Saturday, 2 December 2017

in which I test Amazon Echo and Alexa with Clark Hutchinson's Best Suit

I'm just getting some of the home tech re-assembled. No Nest system at the new place, so the complicated balancing of smoke detectors and heating controls from the last place isn't needed. No more increasingly urgent sounding female alarm voice from the speakers whilst the cooking slightly overheats. That's even now that Google are giving away a 'free' Google home mini with their Nest temperature controllers.

I'll wait until the full HAL version of the Nest is eventually released. You know, with voice control directly on the unit. And an optional red 'eye'. Meantime the conventional 2-zone Honeywell system is doing fine.

Instead I've been re-instating the Amazon Echo controller after a seven month break. The big vendors are all trying to capture the whole market, so the latest version of the Echo includes a home hub inside, compatible with Hue and similar.

We already have the Hue lighting system, so no need for the new version, and the external Hue hub also works with Apple Homekit, so everything can also work simply from an iPhone.

That does lead to a slight battle of the Personal Assistants though, with Siri on the phone and Alexa in the room. Not forgetting that the Sony TV also seems to have its own voice recognition. Someone is bound to have made them all talk at one another...

We can see that both Google and Amazon are attempting some bundling to gain the upper hand.

And then, sometime in January, Apple enter the market with their HomePod.

Take a look inside HomePod and it is well specified, but it also looks as if it was designed by audio people. A good idea at one level - they have probably made a better job than the acceptable audio that comes from the similar sized Amazon device. Interestingly, they seem to have have used all the A8 cpu on sound. The device supports Wifi and MIMO, bu there's no home device control anywhere to be seen.

Apple have pushed the actual home control off to their devices that run iOS. Typically phones, iPads or increasingly watches. The other device becomes like a key to the home being managed.

I like the idea of sensible home control. Less so the more gimmicky extremes like cooker innards tv-monitoring and fridge door displays showing the contents.

We are also in a period where there is no obvious leader in this technology and just about all of the combinations leave out some of the functionality.

That's why I'm still using Amazon Alexa, which seems to work with my iTunes library as well as its own playlists, plus can control lights and basic television (via Harmony).

The "Alexa Play BBC Radio 4" type commands work well, and my recent test with the amazing 'Best Suit, by Clark Hutchinson' passed the 'Find a track that's not on libraries anywhere' test.

Yes, Amazon has learned my entire music collection and can voice recognise requests. It'll do for now and if I want to up the fidelity the smaller Dot device has a stereo speaker out connection.

Meanwhile I'm listening to more of the Clark Hutchinson second album Retribution and am slightly amazed to see that their third album, Gestalt (which I have on vinyl) is actually in the Amazon Unlimited library.


Nikki-ann said...

Have you noticed how these things always have a female voice? :)

rashbre said...

Hi Nikki-ann - Yes often but not always. Siri gives a choice of voices - both Male and female. So does TomTom.

I've not really noticed with the others, although I'm aware that a lot of human factors people still say that a woman's voice is somehow 'preferred' ?