There has been great interest in the Amazon Echo since it has been launched and the Echo can do many things out of the box when it is set up such as set timers and alarms and play radio stations. It is also possible to extend the functionality of the Amazon Echo by enabling its skills. There are thousands of these, but many are experimental so I thought I’d suggest a few that are really useful. Here are 3 skills that I have found useful or entertaining.
‘My Talking Newspaper’ skill. This is a skill that lets you listen to local talking newspapers that are available in the UK. It also lets you listen to the Infosound magazine, the Dot to Dot podcast which has hundreds of reviews of skills and RNIB Connect radio. To enable it say “Alexa, enable My Talking Newspaper skill” after this to use the skill say “Alexa, open My Talking Newspaper”.
‘The Daily Log’ skill allows you to make notes with your voice. You just speak the note such as “Here is John Smith’s phone number. It’s 02073331333”. You can then use your voice to search for John Smith once the skill is open by saying “Search for John Smith”. You can search for recordings on a particular day or for particular words. This is a powerful skill, particularly for recording notes longer than a sentence or so. To enable it say “Alexa, enable Daily Log Skill” then to use it after that say “Alexa, open Daily Log”.
The third skill I want to highlight is called ‘Path of Discovery: Europa’. It’s an interactive Sci-Fi game. This skill demonstrates great use of sound effects to enrich the experience of using the Amazon Echo. The tasks are not too hard and there is plenty of help through the game. So even if Sci-Fi is not your thing, this skill is worth giving a go just for fun! Like all the skills mentioned here, it’s free so there’s nothing to lose. To enable it say “Alexa, enable Path of Discovery: Europa” and then to open it say “Alexa, open Path of Discovery: Europa”.
I have written a full review about the Amazon Echo Dot in my previous blog post. You can read it here: http://bit.ly/2o8uHoW
Lastly, if anyone has come across Amazon Echo skills that they find useful, feel free to tell us by leaving a comment below.
Every now and again, smart devices are introduced without needing modification for vision impaired people to use because they function by using other senses. An example of this is the smart speaker/voice assistant. Smart speakers are screenless and can only be activated by voice.
A smart speaker which I highly recommend using is the Amazon Echo Dot, which is a speaker with a microphone that connects to the Internet. You use your voice to speak to the device and Alexa, the voice assistant, will talk back to you.
The range of skills Alexa has includes:
Finding out the current time
Setting timers and alarms
Playing radio stations
Getting a local weather forecast
Controlling lights, mains plugs with timers and other smart home devices
Planning journeys on public transport
Creating to do lists and calendars
And much more!
Before you can use the Echo Dot it requires setting up, which you will only ever need to do once. You will need a smartphone, tablet or computer connected to the internet in order to link the Echo Dot to your Amazon account. If you don’t have an Amazon account you will need to sign up on the Amazon website prior to setting up. After you’ve completed the setup process you’re ready to use the Echo Dot.
As a blind person the Echo Dot has been extremely useful in assisting me with my daily routine. I’m surprised at how much I use the device to perform the aforementioned skills, as it is a lot quicker to use voice commands than using my computer, even though I am a competent computer user.
The Echo Dot costs £50 on the Amazon UK website, although Amazon has regular sales so you can probably buy it for less. It is also available as the Amazon Echo with a bigger speaker which costs £150. Moreover, Google has recently launched its own smart speaker called Google Home with voice control. Both products can be purchased online but are also available at retailers like PC World and John Lewis.
In conclusion, smart speakers are beneficial for vision impaired people, however I recommend that you research thoroughly which product is able to meet your needs before buying one.
Here is a YouTube video demonstrating the Amazon Echo which is definitely worth watching!