Voice-controlled technology is becoming more and more popular with the older generation. So what is it and could it benefit you? Here’s what you need to know
It's called voice-controlled technology and it's no longer the stuff of science fiction. It's almost four years since Amazon introduced the first so-called ‘smart speaker’, the Echo which answers to the name ‘Alexa’ (you might have seen the TV ads). The Echo (pictured above) now has stiff competition and, as a result, prices are going down. In fact, you could have your very own virtual personal assistant for less than £50...
Help around the home
Your virtual PA can turn lights on and off for you, operate your thermostat, TV and timer switches, and play your favourite radio channel or piece of music. It can even do your online shopping. All particularly useful for those with mobility or dexterity issues.
Never forget another birthday
Got an important date to remember? Your virtual PA can remind you. If you’ve forgotten a favourite recipe or what time the supermarket closes, it can help with that, too.
A source of knowledge
Your virtual PA can tell you the headlines and answer any general knowledge question you fire at it, which can be useful if you’re swotting for a quiz or just want to win an argument!
You can make your smart speaker even smarter with extra apps. For example, My SOS Family is an app that goes with the Amazon Echo or Google Home, which will call, text or email a family member if you need them in a hurry.
WHAT’S ON OFFER
Amazon and Google were first in the market. Apple’s HomePod has now joined them, but it comes with the high price tag of £319. Microsoft and Samsung are developing one together. Here, we look at the two leaders in the field...
There are several different models available, varying in height, sound quality functions and price.
Amazon Echo (2nd Generation), £89.99 – this is the latest version of the classic smart speaker.
Echo Dot, £49.99 – a smaller version of the Echo, with a less powerful speaker.
Echo Show, £199.99 – with a screen and a camera that can be used to monitor home-security cameras.
Echo Spot, £119.99 – this cross between the Show and the Dot comes with a discount if you buy more than one.
This has a smaller design and answers to the name ‘Google’.
Google Home, £129 (pictured) – reviewers say it’s better for general knowledge questions and easier to set up.
Google Home Mini, £49 – very similar to the Echo Dot.
I’ve found it very useful
‘My family bought me an Alexa for Christmas and fortunately they set it up for me as well, because I doubt that I could have done it myself. I wasn’t sure exactly what I would do with it at first, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how useful I’ve found it. We’ve even added a gadget to track my keys if I mislay them. As I’ve grown more confident, I’ve also had a bit of fun with it. I live alone, so when I woke up on my birthday, I said, “It’s my birthday, Alexa,” and asked her to sing Happy Birthday to me… I really chuckled when she did!’
Mrs R, Dorset
Did you know?
Councils, including Hampshire County Council, are currently trialling the use of Amazon Echo technology for some of their most vulnerable older residents. It’s hoped that voice-activated technology could have ‘enormous benefits’ for future social care.
On the lighter side
If you look up Amazon Echo Silver on YouTube, you’ll find a funny sketch about a version of Alexa for older people (which doesn't actually exist). It answers to any name beginning with A…