Black Echo dot taken by piotr-cichosz
Writing

Why the Echo Dot is great for writers (and everyone)

ETA: I’m no longer a Prime member due to some issues with the USPS not delivering my dog food on time (I converted to Chewy), but the Echo Dot and I are still good pals even without a Prime account.

Not everyone is comfortable with these little dots listening into their households, but I live alone with two dogs so take this with a grain of salt.


I’ve been a member of Amazon Prime for years. For about $8.50 a month (pre-paid once a year), Prime members enjoy free two-day shipping on any items marked “Prime” throughout the year. I order my dog food from Amazon and it arrives (in a 38lb bag–yikes) on my porch two days later. Plus, you can set up virtual Dash Buttons, which makes ordering as simple as a single click. This is good for someone like me, who is motivated to be productive but sometimes won’t leave the house because the idea of braving the pet store is too much for my introvert heart.

(It’s also fantastic when you have forgotten an upcoming birthday.)

But Amazon Prime isn’t just about free shipping anymore! Prime membership includes extras like a free e-book every month, access to Prime Pantry (where you can buy nonperishable grocery items and have them shipped for a flat-rate per box), Audible Channels (which I like to listen to at work), Amazon Video (lots of free movies and TV shows, which might be satisfying enough for you to drop Netflix), and Amazon Music.

I use iTunes across my devices, so I didn’t pay Amazon Music much attention until last December when my mom gave me an Echo Dot. This unassuming device sits on top of my microwave and responds to voice commands. Alexa (that’s one thing you can call her – Amazon terms it a “wake word”) is the closest I’ve gotten to my dream of a robot butler. Here’s why, as a human and a writer, I love Alexa:

  • Alexa can answer simple questions like, “How far is it from New York to Orlando?” and “What time is it in Toyko?” and “Who is the president of France?” and “What year was Vladimir Nabokov born?” That keeps me from opening a new tab and getting distracted by the internet. She can’t look up anything too complex yet, but I have my fingers crossed.
  • She can add items to to-do and shopping lists
  • She can read your upcoming Google Calendar entries
  • She can place an Amazon Prime order for you (I used to order dog food this way)
  • She can play any album, artist, or playlist included with Amazon Music! I like the playlist “Classical for Writing” and use it often. If you have the unlimited music subscription, you apparently have access to more.
  • She can play your custom playlists on Amazon Music! I have a few mood-specific writing playlists that she can fire up.
  • She can play dog sleep sounds for those times your dogs are feisty. They calm mine down within minutes. It’s magic. We use them so often, we have a playlist called “Go to sleep, Luke.”
  • You can pause, resume, and adjust Alexa’s volume with voice commands
  • She can hear you down the hall! And across the hall. (Sometimes across the hall instead of in the room where you are standing in front of another Echo device that is giving you the silent treatment.)
  • She can read to you. If you need a break and want to recharge your brain with someone else’s words, she can read any of your Audible books to you. If you have multiple Echo Dots (I have another one in my bedroom), she remembers where she left off reading and can pick up again in another room.
  • She’s an alarm clock and a timer. Alexa wakes me up every morning and times my writing sprints. And yes, you can tell her to snooze.
  • You can program one-time or repeating reminders
  • She can connect to your smart devices and turn lamps on/off by voice command, handy when you don’t want to crawl under the desk again to turn a rocker switch.
  • If you tell her that you love her, she says “thank you.”
  • She tells me she likes all AIs. πŸ™‚

Things Alexa cannot do that I wish she could:

  • Take notes for me. Sometimes I don’t have my hands free and a line has popped into my head. Alexa can’t do this, though Siri can if plugged in with “Hey, Siri” activated.
  • Play songs from my iTunes Match or Yahoo Music account
  • Let Luke outside
  • Make tea
  • Fold the laundry

The Echo Dot runs about $50, but last year it went on sale for $25, so you can sometimes find one a little cheaper. There are refurbished models available as well. It’s made my life a little easier and lot more pleasant.

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