Alexa, the Show-Me Edition (about the Echo Show) — Part 2 in the Alexa series

Last July I wrote about how an Alexa device has enabled us to communicate easily with our mom who is wheelchair-bound with advanced Parkinson’s disease, and has been an ‘inmate’ in a locked-down care home since the pandemic began. Back then, I wrote about the Echo Dot, which is a speaker the size of a hockey puck, that sits on the desk or table.

We’ve since upgraded to the Echo Show 5, which enables video conversations. It’s been well worth the upgrade.

(Photo from Amazon)
(Photo from Amazon)
**This is my unsolicited, uncompensated review and recommendation of the Echo Show device, but the links to Amazon are 'affiliate' links, meaning if you click and buy through one of them, I may receive a few cents in commission, at no additional cost to you. The identity of anyone who clicks on an affiliate link will be completely anonymous to me.** 

At regular intervals Amazon has the Echo Show 5 promo-priced as low as $45 (regular list price is $89). The Echo Show 5 screen is comparable in size to a smartphone screen.

A few details about our experience with the Echo Show 5:

Mic–The online customer reviews of the Echo Show 5, reveal a recurring complaint that mic is not as sensitive as on the other Echo devices such as the Dot. I agree. It’s not so bad that it keeps me from recommending the Echo Show; far from that. But the Show mic is not as good, which is frustrating at times. I can be sitting inches from the Echo Show on my desk and give it an Alexa command, and the device does not respond, but the Echo Dot in the next room hears me and does what I asked.

The optional adjustable Stand:

Amazon sells a little matching adjustable stand for the Echo Show 5. Many of the online customer reviews express my reaction on seeing the item: Really, $20 for a little piece of plastic? Yes. And for our mom, it has been worth it. She needed a different angle for the mic and camera, and we couldn’t figure out another way to prop the Show at a good angle for her. So, we caved and bought the little piece of plastic, and it did the trick. It is secure and easy to adjust. I don’t need one for my own Echo Show, but for her, it was worth the $20.

Click here or on the picture below, to go to the stand on Amazon.

(Image from Amazon)

Gradually, quite a few of our family members have acquired their own Echo Show 5s to be able to visit Mom and each other.

Zoom:

One of my brothers has gotten the Echo Show 8, which is apparently the only Echo device that works with Zoom. (Here’s an article from Zoom on how it works: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/360053161571-Getting-Started-with-Zoom-on-Echo-Show )

Changing the Settings on the Echo Show:

With the Echo Show, there are a plethora of settings available to personalize the device and maximize the usefulness of the video screen. Examples:

  • Display a slide show of your photos (uploaded to Amazon Photos, which provides free cloud storage)
  • Play movies and TV shows
  • See your local weather conditions and forecast
  • See curated news updates
  • See Alexa tips and tricks
  • You can also limit promos from being displayed.

Some of the Echo Show and Echo Dot settings can be made on the device screen itself. To see the Settings options, swipe down from the top of the screen. But you’ll also want to install both the Alexa desktop browser app and the mobile app. Some settings can only be made on the desktop, and some only on the mobile app. That’s a complaint I have. Figuring out where to find a specific setting is unnecessarily complicated by Amazon having put them in two or three different places.

If you simply want to do an action or a task, speak it to Alexa. Or, to see available actions that you may have recently used, or that Alexa recommends, swipe the Echo screen from right to left.

Selfies (and video):

Just say “Alexa, take my picture.” Take a plain picture, or first swipe through the sticker selection.

There’s so much more. I haven’t even mentioned the Alexa Skills and Routines which enable your Echo do specific useful tasks. It will read your Kindle books to you. And then there are the ‘smart plug’ accessories for turning on the lights, vacuum, etc. Stay tuned…

Alexa can get cheeky on occasion:

“Alexa, what time is the K-State basketball game?”

“Alexa, drop in on Mom.” (There’s an Echo in here.)

