the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Tag Archives: amazon

google home

Yeah, I’m a sucker for IoT things like this. Amazon’s Alexa found a new home via eBay in Rockford, and I have to admit, we felt a little empty with the gap she left. “Alexa, what’s the weather” mostly.

So I jumped on board when Google announced their own voice-activated assistant, Google Home. I preordered directly from Google for $129 sometime in October, and it arrived just this week. Setup required me to download the “Google Home” app on my android phone, and I was then prompted to enter my Google account info. A simple process, it did some updates, knew somehow it was in my kitchen, and connected to my home wifi network.

Firstly, there is no privacy with these devices. Google knows who I am, where I live, and can listen to all the conversation maybe even in the entire house. That near-field technology is quite good, and even when laying down in an adjacent room Google Home could hear my commands, all given with the obligatory “Okay Google” salutation.

Unlike Alexa, Google Home, or rather the Google Assitant is quite smart, rattling off answers to questions like “Who just won the World Series” and whatever else we could think of. The biggest surprise was when I asked her to play some music. I have precious little in Google Play, but based on one album I bothered to upload sometime ago (The Blossom Toes’ Ever So Clean), she offered a quite satisfying playlist of late 60s psychedelia I could imagine. Bravo.

So here she will sit, ever listening and patiently awaiting our commands, until we too get bored with her!

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amazon echo, arrived

echo
I received my Amazon Echo unit this week, several months after ordering it. The $99 (with Prime Membership) unit is sleek, solid, and very black. While it should have been simple to configure – get the app for Android (or via the web, as long as it’s on one’s wireless network) and follow the instructions – getting it to sign into my wifi required a call to Amazon and then a talk to the development team. (Seems the issue was with the app not recognizing WPA/WPA2 correctly). Anyway, that aside, I was up and running.
Alexa has problems understanding:
“What time is it in a stop stop?”
“Would you like to eat it blueberries?”
“when is the next bus gonna be at at us an in game”

And knowing pretty basic stuff:
Who did the chicago blackhawks play tonight?
Q&A
Sorry, I couldn’t find the answer to your question.

But she’s kinda funny:
“Would you like to eat a blueberry?
Q&A
I don’t have preferences or desires.

Are you a man?
Q&A
I’m female in character.

Are you hungry?
Q&A
I don’t get hungry or thirsty, but thank you for asking.

The kids love her,
What is eighty one minus twenty eight?
Q&A
81 minus 28 is 53.

Yet her pronunciation isn’t so good (“Jonathan Toes” vs “Toews”)

The Echo App logs “cards” of what Alexa has heard, allowing one to send feedback to Amazon, which presumably will help improve her.
She’s perfect for playing music and sounds very good, but wouldn’t it be great if she could find a UPnP server on my local network and access that? So yes, the possibilities of Echo are boundless – think Wikipedia reader, think Translator, think Sports – but she’s definitely a work in progress. I can’t wait however until I can call her Samantha or… Sudo!

amazon echo

Yes, I ordered one. I asked my kids what wakeup word we should use, and the youngest said “sudo”. See you in 4-6 months, whenever it arrives.

kindle apps, developer notes

This just in from Engadget:
"For instance, Amazon says it will review every app in its Appstore for Fire compatibility, as part of an automated process. Rejected apps, Amazon informs us, will include those that rely on a gyroscope, camera, WAN module, Bluetooth, microphone, GPS, or micro SD. Apps are also forbidden from using Google's Mobile Services (and in-app billing), which, if included, will have to be "gracefully" removed. In terms of actual content, Amazon has outlawed all apps that change the tablet's UI in any way (including theme- or wallpaper-based tools), as well as any that demand root access (it remains to be seen how the company will treat the root-dependent apps already in its store)."

Um, doesn't really sound like an Android device, does it?

On the web:
Amazon Appstore Developer Portal

amazon kindle fire

From the kindle, comes the fire. As the tech world so accurately predicted, Jeff Bezos introduced Amazon's newest addition to the Kindle family today. And as predicted, it was a 7" color Android tablet for less than $300. The Kindle Fire is very much an Amazon tablet however as it has no access to the Google Apps. Not surprising, as the tablet is certainly meant to connect to Amazon for all its services: Amazon Prime for video, Amazon MP3 store and Cloud Drive for music, Kindle Store for books, Amazon Apps for Angrybirds, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and all the Android apps that Amazon approves of. It's web browser is one Amazon Silk, and reportedly uses the power of Amazon's massive EC2 Cloud to boost browsing speeds. The price, at $199, is amazing low, in fact, lower than predicted.

