Talk to Pikachu with your Echo Device!

Many of us have little ones at our home and it seems we need to be more and more creative to keep them entertained. This week’s Amazon Echo weekly newsletter had a recommendation that caught my eye:

“Alexa, ask Pikachu to talk.”

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect so I walked myself to my Amazon Echo and gave it a try. It first asked me if I wanted to enable the skill, which I did. Next came something a bit unexpected or maybe not. My Echo allowed me to engage into a conversation with Pikachu! If you were expecting Pikachu to say engage in a meaningful dialogue, you will be disappointed. If you are familiar with Pokemon, the pocket monsters, as they are called, only speak through various tone of their own monster type. In this case, your Echo will have the mic on during the conversation and Pikachu will respond in sequences of “Pika”, “Pikachu”, “Pikapika” and more. My kids got excited and brought their Pikachu toys over and played with it for about an hour.

Another way to make good use of my Amazon Echo!

Amazon update enables control of Fire TV Cube from any Echo device

My Fire TV Cube’s wake word is ‘Echo’ and my living room Echo’s work ware is ‘Alexa’. They are a mere 20 feet from each other and I frequently use the wrong wake word for the intended device. As long as I can remember since we’ve had the Fire TV Cube, we were only able to issue commands through the device itself. This has apparently changed.

Recently, I mistakenly summoned ‘Alexa’ to turn off the TV by mistake. Lo and behold, the TV turned off! We immediately noticed this and tried other commands for the TV such as changing the volume to changing the channels to the cable box and it all worked.

I’m not sure when this feature was rolled out. I read through the ‘What’s new with Alexa?” blog but didn’t notice anything. I may have missed it though.

Did you notice this update? What do you think?

The Alexa Voice Remote (2nd Gen) now works with Fire TV Cube

This is the remote that should have shipped with the Fire TV Cube. Amazon recently announced a new remote that supports power and volume on Fire TV Cube.

This way you can now control your TV’s power and volume using your Alexa Voice Remote. This comes in handy as our experience with using the Fire TV Cube has been mixed. There are times when voice commands work flawlessly but times where it doesn’t hear or react to the action word.

If you order the Fire TV Cube now, Amazon will now send the new generation Alexa Voice Remote which has the power button. But if you are like me who ordered the Fire TV Cube early, you will need to buy the new remote which is now available for $29.99..

Amazon also has a page dedicated to help you set up your Alexa Voice Remote – https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=G47P2QLV6DKLKA6P

Top Ten Gifts for someone that likes to cook

(Disclosure, I will receive a small referral fee when you make a purchase through links on this post.)

1. William-Sonoma Classic Striped Towels

Sherry bought me these last Christmas and they are my favorites. Great absorption, not overly bulky and look pretty on the counter. $28

2. Mauviel stock pot

This made in France pot has superior heat conductivity thanks to its 5 ply stainless steel construction $175 for 2.7 Quart

3. Staub Cast Iron Round Tea Kettle

Just as all the Staub cast iron cookware we love, this made-in-France tea kettle is safe in oven and it works on all stovetops. It helps to keep water hot for a long time. $145

4. Presto Waffle maker

Nothing beats fresh made waffle to accompany your latte in the morning! Reliable and budget-friendly waffle maker with ceremic cooktop. Perfect for those Sunday morning breakfast. $35

5. Shun Classic Asian Chef’s Knife

One of my favorites right now is Shun (I realize I’m not blazing any trails with this – they’re already popular) and this 7-in Chef’s knife is as versatile a knife as you’ll find. Agile, precise and sharp sharp sharp. $145

6. iGrill – Bluetooth meat thermometer

A household favorite and a must-have for the grill master. I can monitor my roast from anywhere in the house, so that I don’t accidentally turn it into charcoal during Sunday afternoon book time. $99.99

7. Digital food scale

Following a recipe by weight, as opposed to quantity (grams vs. cups, for example) is the best way to ensure you’ll end up with great results (measuring flour in a cup will always yield a slightly different result every time). Nowhere is this more true than in baking, and I love using this scale for my bread. $19.99

8. Salt Cellar

A good looking salt cellar for the serious cook that likes to season the food to their liking. The attached lid means it will never go missing $35

9. Copper measuring cups and spoons

These copper measuring cups and spoons are stylish and durable at the same time. Using them for cooking just makes everything taste better. $25

10. Kitchen Aid immersion hand blender

Can’t believe I didn’t buy this a long time ago. It is such a life saver for making soups, smoothies and baby food. $42

Amazon announces its over the air DVR – Fire TV Recast

(Disclosure, I will receive a small referral fee when you make a purchase through this link on this post.)

