In the past few years, voice-activated personal assistants have brought an impressive mix of functionality and a futuristic house flair to millions of homes. Enter a small-but growing collection of intelligent devices like Google Home, Amazon’s Echo Plus, and Mycroft: some of the coolest, most useful products you’re bound to use this year.
What makes these devices special? It’s the amazing number of things they can do for their users. Here’s a look at what a voice-activated personal assistant can do to make your life easier:
Help Out around the House
At a high level, voice-activated personal assistants can do a little bit of everything. Take the number of high-tech smart home devices they can control: Say an awake phrase (Google Home and Echo, respectively, use “OK, Google” and “Alexa,” for example), issue a command, and watch as your central device does the work for you.
Let’s say you want to watch a movie but your couch is feeling really comfortable. With a connected lighting kit like the Philips Hue White Starter Kit, you can simply say, “Alexa, turn off the living room lights.” Feeling a little cold during the show? With a Nest Learning Thermostat, you can issue similar commands to raise or lower the temperature, or simply ask what the temp is in your home. These two devices alone feature a huge list of commands when hooked to an assistant, and that’s before considering the dozens of other products you can connect your intelligent devices to.
Entertain and Help You Shop
You don’t need to be a smart home enthusiast to get a lot of use from your voice-activated personal assistant. If you’re a frequent Netflix or Prime Video user and you have a connectable smart TV, you can use intelligent devices to browse media without a remote by saying “Alexa, search for The Grand Tour,” or “OK, Google, play Stranger Things.”
Many assistants also feature shopping capabilities, though the services they use will vary by device. Google Express users can tell Home to order household products from a number of vendors (including Walmart), while Prime aficionados can use an Echo device to place voice-activated Amazon orders.
Answer All Your Burning Questions
A voice-activated personal assistant also has question-and-answer capabilities. Got your hands full in the kitchen and need to know how many cups are in a quart? Ask away. Want to know the bassist for Fleetwood Mac or who played Red in The Shawshank Redemption? Whatever the question, there’s a good chance your assistant can answer it.
These devices are also great for planning your day and carrying out administrative tasks. You can tell your assistant to add calendar entries, set alarms, or read back your upcoming flight itinerary. They’ll even help during your pre-work routine: “Mycroft, what’s my commute time this morning?”
Which Should I Choose?
The best-known assistants are embedded in their digital ecosystems. If you use a lot of Google services, you might get more value from a Home. Meanwhile, an Echo may be better for your needs if you can’t go two days without taking advantage of your Prime account.
Other devices come with their own features and capabilities. For example, Mycroft offers more customization options, but requires a comparatively large base of technical knowledge to get the most out of them.
With that said, the devices have more in common than not. If you’re not interested in using ecosystem-specific features and just want the “basics” (think voice-activated smart home controls and question-and-answer capability), with the number of things these devices can do, you’ll be impressed no matter which product you choose.