Amazon’s hit voice assistant technology Alexa has been en route to its line of bargain Fire tablets for some time now, and has finally arrived – certainly on my device. Last night, my Fire went through its usual automatic upgrade cycle, and dished up an Alexa icon on the home screen, plus an introduction to Alexa, as a native function for the device’s Fire OS. But what can it actually do, especially without a dedicated speaker or audio device like the Echo or Echo Dot?
Unfortunately, for me, probably not a whole lot, and a great deal less than for other people. The setup menu for Alexa on the Fire is geared to U.S. ZIP codes, for location-based services, which clearly is not a lot of help in Hungary. And, as Amazon says, “you can use Alexa on your Fire tablet to ask questions, shop, search, play music, and more.” And, as you’d expect, Amazon is hoping that you’ll do the shopping at least on its services through your Fire. “Shopping with Alexa” is the first item in Amazon’s list of Alexa functions, and “Amazon Prime members with a U.S. billing address and their 1-Click payment method set up can use Alexa to shop on Amazon.” The Echo Simulator function, which basically lets you try out Echo speaker tech without … well … an Echo speaker, is fun, but hardly compelling.
Amazon at least have gone out of their way to integrate the Alexa app with the Fire’s e-reading functionality. “To listen to compatible Kindle books and Audible audiobooks, you can say things like ‘Read [title]’ or ‘Play the book, [title]’,” says the Amazon guide. “Alexa will not show the text of a book onscreen or activate immersion reading when reading a book. Go to Read Kindle Books with Alexa and Listen to Your Audiobooks for voice commands and more information.”
If you have an Alexa-compatible speaker device, you can also use your Fire to set up and control it through the Alexa app, as detailed here. Admittedly, that has been doable through a regular app from the Google Play Store or iTunes for a while now, but it’s good to see Amazon pushing out Alexa functionality as a basic for even its bargain-basement devices. Now all we need is some suitably cheap Echo-style speakers to match. Oh, and more outside-of-U.S.-postal-area functions wouldn’t hurt either …