Can the Amazon Alexa Echo Dot make lockdowns more bearable?

Can the Amazon Alexa Echo Dot make lockdowns more bearable?
The Amazon Alexa Echo Dot sitting on a kitchen shelf.
Credit: Amazon

Since most of us are at home during the lockdowns, I recently decided to test the latest Amazon Echo Dot to see if it helped make things a bit more bearable.

We have our Echo Dot sitting in the kitchen. I enjoy shuffling songs from Spotify while preparing lunch, and my children love listening to stories as they eat their dinner. We also ask her at breakfast to know what the weather will be like throughout the day (aka: is the snow melting, or can we go sledding in the afternoon?) 

Alexa also plays podcasts, connects to SiriusXM radio, sets an alarm, and gives us the news report. I was surprised and impressed to find out one feature: she’s multilingual. My kids speak two languages, and going back and forth between German and English with ease is a serious plus. They even accidentally got it to speak French with them while asking for stories from the show Caillou (they laughed quite a bit at that).

In comparison to the models before it, there isn’t actually anything too new. The design is slightly different; most noticeably, the blue light is now at the bottom of the device, and the buttons are raised. 

I found the design both simple and pleasing to the eye; it also becomes noticeable when I talk to it but entirely out of the way when I don’t (I like it without the clock, but one can pay a bit extra for a clock display). 

The sound quality has also shown a slight improvement, and its connection capabilities have become slightly more advanced (it now connects with Zigbee smart devices). 

I personally have been very impressed with the sound quality; it’s clean and exactly what one wants for a single room or a small apartment. There isn’t enough updated here to decide to get rid of the model before it, but at only $60, it is worth considering an upgrade from even older models.

There is one glaring feature that proved disappointing. Alexa often struggles to understand us and plays what we didn’t intend. I have noticed that it improves with time, so hopefully, it will get better, but I often think my phone could do this faster. 

My kids love a show on Amazon Prime called The Stinky and Dirty Show and discovered Alexa will play all the songs on the show, but they really struggle to use the exact word commands to get it to play the right music. Either it plays clips from the show in German, plays only the theme song, or once even turned on metal music. 

I recognize my daughter is only four, but I have also regularly not known which words I need to use to get it to play what I want. Again, when we ask for the same thing repeatedly, the device seems to know that we want the same thing as last time and not metal music, but it can get frustrating. I thought it would have improved in this arena since the last time I used an Alexa device.

Although I only have one Alexa, the connectivity possibilities with it are impressive, yet simple. With the correct compatibility, one can turn on lights or lock doors. I can easily connect my Alexa in the kitchen to any in the house and sync the music or call my kids to dinner. 

Amazon includes all the options listed so far with Alexa or our Amazon Prime account—for extra monthly fees, the options start to feel a little endless: Audible, Guard Plus, Amazon Kids. The Alexa Echo Dot Fourth Generation feels almost futuristic, and it doesn’t take long to imagine what it will be able to manage in the years to come.

Rachel Lengauer