain a royal patron, Princess Louise.  From the funds raised through this, the Greater London Fund for the Blind was born.

Geranium Day continues still, and is a time when sight loss organisations and charities have the opportunity to raise money on public property across London.  This year, the London-wide collection day will be on Friday 18th May, and East London Vision will be using it as an opportunity to raise funds for our own projects.  The whole team will be out and about, and as well as collecting money we’ll have the opportunity to talk to the public about sight loss as well as about the work that we do to help provide support to the vision impaired community in East London.  We’ll be spread out across the region, with groups at Liverpool St. Station, outside Westfield shopping centre in Stratford and at Canary Wharf, and we’ll be around for most of the day between 8am and 5pm.

So if you’re free next Friday, then come along and say hello!  It’ll be great to see as many of our friends as possible.  And if you’d be interested in joining us and helping us collect money for part of the day, then you’d be more than welcome.  Please phone the office on 020 3697 6464 if you’re interested.

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Portrait of Sit Arthur Pearson

Written by Nicola Stokes, ELVis Service Development & Delivery Manager

Raising Awareness of Vision Impaired Passengers at Becontree Bus Garage

Recently, myself and Masuma visited Becontree Bus Garage to talk to a group of TfL bus drivers about the challenges blind and partially sighted people face when travelling on buses.

We gave them spectacles to wear which simulated 6 common eye conditions: macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, tunnel vision with cataracts (RP), hemianopia and cataracts.  Then, we asked them to read bus numbers, locate seats, and get on and off the bus.  They all agreed that the tasks were very difficult to do with the simulated spectacles on.

Next, we demonstrated various canes- the long cane, which is used as a mobility aid, the symbol cane, which is shorter and thinner, and used to highlight that a person has a visual impairment, and a long, red and white cane, which is used by people with both a hearing and visual impairment.  The bus drivers explained to us that when they see a person with a cane or guide dog waiting at a bus stop they are obliged to stop regardless if the person has their hand out or not, and they would let them know what bus number it is.

We then discussed an important issue for a majority of VI passengers- when multiple buses arrive at a bus stop it becomes very difficult to see the busses at the back.  Because of this, VI passengers often get left behind.  Therefore, we suggested that subsequent buses behind a trail should wait at the bus stop to allow passengers to find out what the bus numbers are.  Moreover, we mentioned that it’s not always easy to locate the Oyster card reader, as well as find an empty seat.  The drivers said that passengers with a freedom pass do not have to tap the reader.  They can show it to the driver, or the driver will know by seeing a white cane or guide dog.   Furthermore, most buses have mirrors that allow the driver to see the entire bus, so they asked if it would be helpful if they should inform VI passengers where the empty seats are.  Lastly, we also advised the bus drivers that if a bus is re-routed/diverted or stopped short of its destination, then it is helpful to have an audio-announcement.  Without one, a vision impaired person does not know where they are on their journey, and can leave them feeling lost and disoriented.

Overall, the outcome of the meeting was very positive.  The drivers who participated in our vision awareness training were glad they attended.  It’s always a pleasure to work with organisations like TfL to help improve the quality of travel for people living with sight loss.  Before you go, I would love to hear about your experience of travelling on public transport so we can give feedback at future training sessions.

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Photo of Bhavini and Masuma with a bus driver who is wearing a simulated spectacle.

Written by Bhavini Makwana, ELVis Activities Coordinator

Edited by Ray Calamaan, ELVis Communications Coordinator