Here's the specs:
OS: Android 2.3, heavily modified
Display: 7" multi-touch display 1024 x 600 IPS panel, Gorilla Glass coating
Processor: 1GHz TI OMAP dual-core CPU with 512MB RAM
Size: 7.5" x 4.7" x 0.45" (190 mm x 120 mm x 11.4 mm).
Weight: 14.6 ounces (413 grams).
System Requirements: None, because it's wireless and doesn't require a computer.
On-device Storage: 8GB internal.
Cloud Storage: Free cloud storage for all Amazon content
Battery Life: Up to 8 hours of continuous reading or 7.5 hours of video playback, with wireless off.
Charge Time: Fully charges in approximately 4 hours via power adapter. Also supports USB.
Wi-Fi Connectivity: 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
USB Port: USB 2.0 (micro-B connector)
Audio: 3.5 mm stereo audio jack, top-mounted stereo speakers.
Content Formats Supported: Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively, Audible (Audible Enhanced (AA, AAX)), DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, non-DRM AAC, MP3, MIDI, OGG, WAV, MP4, VP8.

The big question however is what kind of tablet computer is the Kindle Fire. It's certainly no iPad killer, but that probably wasn't the point. Obviously, the device is the perfect gateway for Amazon selling content to you; why, it's probably even subsidized by the fact that Amazon's banking on the user buy content from them. It is reasonably priced, comfortably portable, and from the looks of it, extremely functional. But is it worth buying if you're not interested in any of Amazon's content? Is the Kindle Fire a real Android tablet? Or is it an Amazon slot machine?

On the web:
Kindle Fire from Amazon

to the cloud, amazon style


Introduced this week is Amazon's Cloud Player and streaming music service. The so-called, "buy anywhere play anywhere" service allows 5GB of storage on Amazon's servers, and the ability to stream music either over the web or on the go with their free Android app (which is an update of the previous Amazon MP3 app). So upload some music, or purchase some from Amazon's mp3 store (which do not count toward your quota), and stream away. Additional space can be purchased and your cloud drive can also host files, pictures etc. The service worked exactly as billed, but unfortunately only supports the mp3 and aac files (non-DRM of course). There's a helpful uploader app that's based on Adobe (shudder-horror) Air available for Mac and PC, while Linux users can just fill the cloud via a web browser.

Ubuntu One may have been first to introduce a cloud music player, but Amazon's is free. Now back to your regularly scheduled program (on Pandora, Rhapsody, etc.).

On the web:
http://www.amazon.com/clouddrive
http://www.amazon.com/cloudplayer

what roku could be…


Don't get me wrong, the Roku HD, at a mere $59, is almost an instant buy. It's a set-top box for streaming digital video. The box connects to your tv or a/v system and facilitates streaming video from the internet, via wireless or wired ethernet connection. It supports Netflix, Amazon VOD, and soon enough Hulu Plus, plus a zillion other "channels" offering everything from sports, music, movies, etc. Too bad their website doesn't have a comprehensive list.

For streaming audio, there's one channel of particular interest to me: MainSqueeze connects your local Squeezebox Server to the Roku. But here's the caveat: the Roku doen't play some audio formats, including Ogg-Vorbis and FLAC. Talk about a heartbreaker!

Will this change in the future? It just seems like too good of an opportunity for Roku to miss, doesn't it? Ogg-Vorbis and FLAC are free, open standards that do not require any licensing fees. Further, the Roku, at just $59 for the entry model, is so much less expensive than the Squeezebox Touch that you could buy five (5) for the same price – one for nearly every room! Ogg-Vorbis and FLAC support usually sets the audiophile scene/buzz on fire, just as the Sansa Clip did when it added support for those formats. It would also give Roku a leg-up on Apple TV, which will never natively support Ogg-Vorbis nor FLAC.

Write Roku and let them know we want Ogg-Vorbis and FLAC support now!

On the web:
Roku Digital Video Player