Amazon Dash Wand with Alexa: Should you buy it?

Amazon's Dash Wand, the glossy stick aimed at making shopping on Amazon Fresh a little more convenient, now has Alexa support added. Among other things, this makes the Dash Wand the cheapest Alexa-enabled product you can buy at only $20. Before you go pulling out the wallet, there are a few things you need to know about the features and limitations of this superpowered fridge magnet.

I've been using my Dash Wand for a week now, and this is what I've found.

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What is a Dash Wand?

Where the rest of Amazon's Alexa-enabled lineup are things you plug in to a wall, the Dash Wand is built to hang around in your kitchen. The included adhesive hook lets you mount the wand anywhere convenient, or you can use the magnet built into the back of the wand to stick to your fridge or range hood or wherever is convenient. The whole point is for this wand to be within arms reach at all times when you're in the kitchen, so when you need it you can just reach out and grab it.

The tip of this wand is a familiar glossy white plastic with Amazon branding, but the back half is a rubbery material which gives a nice grip and is easy to wipe down should the occasional grease splatter reach your Dash Wand. The whole back hand is removable, exposing a pair of AAA batteries which power the Dash Wand for months before it needs replenishing.

There are no volume buttons or mute keys on this Dash Wand, just a single large button for its many features. Pressing the button activates the barcode scanner and the Alexa microphone simultaneously, so you can either scan a nearby product or speak your command. The small speaker on the other side of the wand will either chime when you've successfully scanned something or when Alexa needs to respond to your command. There really isn't much more to this little wand, which is a big part of what makes it so handy.

Amazon Fresh is still a cool idea, but not for me

Amazon Dash Wand

If the product isn't in Amazon's database, suggested alternatives can be very hit or miss.

The big feature to the Amazon Dash Wand is the barcode scanner at the end of the wand. The original purpose of this product was to let you scan products in your home as they run out, so the next time you go to Amazon those items are already waiting in your shopping cart. If everything you normally buy for your house is available on Amazon Fresh or normal Amazon, this is a handy little tool to have. It doesn't buy things for your automatically by scanning things, but they are all in your cart and ready to check out.

If the things you normally buy are not on Amazon or Amazon Fresh, your Amazon cart will list these items with suggestions for alternatives. This is very hit or miss, and winds up being more than a little frustrating to sort through if you have more misses than hits.

For example, Amazon Fresh didn't have the brand of pastrami we usually keep in the house. Instead of suggesting a different brand of pastrami, Amazon suggested several other meats from the same brand. Each time this happens, the failed scan has to be cleared out and you have to manually search for the thing you want on Amazon Fresh. This isn't a huge deal if you have a small shopping cart, but for my family of seven grocery day can be upwards of 60 items. When more than half require removal from the cart, it stops being helpful.

Amazon and Amazon Fresh are two separate entities depending on the item scanned, which can get confusing.

There's also a functional difference between things ordered on Amazon Fresh and things ordered on Amazon. If you scan something that is available on Amazon, it shows up in your Amazon cart. This means those products may not show up with the things you ordered from Amazon Fresh, which offers specific delivery windows to keep your food from spoiling and ensure a secure delivery. For example, the tomatoes I ordered for my spaghetti sauce will arrive at 2:30 today but the grated Parmesan cheese won't be here until tomorrow unless I adjust my order to have that jar delivered through Amazon Prime Now. This isn't a big deal for me, but could easily become confusing to someone who isn't aware of how differently these three different Amazon shopping carts function.

Alexa... more or less

Amazon Dash Wand

Amazon is keen to put the "Now with Alexa" tag all over the order page for its updated Dash Wand, but it's not exactly the same Alexa you may be used to. For starters, you can't use any music streaming services on this Wand, which is fine because the speaker isn't nearly good enough for that and Amazon says as much way down on the order page. What isn't mentioned on the order page, or anywhere else I looked, are the other things Alexa will not do through the Dash Wand.

This version of Alexa isn't that smart, or helpful.

Want to use your Dash Wand to send a quick message through the shiny new Alexa Messages service? Well, you can't. Obviously that means calling doesn't work either, and since Alexa is only available when you press the button down you won't get things like notifications on the light ring or the ability to respond with just your voice when prompted. The big thing that's missing, especially for an Alexa-enabled accessory built for the kitchen, is timers. You can't set an alarm, you can't set a timer, and you can't ask to be reminded at specific times. All of these things will prompt the "X are not currently supported on this device" message from Alexa.

There are still plenty of things Alexa can do through the Dash Wand. Almost all of your Alexa Apps work, which means this is a solid way to access Allrecipes for step-by-step tours through new things to cook. Basic measurement conversion still works, searching on Amazon still works, and of course ordering things with your voice still works. Most of Alexa is still here for you to use, but if you're already familiar with using Alexa in the kitchen you're likely to run into the limitations of this implementation fairly quickly.

Should you buy it?

If you're already a fan of Alexa and want something a little more kitchen friendly, it's hard to go wrong with the $20 Amazon is asking for the Dash Wand. Even though I'm unlikely to ever use it for Amazon Fresh, and I'd really prefer timers work out of the box, it's an inexpensive way to keep Alexa in the kitchen.

If you're not already a part of the Alexa ecosystem, and were hoping this ultra-cheap accessory would be a good starting point, I'd still recommend starting with the Echo Dot and maybe passing on this for now. Amazon is on the right track here by making something anyone in the house can use which also doesn't require the use of my phone in any way, but there are parts of this experience for new Alexa users that can and likely will easily frustrate.

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Russell Holly

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter