Should you get an Amazon Echo ?

The Amazon Echo is a high-quality device in both its form and function. For my interests in the Echo, I thought that the special price of 99$ for Prime Members was a bargain. For others I think it’s going to have to do a lot more, especially to justify the intended regular price of 199$.

I’ve been using my Echo for over a week and I like having it around, but should you get one at 99$ ? Well, if what you’re looking for in the Amazon Echo is:

  • A personal assistant
    Right now the Echo has limited capabilities which consist of a small set of actions for a handful of categories – music, lists, information, weather or time. If you like technology and during the day you make lots of searches/queries in at least one of those categories then I would consider it. Otherwise, the Echo’s novelty is likely to fade quickly.

    Simply determine if any of your most-accessed mobile apps fit into the categories above. I find that I use Echo mostly for its music and news broadcasts and often ask help with weather, my shopping list, and timers. Similarly, I already have corresponding mobile apps which I use on a daily basis.

  • Bluetooth speaker
    The Echo works really well as a Bluetooth speaker and has no trouble filling a large room with good quality sound. Playing bass-heavy music, like hip-hop or dance music, on the highest volume didn’t produce any obvious distortion. But even at 99$, I think that purchasing the Echo as just a speaker is a hard sell considering the likelihood another one on Amazon could outperform Echo for half that price.

    However, if the prospect of having the additional personal-assistant functionality is remotely interesting, then I’d consider it. What you’ll experience at least once when you use Echo, like when setting up your Bluetooth connection, is how easy it is to use technology when your voice becomes the UI.

    I’ve never owned a Bluetooth speaker before, but now I use Echo to play audio from my iPhone or iPad when using apps like Pandora or Newsy. I prefer the enhanced sound quality, plus it’s cool that I can still control the volume with my voice.

  • Tech street-cred
    If you’re a technophile, a hard-core developer or someone that likes to play with cutting-edge technology then the Echo is for you. It’s already a very robust piece of technology which offers a glimpse of the future and will help you to re-imagine personal computing. However, to ensure a lasting relationship, refer to the guidelines I mentioned above in Personal Assistant as they still apply… at least until Amazon releases a dev kit.

I can envision a day that this type of technology plays a huge part in personal computing, but there’s a long road ahead before we’re there. So if you’re still on the fence about the Echo then you should probably sit out for awhile and wait until the technology matures.

My First Document Scanner

Today I ordered a NeatScan document / receipt scanner made by NeatCo!

I’m pretty excited because I’ve always wanted one ever since the days of the Visioneer Paperport. The idea of a paperless office really appealed to me mostly due to my infatuation to keep around receipts and documents that I receive, be it electronically or on paper. Unfortunately, I’ve never figured out a method to process & save any of the paperwork on an ongoing basis – it usually falls apart when I start to get too busy with life.

I had done a little research several months ago to see if there were any changes in the document-scanner market since the last time I checked. From that I made my rough list for my ultimate document-scanning setup:

  • Small, desktop scanner
  • Ability to create searchable PDFs
  • Software to help me organize everything

I started looking again because I came across two Black-Friday deals related to document scanners: NeatScan to Office by NEAT and the SnapScan S300M by Fujitsu. (The deal from NEAT was for the PC version of the scanner, but I read on their website that they were offering the Mac software for free as long as you provided the serial number of the scanner.)

I found that Fujitsu’s SnapScan always had great reviews so it probably wouldn’t be a bad choice no matter what. One of the cool features it has is the ability to feed and scan multiple documents while scanning both sides at the same time! Very nice.

NEAT released a Mac version of their software last January at MacWorld. From what I could tell from the NEAT website and forums, they are committed to creating a great Macintosh experience and their goal is to match the functionality of their Windows software. One of the cool features of the NEAT software enables you to print directly to the software (eg, print an email receipt from Amazon to the software, which will then process it with OCR/PDF). This could definitely be handy for me since I get a lot of electronic receipts from the things I order online.

Here are some of the reasons I decided on the NEAT scanner:

  • It was a little cheaper than the SnapScan
    I wasn’t sure if I was going to appreciate a document scanner
  • The included software did OCR (important for making searchable PDFs)
    (Though during this quarter [2008Q4], Fujisu is offering a rebate to get a free copy of Readiris Pro OCR sofware.)
  • The included software will organize receipts and documents
    (I was considering purchasing Yep as my tool for organizing PDFs; I always have the choice if I find the NEAT software lacking.)

h3. Resources

  • “MacNN Forum: NeatReceipts or Fujitsu?”:http://forums.macnn.com/57/consumer-hardware-and-components/367014/neatreceipts-or-fujitsu/

  • “TUAW Review: NEAT Receipts for Mac”:http://www.tuaw.com/2008/06/06/tuaw-review-neat-receipts-for-mac-advance-release/

  • “MacMost Video: NeatReceipts Review”:http://macmost.com/macmost-now-89-neatreceipts-review.html

  • “Macworld Review: Fujitsu SnapScan S300M”:http://www.macworld.com/article/133962/2008/06/scansnaps300m.html

  • “Fujitsu.com: SnapScan S300M”:http://www.fujitsu.com/us/services/computing/peripherals/scanners/scansnap/s300m.html

  • “Readiris Pro Website”:http://www.irislink.com/c2-532-189/OCR-Software—Product-list.aspx

  • “Pricegrabber Review: Readiris Pro 11”:http://reviews.pricegrabber.com/data-fax/m/19848156/

New Canon Digital Rebel XT

There is a huge difference moving from a low-end digital camera to a digital SLR – and it feels really good!

Last week I received my Canon Digital Rebel XT from Dell. It’s my third digital camera in 6 years and I’ll say I’m happy again to have come back to an SLR with real lenses.

For the past week I’ve been taking photos around my apartment and outside just to get used to it and its controls. So far I have shot around 700 photos.

Here are the top reasons why I chose the Digital Rebel XT:

  • (almost) instant on
  • real lenses (SLR)
  • low shutter lag
  • highly rated
  • upset at Nikon’s decision to lock down their RAW format

I looked through many of my old photos taken with my Kodak DC240 and Nikon 4500. I saw that many of them were unusable for these following reasons:

  • slow focusing (missed photo)
  • shutter lag (missed photo)
  • slow boot up time (missed photo)
  • difficult manual focusing (blurry photo)

Also there are some features of the camera which have pleasantly surprised me:

  • the battery life !! (350 photos)
  • speed of autofocus (fast)
  • flash range (really far)

I have no regrets at all buying this camera. All of the previously mentioned issues I had with my other cameras are now a thing of the past. I feel like a have a real tool in my hands. The experience has been very very liberating.

Thanks Canon!