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Is it time to bring a voice assistant home? And which one?

Having gadgets take care of the little things in your life can be a big blessing

brunch Updated: Oct 29, 2017 11:41 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Amazon is all set to bring three of its Alexa voice assistants into India soon
Amazon is all set to bring three of its Alexa voice assistants into India soon

No, not the one on your phone. There’s another category of digital voice assistants that are on fire. With Amazon bringing in three of its Alexa devices, the market just got thrown wide open. Google with its Home devices will follow soon and then Apple will get in its Siri-based Homepod and other companies will join. Which brings in the big questions too. What are they, what can they do, should you buy one and which one to buy?

These assistants are speakers that come in all shapes and sizes

What are they?

They are just speakers with built in smarts. Microphones (far field recognition) that can recognise most of what you say from a distance and understand most queries and commands in everyday language. They need to be connected to a Wi-Fi data connection though. They come in various shapes and sizes, but the big difference really is the kind of speaker technology built in.

What do they do?

Voice assistants are microphones (far field recognition) that can recognise most of what you say from a distance and understand most queries and commands in everyday language

You can use them for literally anything in the world. You can control your lights, security cameras and a large number of home automation devices. You can ask them to play a YouTube video, a TV show or even a movie just by asking. Some devices can even be used to make a call from one room to the other, or anywhere in the world. Ask them the time, weather, cricket score, play voice games, convert something or even spell a difficult word. Each has its own pros and cons and some can do more than others. But in essence there’s no huge earth shattering difference.

Should you buy one?

Absolutely. Prices are really low (an Amazon Echo Dot is around Rs. 3000). You’ll be surprised at the capabilities and how much usage you’ll get out of them. Install new skills and apps, add a few smart bulbs, set up music streaming, add an Amazon fire stick or a google chromecast device and enjoy.

Which one should you buy?

The Google Home is funnier than most others

Typical advice from most experts would be ‘if you’ve already invested heavily into the Apple eco system, then wait for the HomePod’. Hogwash! These voice assistants aren’t as tied into operating systems as a phone or a tablet. You’ll get almost all the capabilities from any one of them. Depending on who you are as a person and what you’ll use them for, here’s a quick buying guide.

Music: If that’s mostly what you’re buying it for, you’re best off with the Amazon Echo Dot and then connecting it via Bluetooth or a line out cable to a great set of speakers.

Apple’s HomePod will be in India soon

TV/Movies: It’s pretty much the same with each as you need an additional add-on that you connect to your TV. The only exception is the Echo Spot and the Echo Show (both not available in India yet) that have built in screens. Now that Alexa is India compatible, buying these from overseas makes sense as they will work here.

Home automation: No major difference as all of them work with literally every smart device.

Queries and skills: Google Home is just a little ahead in the kind of queries it can answer and is funnier. There are certain gaps in each (Google Home doesn’t work with Outlook), but nothing that makes either a deal breaker.

That is your guide to getting a Voice Assistant into your home. If nothing else try one as a Home Audio System. Thank you lord for making such technology happen in our lifetime!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, October 29, 2017

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