Triby: The powerful, portable Amazon Echo for the family

Growing up, mom was all about written communication in the house. We had a massive calendar with everyone's schedules on it, chore lists when we got home from school, and a little notepad where everyone could leave quick messages for whoever was next in the house. It worked as long as everyone remembered to check the paper and tear that note off when it was finished.

Fast forward 15 years to a house with no paper calendars, landline phones or notepads — because my spouse and I have smartphones. That system worked really well for us until recently, when our not-so-little kids started doing things like performing chores and being home alone with no adult supervision.

The folks at Invoxia have a solution for techy families in need of central communication tools, and for this household it is the solution. It's called Triby, and it's basically an Amazon Echo for parents — with Alexa support.

Triby Alexa

Triby is a smallish, battery-powered speaker with a pair of powerful magnets on the back. It's built to be stuck to a fridge, or to be carried around the house by its friendly little handle. The most notable feature you'll see associated with Triby is the inclusion of Amazon's Alexa voice service. Triby is the first third-party gadget to function like an Amazon Echo, and even as just a Echo clone it's quite good. But that doesn't come close to describing Triby.

The speakers are nice and loud with a reasonable amount of depth, but the microphones aren't as accurate as those on the Echo. The "Hey Alexa" command is triggered on Triby occasionally when conversations are happening in another room, with no mention at all of the activation command. It's not a problem when actively using the system, but it's clear the trigger is a little sensitive. As a kitchen-friendly Amazon Echo, or even just a battery-powered Amazon Echo, Triby is pretty great. You say Alexa, the play/pause button lights up blue, and from that point it is exactly the same as an Echo.

But there's a lot more to Triby than Alexa, and that's where this system really stands out. The front of this box has six buttons for quick launching a number of features, and a little slit on the side for a small rubber flag. The left-side buttons on Triby are for VOIP calling. Triby's smartphone app (opens in new tab) allows you to add multiple family members to a "group" and those buttons can be programmed to call people in that group. Tapping the first button on the left in our house calls my phone; the second calls Mom. The connection is a data-only call, but so far has worked consistently well — as long as my phone has a data connection.. The call function works both ways, so I can call the house to check in on everyone as though the Triby were a landline.

Triby is the first third-party gadget to function like an Amazon Echo, and in fact as just a Echo clone it's quite good.

The second set of buttons are for radio presets. You can set Spotify channels or radio stations available on TuneIn as presets, and tapping those buttons will take you to the presets. This isn't really any easier than saying "Alexa, play 98Rock" but having the option there is nice if you have someone who'd like to take the speaker into another room for music.

Triby flag

The most important feature Triby has, as silly as it may seem, is this little rubber flag. This flag is hidden inside the speaker until someone with the Triby app sends a message. This message can be a simple command like "Take out the trash" or something more casual like "We're down at the park," but usually a single sentence is ideal. Tap 'Send' in the Triby app and that message will appear on the E-Ink display on the front of the unit. As the message arrives, a motor pushes the flag out from the left side, and you now have this bright yellow flag sticking out. When someone wants to acknowledge receipt of a message on Triby, all they need to do is push the flag back in. When this happens, Triby chimes and the app sends an icon letting you know someone got the note. It's a simple, effective way to communicate that works amazingly well with kids and young teenagers.

The most important feature Triby has is a silly little rubber flag that makes in-person communication tactile and fun.

There's a lot to like about Triby, if only because there's already a lot to like about Amazon's Echo. For $20 more than an Echo you get a battery that easily lasts a full day, a design that can go way more places, and some amazing family-friendly features that are perfect for smartphone-based households. Looking beyond this being a slightly better Amazon Echo for families, Invoxia has started on a great path for a connected family gadget that doesn't involve giving a kid a smartphone or making them responsible for an app.

And in this household, that's a much bigger deal.

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