Amazon announced a new member to its fire tv line up, the fire tv recast. Fire TV Recast fills a void where many companies struggle to capture which is enabling streaming and recording for over the air broadcast.

A lot of cord cutters, people cancelling their subscription to cable or satellite will find this extremely useful. Many streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, Playstation Vue and even Amazon’s own Prime video lack the capability or service to stream live local channels. This product will enable this.

The idea is this. The fire tv recast will plug to an antenna which will receive over the air HD signals from your location. That feed will go into your fire tv recast which can be streamed through to your fire tv devices (stick, tv, cube and show). Here is the kicker, it can even stream to your fire tv app! This will mean you can watch local and national channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, CW, Fox and presumably other local over the air channels) anywhere you have an internet connection. It also has DVR capabilities so you can save and replay TV shows. As this is an Alexa enabled device, you can use voice control to issue commands to open the channel guide or to record a particular show. Did I hear Sunday Football NFL?

The only immediate negative feedback is the price. Compared with other fire tv devices, the starting price of $229 is a bit steep. At $229, you get 2 tuners with 500GB of storage which comes out to around 75 hours of recording. The more expensive option of $279, gives you 1 TB of memory which is around 150 hours of recording.

I wouldn’t be jumping on this at this price point but would be interested in the prices at Black Friday.

Fire TV Cube 3 months review

I was excited when the Fire TV Cube was released as it combined the functions of two of my favorite Amazon products, the Echo and Fire TV. I’ve always envied some TVs that had voice control. In my mind, I thought I could turn the TV off / on, change channels, record, navigate through DVR and change the volume. Wishful thinking. To do that you would need a device that would be able to understand commands cross platforms with the TV, cable box and your streaming device. I didn’t do much research and the price probably didn’t justify the premium upcharge for TVs that had sub-par voice command.

So when the Fire TV Cube was announced, it piqued my interest.

It’s been 3 months since I had my Fire TV Cube and I thought I would put together an extended review of my experience.

[Fire TV Cube Overview]

My family’s TV consumption is probably just avg when compared with the American household. The kids are allows to watch some TV when they return from school to decompress but it will be off through HW, dinner until they shower. It comes back on after dinner for about an hour for some prime time shows that we enjoy together as a family.

[Fire TV Cube Physical Placement]

The Fire TV Cube is roughly the size of a large Rubix Cube.  When summoned, it flashes a blue to green spectrum LED lights on the front top corner of the cube.

Initially, we placed it behind the TV on the right where it protrudes enough for us to see the LED. After a while, we put it in front of the TV where it blocks the TV frame but not the screen. The problem we had was that our entertainment console is very short. We use Ikea’s lack bookshelf which we bought as a floor model and never bothered to upgrade. I’m sure the placement of the Fire TV Cube at your household is much more pleasant. Direct sight of your Fire TV Cube from your viewing angle is a must.

[Fire TV Cube Usage]

When the Fire TV Cube was announced, I didn’t do a deep research as it caught me a bit off guard. I ordered it and it arrived 2 days later so I came to the table with limited knowledge and expectations.

Setup was easy (I have a blog post pending) to discuss this. If you have ATT or a subscription provider that has a more modernized cable or satellite unit, you will be able to change channels using Fire TV Cube. Since we have an Amazon Echo on our buffet in the dining room which is connected to our living room, we changed the wake word of our Fire TV Cube to “Echo”.

