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Harry Potter would be disappointed.  So might you.  But for only $20, and with the purchase cost refunded as a credit to your account, you definitely get more than you pay for.

While inexplicably limited in its capabilities, it does many of the things an Amazon Echo unit, costing $50 and up, would do.

 
 
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Amazon's Not Very Magical Wand

The "Amazon Dash Wand With Alexa" - to use its full official name - is a small black and white pendant type device.

It will respond to some voice commands, and can be used to simplify ordering goods through Amazon.

 

 

In its ongoing attempt to make it seductively simple for you to order anything and everything from themselves, Amazon have released a small device that you can use to scan bar codes and voice order goods.  The real motivator is that its cost is essentially free - you get the $20 purchase price refunded to you as a credit on your account.

The wand uses the same Alexa voice recognition technology as in its Echo units, and offers some of the same general functionality, but unfortunately has been somewhat crippled, preventing it from being as fully useful as it could and should be.

What You Get

Each Wand comes in a small cardboard carton, inside of which is the unit itself, a pair of AAA batteries, and a hook with adhesive strip.

There is also a tiny Quick Start Guide and another tiny piece of card listing 'Things to Try'.

The unit measures slightly over 5.8" x  1.2", and is just under 0.8" thick.  It weighs a trifling 2.4 ounces.

It is easy to put the batteries in the unit, although the labeling to show which way the batteries should be placed was almost impossible to decipher.  Even my daughter's keen 13-year-old eyesight failed to glean the almost invisible legend about how to place the batteries.

The mounting hook is a nice touch, but I found it hard to peel off the clear protective film that was over the sticky spot on it until I realized that the protective film was the blue circle itself, not a hidden film over/around it.

Although there was a pull tab to make it easier to remove the protective film from the scanning window at the bottom of the wand, there was no such tab on the mounting hook.

It is disappointing that a device which has surely seen millions of dollars going into its product design has some remaining very simple product flaws.

How it Works and What it Does

It is necessary to connect the unit to your Amazon account and your home network.  This is done via a smartphone or tablet app - you can't do it on your computer - a pinprick of annoyance, but there are possibly some valid reasons for that.

After having connected it to your account, the unit is very easy to use.  Unlike an Echo device, it doesn't have a 'wake word' - instead you press a button to activate it, then speak your command.  (Because the device uses batteries, not having it always listening gives much greater battery life.)

So instead of saying, for example, 'Alexa, weather' to an Echo unit, you simply press the button and while holding it, say 'weather'.

The wand has two somewhat different functions - there's the function that directly makes money for Amazon, and the function that indirectly brings you closer into the Amazon eco-system.

Function 1 - Ordering Amazon Products

The function that directly makes Amazon money is the ability to either scan product bar codes or to speak to the unit to order products.  In theory, with the wand in the kitchen with you, if you discover you're almost out of sugar or flour or anything else, you can order the items on the spot with almost no interruption to your cooking process.

This is quite useful - if you're at all like me, you often note that you're running low on something, but because you're in the middle of cooking a meal, you do nothing, then forget to buy more next time you're at the supermarket.

If you want to use the device to order something - it seems just about anything that Amazon sells and which has a bar-code identifier, you press the button and then scan the bar-code with the red light beam that shines out of the bottom of the unit.

You can log in to your Amazon account online to see the growing list of items scanned, adjust quantities, and confirm orders.  In some cases, you also need to choose the package size/type - for example, when scanning a single can of soup, I had to choose from ordering one or three or a dozen.

There is no way to edit or adjust your orders, directly using the wand itself.

The device and Amazon between them will also recognize products which it can't sell.  I was able to scan and have products identified that were exclusive Trader Joe's products, for example.  But I couldn't then order them.

Function 2 - An 'Echo Lite' Unit

The other use for the wand is as another voice activated/voice responding unit like Amazon's Echo series of units and also like the Alexa app they offer to be installed on your smart phone.

You can ask it questions and give it commands, in a manner similar to Echo units (several pages of review, starting perhaps from here).  Amazon specifically mentions some uses in the kitchen - converting measurements, asking for recipes, etc (although the recipe feature really demands the ability to then print out a recipe or at least to transfer it to a screen).

But for inexplicable reasons (well, perhaps for obvious reasons - to justify the added cost of Echo units) Amazon limits the range of functions the wand will support.  It won't allow you to set timers or alarms, for example - a ridiculous omission, particularly for a device that is designed to be used in the kitchen.

Another inexplicable omission is you can't adjust the volume level of its voice.  You also can't use Echo's messaging function, nor can you play music through the unit.

None of these seem to be hardware limitations, but rather are software/marketing restrictions.

On a more positive note, there are things you can do.  You can ask about the weather (but not about news headlines).  You can check the status of your Amazon orders.  And - the big one for me - you can use it to control other home automation devices.

Maybe Amazon will, over time, allow other functions to be extended to its Wand device, too.  But noting its cost, even if it does very little at present, it still makes sense to buy one.

Which brings us to that point.

Cost

The wand sells for $20.  But, you'll get a $20 credit added to your Amazon account as soon as you activate your unit, making the net cost potentially zero (maybe you remain out of pocket for sales tax).

The unit is for sale to Prime members only.  Happily, if you're not already a Prime member, Amazon offer a free 30 day trial on the Wand's order page, so that sort of solves that problem.

Other Dash Products

The wand's full glorious official name - Amazon Dash Wand with Alexa - hints not just at its voice operated/Alexa assistant features, but also its membership in the Dash family of Amazon devices.

The other Dash products, currently, are an extensive range of Dash buttons - little devices that do one thing only.  They have a button on them and a product logo.  You press the button, and the associated product is automatically ordered from Amazon.

They cost $5 each, and you get the $5 back when you first use each one to order its associated product.

This does require a shift in paradigm - to order the most basic groceries and other household items via Amazon rather than by going to the local store or perhaps to the local superstore (Walmart or Costco) and I'm not quite at that point, just yet.  But the pricing differential is narrowing all the time, while the convenience is growing.

If you order items on Amazon, you'll typically get them the same day, the next day, or the day after.  And while, in theory, you could make a special trip to a store every time you need something, in reality, it is rare we need something urgently, and I'm increasingly noticing that if I'd ordered something from Amazon, I'd get it sooner than if I put it on a shopping list and traveled to a store, a day or two or three later.

Summary

The Amazon Wand is a slightly clunky and crippled device that should be able to do more than it can.

But if you are starting to move towards their growing echo system of Echo/Alexa voice controlled units, and/or if you're a Prime customer and find yourself increasingly ordering even the most ordinary of items from Amazon, then this is a great unit to have.

But - why even bother with the justification.  It is free - the purchase cost is returned to you as an account credit.  So, why spend any more time considering the matter at all - get one, whether you need it or not.  Worst case scenario, give it to someone as a birthday or Christmas gift! 

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Originally published 8 Sept 2017, last update 10 Sep 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
 
 

 


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