SHARE

Our high tech world is changing quickly. Just a few short years ago we could only communicate with devices by typing or touching. Now we can gather information and control devices with our voices. From computers to smart phones, voice control is now being built into all of our hardware. Amazon started this movement with their original Amazon Echo voice activated device and Amazon continues to be a leader as they introduce more and more Echo devices.

Amazon Wand

One of those new devices is also the cheapest voice activated device in the Amazon lineup. The Amazon Dash Wand is currently selling for $20 and Amazon has had several offers that reduce that price even more. Offers for the Wand seem to come and go. When I bought mine, Amazon was offering a $20 credit along with the purchase. This essentially made the Wand’s price really attractive. It doesn’t get much better than free.

The Dash Wand is a battery-powered, voice-enabled device that is being promoted as a product scanner, but can actually do much more.

Design

The Dash Wand is a well-designed device. It is a sturdy and water-resistant device about 1” by ½” around. The rounded sides make it an oval-shaped device that lies nicely on a table or counter. The device is fairly small measuring just 5 1/2” long.

Amazon Wand

One half of the device is shiny white plastic while the other half is a black rubberized material.  The device also has a loop for hanging. Amazon includes an adhesive hook for hanging on a wall. The Wand has only one button that activates the microphone which is just below the button. There is a small speaker on the opposite side. The backside of the Wand is magnetic so you can adhere it to a refrigerator or file cabinet.

Amazon Wand

Setup

Setup is easy. Just pull the two parts apart to reveal the battery compartment and insert the included 2AAA batteries. Then install the Amazon Echo app on your Apple or Android mobile device and follow the instructions to add it to your network.

Amazon Wand

Capabilities

The Echo Wand has many, but not all of the full Amazon Echo’s capabilities including the voice of Alexa. It does not have a hands-free mode, so to use it you do not have to call out “Alexa”. You simply press and hold the button on the device. Like other Echo devices, the Wand can answer questions, tell jokes, convert measurements, control your Alexa-compatible connected devices, and find nearby restaurants. It can even perform many of the Amazon skills. So you can use it play Twenty Questions, Jeopardy and other Echo games.

The Wand, however, cannot perform two important functions of the full-size Echo. It cannot play music or read books.

Even though the Wand’s speaker is quite small, Alexa’s voice on the Wand is crisp and clear. Luckily, it is loud enough to communicate with because you cannot control the volume of the sound. Unfortunately the Wand doesn’t support alarms or timers which would be very useful for use in the kitchen or bedroom. It also doesn’t support calling or messaging.

In my testing the two AAA batteries lasted only a little over a week. I gave it some pretty heavy use with all my internet-connected devices as well as some game playing. However, if you use it a lot, it will eat a lot of batteries.

Shopping with the Wand

The Wand cannot play music or read books. Instead, it is an expert at ordering Amazon products. The bottom of the Wand acts as a bar code reader. Press the button and aim the Wand at any barcode. The sensors on the bottom of the Wand will light up red.

Amazon Wand

If Amazon has that product Alexa will add it to your cart. If it is not available from Amazon, Alexa will suggest other items that Amazon does carry.

You can also order items with your voice. Just ask the Wand to order the item you need. If Alexa cannot locate the item, she will tell you that. If you have ordered that item before Alexa will give you the information on that item including the price. You can send the information to the Alexa shopping app on your phone or have Alexa put it in your shopping cart. Actually, the choosing and ordering of item is pretty easy. As you might expect, Amazon is extremely good at make buying products easy.

This process is good. It is easy to have this Alexa put things in your shopping cart. Then when you have time you can review the cart as well as the prices before you actually make the purchase.

Since the acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon started featuring the Dash Wand in the Amazon Fresh area where it is hoping for it to become a tool for purchasing groceries. You don’t, however, have to be in an area serviced by Amazon Fresh to use the Wand. If you are outside the Fresh area and you try to order milk, apples, or carrots, Alexa will simply add those items to your shopping list.

Summary

The Amazon Wand is obviously a niche product. At first I thought it might have a place in the kitchen, but because it isn’t hands free and can’t do timers, I find it not very useful there. Then I thought that I could use it like a portable remote control for use with my other Echo devices. It’s great for controlling lights and other connected devices from anywhere in the house or office, but not useful for controlling music or connecting to other Echo devices. The kids might find it useful to play with Alexa, but you don’t want to give them the ability to order items.

That leaves this device useful for only those who are heavily invested in Amazon shopping or who want to use it as a handy portable Q & A machine and device controller. The price makes it worthwhile even for just those uses.

However, many of us will want to take a pass on the Wand and look at the other hardware that works with Alexa and/or Google Home. These products are coming on rapidly from a wide array of manufactures. Amazon itself has just announced six new Alexa enabled devices: The $149.99 Echo Plus, a $229.99 Echo Show, a $129.99 Echo Spot, a $199.99 Echo Look, a new $149.99 Fire HD 10” tablet, and new $69.99 and $74.99 Fire TVs.

So keep your eyes open and your pocket books ready. Voice-activated hardware is sure to find a place in your life in the near future.

Sandy Berger, respected computer authority, journalist, media guest, speaker, and author, has more than three decades of experience as a computer and technology expert. Her eight books include: How to Have a Meaningful Relationship with Your Computer, Your Official Grown-up’s Guide to AOL and the Internet, Cyber Savers –Tips & Tricks for Today’s Drowning Computer Users, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Better Living through Technology, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to the Internet, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Gadgets & Gizmos, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Health & Wellness, and Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Travel. Sandy’s newspaper column, magazine articles, feature stories, product reviews, and computer tips can be found at her website, Compu-KISS.