The most frequent commands we find ourselves using is the following:

=====================

Echo, turn TV on / off

Echo, volume up / down

Echo, switch to Cable Box

Echo, tune to channel number <xxx>

Echo, tune to <station e.g. ESPN 1>

Echo, play <song>

Echo, what’s the weather

Echo, show my ring

=====================

In order to get the channels to change, we had to customize the settings a bit. There are numerous settings under Fire TV Cube that had to be tweaked in order to get things right. By default, the settings call for the cable / satellite box to be turned on whenever you change the channel.

This doesn’t make sense.

You can change this setting by going to the Fire TV Cube settings using the remote that it came with. You cannot change this setting in your Alexa app.

Sometimes summoning your Fire TV Cube can be frustrating. There are commands which seem to work better than others.

It’s a great start to further make your TV smart. I love being able to walk by my TV and having Fire TV Cube turn it off instead of having to search for the TV remote. My kids love to have it play their favorite cartoons that are on Amazon Prime. There is room for improvement and knowing that it can be further updated remotely is awesome.

One glitch it does have and I can’t seem to figure out is that it is stuck on metric system. i tried to change the temperature of my thermostat but it is set to metric. I checked the settings on Fire TV Cube and metric system is turned off. I have yet to spend the time to fix this.

Fire TV Cube Arrival, Unboxing and Contents

(Disclosure, I will receive a small referral fee when you make a purchase through this link on this post.)

Amazon announced the Fire TV Cube on June 7th that was released on June 21st. I ordered the Fire TV Cube on release day and it arrived yesterday and I had the chance to play with it. Fire TV Cube combines the features of Amazon Echo with Amazon TV. Previously, Amazon had their line of Fire TV from first to second generation Fire TV Stick to Fire TV which now has 4K support. Amazon also had their line of Echo devices ranging from 1st and 2nd generation Echo, Echo Dot, Echo dot Kids (new!), Echo Tap, Echo Show, Echo Look and Echo Plus.

Recent Fire TV and Fire TV Stick devices did integrate Alexa as part through the use of its remote but it you still required to press the button on the remote in order to

We had a hunch this was going to happen but now you can enjoy the functionality of hands free Alexa with services associated with Fire TV.

Arrival

I just so happened to be out with the family when the Fire TV Cube arrived. There has been an increase in package thiefs specifically targeting Amazon deliveries so I wanted to get home ASAP! I got the notification on my mobile app that the Fire TV Cube was delivered so I rushed home as quickly as I could. Once the package was delivered, Amazon’s workflow triggered 2 e-mails related to the Fire TV Cube.

First, was a quick start guide. It walked through on how to set up the device.

Unboxing

First impression is how heavy the box was. I had an idea how small the fire tv cube was but it really weighed more than it looks. Perhaps I am used to handling the likes of fire tv stick, fire tv and amazon echos for too long!

The fire tv cube actually comes with a lot of accessories and the packaging seems like the gift that keeps giving. The fire tv cube package included the fire tv cube, a usb ethernet adapter, ac power adapter, an infrared (IR) extender and a fire tv voice controller. Note, HDMI cable is NOT included. You will need a decent length HDMI cable for placement.

In the welcome emails and on the sticker protecting the fire tv cube, it instructs you to place the fire tv cube properly. Upon the instructions:

  • Unobstructed and facing where you sit – I have it slightly obstructed by my TV as my console is not that wide and it works fine.
  • At least one foot away from speakers – This is to avoid interference with your voice command when soliciting the trigger word
  • Not in a closed cabinet – the fire tv cube cannot be placed behind a closed cabinet. A mesh type covering may be ok but the sound from fire tv cube will be ostructed.

Next, I will post the fire tv cube setup.

How to disable Alexa calling and messaging

This past week, there was an alarming incident reported where a family from Portland’s private conversation was sent to a contact through Alexa. Amazon acknowledged the gaffe and claimed that it was due to an unusual sequence of events where Alexa thought it was summoned to send a recorded message to a contact stored within the family’s Alexa account.

Amazon provided this statement:

“Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like “Alexa.” Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a “send message” request. At which point, Alexa said out loud “To whom?” At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, “[contact name], right?” Alexa then interpreted background conversation as “right”. As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”

I am not surprised this happened. In my family, we have had numerous incidents where our Echo or Echo Dot was awakened by something we said even though we don’t recall saying the wake up word.

