I’ve had an up and down relationship this past year with the Amazon Echo conversational computer, universally known by the name of its avatar personality, Alexa.
Originally, as I said in my Technopolis TV video review on Howtospendit.com, I thought it was one of the most promising new products of recent times. Then I got a bit bored with it, and it was relegated in our household to being the world’s best, if most expensive, kitchen timer. Then the Google Home came along, and, as I showed in a second video, was slightly smarter. In December, Apple is set to launch its own challenger, the HomePod.
Soon after my Alexa sample arrived, along came its baby brother, the £50 Echo Dot, a cut-down version with the same features but a tiny speaker. I thought this might make the ideal bedside version of Alexa, got it going and then never once used it. I had no interest in doing the geeky Alexa stuff you can do, like controlling your Nest and Hue lighting by voice. (Life. Too. Short.) This left me with a kitchen timer for the bedroom. But then came this: Vaux, a gadget in the true sense of being a bit, well, gadgety, but also one of the most useful products I’ve had through here this year. Vaux is nothing more complex than a squat 16cm-tall housing for an Echo Dot, containing a speaker and a six-or-so hour rechargeable battery. What Vaux does, brilliantly, is liberate your Dot from mains power. Which means you can take your Dot into the bathroom, onto a balcony, patio – wherever there’s WiFi – and run it for hours.
The other great use is to ask it to play a specific radio station, or tracks by a favourite band. So just now I had a shave listening to CAAMA Aboriginal Radio, live from Alice Springs, interrupting to ask for the UK news headlines. The Vaux sound quality isn’t mind-blowing, but for me, the liberation factor turned an unused accessory into a daily favourite.