Echo Dot is the best gift of this holiday season

The Echo Dot (2nd Generation), aka Alexa is hands down the coolest gift for this holiday season.  Priced at just under $50 via Amazon, this item is a great gift for families, teens and adults.  All one needs is a Wi-Fi connection, and this entertainment hub/personal assistant is ready to go.  This item is not just incredibly useful, it is packed full of fun and you will find yourself coming up with new things to ask it.

So, what exactly is an Echo Dot? It comes in black and white, is the size and shape of a hockey puck, and is “a hands-free, voice-controlled device that uses Alexa to play music, control smart home devices, provide information, read the news, set alarms, and more,” according to Amazon.

The set-up is incredibly simple. Just plug it in, download the app to your phone or computer, connect to Wi-Fi and within 5 minutes, you are off and running. You can set up multiple devices to it like smart phones and speakers for ease of management, as well as more opportunities to get the most out of it.

All you need to do is say, “Alexa, what’s up?” And it will give you a basic status update including, time, local weather and a piece of trending information. But, there is so much more.

What all does it do?  The Echo Dot can be used as a timer, can be linked to your Audible and Kindle accounts to read to you, provide information, add items to your calendar or shopping list, give traffic updates, and buy things on Amazon (don’t worry, that function is password protected, so you won’t have people ordering stuff without your consent). You can order pizza, hear the news, get an Uber and play music. Now, that is an area where the Echo Dot is really something special--music.

Use it alone, or connect it to speakers and you can play music from most of your music accounts including Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. It can also connect to the voice activated Amazon Fire TV stick so it can help manage your TV too.

While not everyone has a smart home yet, the fact that this item can control it via voice is really cool, and definitely makes you considering getting some of those new smart, yet expensive, light bulbs just to try it out. It can manage a variety of home devices from WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Nest, ecobee, as well as others.

The Echo Dot also is constantly learning new things and is truly customizable.  By downloading the Alexa App, you can easily find fun and useful skills that can either entertain or educate you, as well as doing things that just make life easier.  This App is so easy to use, but it also has an interesting tab that says “Skills.” By visiting this spot, you can browse through a bunch of categories of skills that include, Business, Food & Drink, Games, Trivia & Accessories, Novelty & Humor, Shopping, Social, Travel and Transportation, Productivity and more that you can add to your Echo Dot, thus making it smarter all of the time.

In the “Skills” section, there is a fun choose-your-own adventure from Warner Brothers called “The Wayne Investigation” here you can be a detective and help solve a murder mystery in the Batman universe. The options are endless.

Also, in regards to the Alexa App, there is a “Things to Try” tab that gives the user ideas of other things the Echo Dot can do. It takes away some of the guesswork and provides some clever suggestions.

One would think that you need to yell, or that it would come on often by mistake, but it really doesn’t, even if there is a lot of background noise.  In order to cut down the likelihood that it will misunderstand you, there is a voice training that makes it even more responsive to your commands.

This handy tool and toy may not always know the answer and it does not like being insulted. If you were to say “Alexa, you’re stupid,” it would reply with something like “That isn’t very nice.” However, sometimes rephrasing the question will make it so it can answer your question.  It also sings “Happy Birthday.”

While there are other similar items available, through Amazon and Google, this one has some special benefits, especially because of its reasonable price, size and the fact that it can connect to speakers via Bluetooth or corded connection. Some people may want to get one for multiple rooms in their homes or offices.

On a personal note:  I bought my first Echo Dot as a gift for my dad a few weeks ago.  It was an instant hit with everyone.  My dad uses it mostly for music, my mom--reading books, my sister—listening the news and the kids loved the games.  As for me, I loved it all, in fact, I liked it so much that I as counting the days ‘til Black Friday when I would get one for myself, at a 20 percent discount. I ended up not only getting one for myself, but I bought more for other family members and friends.  Amazon also has a convenient bulk options with discount codes for further savings when purchasing Echo Dots. It is beloved by all, and even though it has only been with me for a few days, I do not know how I ever lived without it.

If you are only to get one gift for anyone on your list, or are giving a gift to a whole household, look no further than the Alexa Dot.  It will not disappoint.

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Michelle Tompkins

Michelle Tompkins is an award-winning media, PR and crisis communications professional with more than ten years experience with coverage in virtually every traditional and new media outlet. She is currently a communications and media strategist and writer, as well as the author of College Prowler: Guidebook for Columbia University. She served as the Media Relations Manager for the Girl Scouts of the USA where she managed all media and talking points, created social media strategy, trained executives and donors and served as the organization’s primary spokesperson, participating in daily interviews with local, regional, and national media outlets. She managed the media for the Let Me Know internet safety and Cyberbullying prevention campaign with Microsoft, as well as Girl Scouts’ centennial Year of the Girl To Get Her There celebration in 2012, which yielded more than 800 million earned media impressions. In addition to her extensive media experience, Michelle worked as a talent agent in Los Angeles, California, as well contracting as a digital content developer and her writing has appeared in newspapers and online. She is passionate about television, theater, classic movies, all things food and in-home entertaining. While she has lived and worked in NYC for more than a decade, she is from suburban Sacramento and gets back there often to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV with her family.