As an avid Alexa user, I’ve signed up for Alexa Calling & Messaging and only tried it out a few times. It was not a very useful feature as I had mistakenly called a known and even unknown person! My kids tried to reach me by calling, “daddy” through our Echo but it called my friend Debbie. Another time I tried to reach “home” by calling through my Alexa app hoping to reach my kids on my Echo but it called someone random. Till this day, I don’t know who that person was as I don’t have anyone in my contacts list with just “home” on it.

I then searched all over my Alexa app to see how I could disable Alexa Calling & Messaging. I looked through settings, I could only find drop in settings which I already had disabled. Then I realized that I couldn’t completely disable this feature nor could I remove contacts already uploaded to the Amazon server!

When searching Amazon help, this is what they offer:

Add and Edit Your Contacts to the Alexa App

Sync your contacts to the Alexa app to communicate with friends and family using Alexa Calling and Messaging.

To add or edit contacts for Alexa Calling and Messaging, update your phone’s local   address book and then open the Alexa app. Contacts from your address book who also use Alexa Calling and Messaging automatically appear in your “Contacts” list in the Alexa app, with the same names from your address book.

If you have multiple members within your household, your Alexa contacts are shared across all devices registered to that account. However, in the Alexa app you can only start conversations with your Alexa contacts.

That’s not good enough.

If you want to completely remove yourself from this service and have contacts removed, follow these instructions:

  1. Contact Amazon Help

You will be asked to sign into your Amazon account.

After signing in, navigate to

-> Devices

-> My device or app is not shown

-> Select your issue as ‘Echo & Alexa’

-> Select, ‘Account & Settings’

Note: If you access the contact us page via your computer, you will only have access to chat or receive a call. If you access the contact us page via your phone or tablet, you will have the option to email customer support.

In your message or chat, state the following:

“I want to delete my contacts from my Alexa account and disable Alexa Calling & Messaging feature.”

It should take them a day to respond to your email or immediately if you are using the chat / phone support.

After the confirmation, log onto your Alexa app and it will prompt you to re-register for Alexa Calling & Messaging service which confirms the service is no longer on your account.

History and How to get a discount for Amazon Prime

Amazon recently announced and increase for Amazon Prime membership from $99 to $119. Amazon Prime was first introduced in 2005 to offer free two day shipping within continental United States on all eligible products for a flat rate of $79. This was eventually raised to $99 in 2017. During Amazon’s April 26, 2018 earnings call, they announced that starting May 11, 2018, new Prime customers in the United States will pay $119 per year for their Prime membership. Throughout the years, Amazon has launched several perks as part of Prime membership. Below is the history and timeline of when those services were launched:

Sept 2006 – Amazon Video
Nov 2011 – Kindle Owners’s Lending Library
March 2014 – Amazon Music
April 2014 – Prime Pantry
Nov 2014 – Amazon Photos
Dec 2014 – Prime Now
Oct 2016 – Prime Reading
Others –
Amazon First Reads
Audible Channels
Amazon Lightning Deals
Ad Free Twitch Streaming
Amazon Freetime (kids)
Prime Early Access
Prime Lightening Deals

Still doesn’t justify the price increase? There are ways to pay less for Amazon Prime which isn’t widely known.

Household / Family Sharing
Amazon allows each paying Prime member to share their account with 2 adults, 4 teens and 4 child profiles in a household. These benefits will be shared – Free Prime Delivery, Streaming Access to Prime Video, Prime photos and video sharing, Free books through Amazon, Unlimited listening on Audible, early access to Amazon Lightning Deals. This can potential equate to 15% discount! Sign up people in your household here.

Students
If you are a college student, you pay only $59 annually for Amazon Prime.

EBT or Medicaid
Amazon have a monthly Prime Membership for anyone on EBT or Medicaid. If you are on EBT or Medicaid, Amazon Prime will be $5.99/month which comes out to $71.88. You do need to submit proof through the following page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ending Membership
If you feel that the $50 price increase from the original cost of Prime isn’t worth it, you can unsubscribe and get a refund here.

Lastly, if you have any questions about Amazon Prime, reach directly to a Prime representative through calling +1-888-509-7040.