My wheelchair-bound mom with advanced Parkinson’s, is in a care home, locked down for the pandemic. My last ‘normal’ visit with her in her room was back in February. Then came the lockdown. Earlier this month they started allowing limited visits, so my brother and I gave the required 24-hour notice of our visit, drove 5 hours each way, to talk to her outside, for 30 minutes, from behind a strip of tape that kept us 10 feet apart, with lawnmowers working all around us. She can only talk in a whisper volume, and has trouble verbalizing her thoughts and enunciating, so we could hardly make out anything she was trying to say. After 5 months, and 5 hours of driving, and all of us wearing masks, not even a hug was allowed. But we did get to see her, and take her a bottle of Coke and some homemade cookies, and that gave us all a boost.

The other thing we took to her was an Amazon Echo Dot device for her room. It has been an unbelievably helpful communication facilitator.

This post is a recommendation and review of the Echo Dot device. It is not solicited or compensated. The device has been a Godsend for us in our situation with our mom, and I want to share the information for anyone who may find themselves and a family member similarly situated.

From the moment Amazon introduced Alexa, ‘she’ was banned from my devices and my home. A device listening in my house all the time was not okay. Then I began reading about Amazon’s Echo Dot, and realized it can help my mom, who can no longer dial her phone, check messages, text, use email, etc. We got the Dot to her, and programmed it with a handful of close family members and trusted friends as her contacts. The Echo Dot picks up her whisper voice, and can understand her voice commands. She can talk to her contacts simply by saying, “Alexa, call _____.”

So, where Alexa was once banned from my house, ‘she’ is now listening day and night in the form of an Echo Dot on my front room table.

The Drop In

Not only can the Echo Dot call your contacts’ phones; it can also ‘drop in’ on other Echo Dots or Alexa-enabled devices. It works like an intercom. I say, “Alexa, drop in on Mom.” I’m instantly talking to her through the Echo Dot in her room, and the sound is loud and clear, as if she’s here in my house.

The first time I ‘Dropped In’ on Mom, it went perfectly. I dropped in, started talking, she heard me and we had a brief conversation, as if she were here in the next room, rather than another state. We ended that drop in with agreement to do another one soon.

Then I started getting ready for bed, and let Myrtle-the-dog out one last time. I happened to glance toward the Echo, and realized it was glowing green, which meant someone had Dropped In and could hear me. It was Mom, trying the Drop In for herself. I frantically thought back through the last few minutes, trying to remember if I’d said any cuss words or something else I wouldn’t want Mom to hear. It was a flashback to being a busted teenager. I now watch my language even in my own house, because you-know-who might be listening.

caught ted GIF

It’s been a couple of weeks, and the Echo has been amazing for her. She can make a shopping list of things she needs someone to bring or send to her. She can call her friends and family, and Drop In on those of us with Alexa devices. Her voice is loud and clear. I can assist remotely by adding to her contacts, and reading her shopping list, etc., from the Alexa app.

Shopping List. She can say, “Alexa, put socks on the shopping list.” And we know she needs socks.

Routines. We’ve set up a couple of Alexa ‘routines’ for her. One is for morning. She can say, “Alexa, good morning.” It will tell her the day, time, weather, and a news briefing from the Kansas City Star. There’s a ‘good news’ briefing, that will give her a good news report. There is an evening routine with tomorrow’s forecast and a news briefing.

Music. She tells Alexa to play 50s music, Elvis songs, classic country, and more. Alexa does what she requests.

Meanwhile, here at my place, I’ve now gotten a Smart Plug, that allows me to say, “Alexa, turn on/off the light.” Each morning Alexa reads me my calendar for the day, the weather report, and a news briefing when I say, “Alexa, good morning.” Alexa is now maintaining my grocery list. And now that the MLB season is underway, I can ask, “Alexa, what time is the Royals game?”

Wrapping this up…, if you are like the pre-Alexa me, you’ll want to keep banning her from your home and devices. It’s a privacy thing. I don’t blame you. But if you have a need to stay in touch with a vulnerable family member or friend, even temporarily, the Echo Dot works, and works well. All it requires is a plugin and a wifi connection. It has restored our ability to have a daily conversation with our mom, and she can contact and talk to us and her other close friends and family at will, even though she can no longer operate her phone.

Link to Echo Dot page on Amazon (or click on one of the pictures above): https://amzn.to/3jEbU0w