Ever forgotten to turn off a light, found yourself wondering what the day’s weather will be when you’re in a rush, or want to get up to date on the news while you multitask? Voice-enabled tech (aka ‘voice assistants’) such as Alexa can handle these tasks and more, without you having to reach for a switch or type in a search online.
Many of us are already addicted. But, for the rest, what’s all the fuss all about?
Let’s find out how Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant could ease your day…
Read more: How to achieve glitch-free video calling
What is a voice assistant?
Voice assistants are virtual helpers powered by artificial intelligence (AI), and are built into smart speakers, tablets, smartphones and other devices, such as TVs. They need an Internet or Wi-Fi connection to work.
The voice assistant will start listening to you after you say a ‘wake word’ such as, “Alexa”, “Hey Google” or “Hey Siri”. Once it’s listening, you can ask the voice assistant a question or give it a command. For example, “Alexa, what’s the weather in Sandton today?” The voice assistant can search the Internet before telling you the answer, or it can carry out your task for you if you’ve asked it to (for example, play a song from your playlist). If you’d like your voice assistant to stop listening, most devices have a button that will turn the microphone off.
You may need to phrase questions a certain way or you’ll find that your assistant doesn’t understand you every time. However, Google Assistant ‘learns’ with each question and command, while Alexa can be trained to recognise you from other people by setting up a Voice Profile. This means that when you ask it for calendar reminders, you won’t get someone else’s schedule.
How are they useful?
Voice assistants are handy when you don’t have a free hand – when you have sticky fingers while cooking and want to convert recipe quantities, say, or if you’re gardening and want to listen to the radio without trailing mud inside.
- Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant offer slightly different options. For example, Alexa’s wake words can be changed, plus it has a wide range of additional ‘skills’, such as changing the TV channel.
- Google Assistant syncs with its other services, such as Gmail and Calendar. It can voice match, too, so others at home can’t add to your playlist or Netflix content.
- Apple’s Siri works across several of its devices. All communication between its smart speaker and Apple servers is encrypted to protect your identity.
Three virtual-assistant-enabled devices
Best for the kitchen
The Sonos One speaker offers Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant – choose which one you’d like via the app. Perfect for tucking at the back of the worktop. Available at Makro, from R3 599.
Best for the lounge
Apple’s HomePod adapts to its location, changing the audio output so it always sounds its best – whether in a corner or in the centre of a room. It includes Siri. Available at Smart Speakers, from R9 999.
Best for a bedroom
Google Home Hub has Google Assistant built-in and a 7-inch screen. It adapts to light levels in the room, so when it’s bedtime, it’ll dim the screen. Available at Incredible Connection, from R1 999.
Feature by Chris Morley
Products and prices correct at time of publishing and are subject to change.