Voice control, using either Alexa or Google Assistant, is the U by Moen smart faucet's star attraction, but after testing this kitchen tool for several months, I've concluded that its gesture control feature is far more useful. Voice control is no gimmick, as you'll see when I dig all the things you can do with voice commands. But the tasks for which I use a faucet most often--washing my hands, rinsing dishes, filling a watering can for my houseplants, and the like--waving my hand over the faucet to start the flow of water, and again to stop it is all the technology I need. I love my handmade farmhouse sink, but it seriously complicates changing out the faucet. But that could be because I live in a rural area and draw my water from a well.
Hundreds of human reviewers across the globe, from Romania to Venezuela, listen to audio clips recorded from Amazon Echo speakers, usually without owners' knowledge, Bloomberg reported last week. We knew Alexa was listening; now we know someone else is, too. This global review team fine-tunes the Amazon Echo's software by listening to clips of users asking Alexa questions or issuing commands, and then verifying whether Alexa responded appropriately. The team also annotates specific words the device struggles with when it's addressed in different accents. According to Amazon, users can opt out of the service, but they seem to be enrolled automatically.
A battery dock allows you to place the speaker anywhere in a room, not just in the proximity of an AC outlet. But those batteries will need recharging eventually, so most people who use them--myself included--end up leaving battery-docked smart speakers in the same places they'd be if they were AC-powered. A company called Wi-Charge claims it has a better solution: It has developed a battery-charging technology that harnesses the power of light. The power transmitter in this solution must be plugged into a wall, but the power receiver trickle-charges the battery in whatever device it's plugged into, keeping the battery forever topped off. Today, Wi-Charge announced new kits that work with Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini smart speakers, so that the speakers can be placed anywhere in a room and operate without power cords.
Almost every day I make a pot of tea. Strong, black tea, the kind you have to steep properly in a ritual that involves a kettle, a tea tin, tea lights, a tea cozy. It's a four-minute brew, so I set a timer. I used to do it on the microwave, but some time ago I just started asking Alexa, via the Amazon Echo on my kitchen counter. "Alexa, set a timer for four minutes."
There's no denying that Google Home and Amazon Echo (or the less-expensive Echo Dot, if you're not using it for music) have changed the way we interact with our homes. Turning on the lights has never been easier, nor has it been simpler to field the latest traffic report or order delivery for dinner. The future is here, and we're reveling in it! But the proliferation of these devices around our homes leaves room for error. Google's and Amazon's connected speakers must always listen for us to utter their magic "wake" words--OK Google or Alexa respectively--in order to perform their tasks.