We've already established that the Amazon Echo Dot is the first device you should get if you're looking to start out with Alexa. But there's one problem: It looks like an oversized hockey puck. Not exactly what I'd call fun.
Enter Vobot. It's a sort of dot-matrix-looking alarm clock that bats its eyes at you — and has Alexa built in. I've had one sitting in my 7-year-old daughter's room for a bit now, and it's exactly the sort of fun little alarm clock she needs right now. Combine that with her obsession with the current weather (she's always asking Alexa what it's like out there), and it's the perfect little device, for about $50.
OK, it's almost perfect.
Vobot suffers from the same fatal flaw that all but doomed the Amazon Tap at launch. In order to trigger Alexa, you have to press a button. And the button on the top surface of Vobot isn't exactly easy to find by feel.
And that's a shame. Because the rest of this thing is a decent and relatively inexpensive device that I'm happy to have in my kid's room. While the dot-matrix display looks retro to me, it's sort of a future-retro thing for a kid born in 2010. It cycles between the time, day and date — also perfect for a kid who doesn't always have that sort of knowledge at the ready. (Oh, to be young again and not have to worry about that.) Tap the button, and you've got pretty much everything Alexa can do, at the ready.
The speaker isn't exactly anything to write home about (though it's decently loud at 5W), but then again I wasn't expecting it to be. Vobot does have an aux port, so you can plug it into another speaker if you want. It's all powered by a Micro-USB plug, though, and chances are you already have one of those laying around. There's also a battery backup built in, so you won't lose your alarms should the power go out. (This isn't a portable device, though.)
An unexpected surprise was the setup process. You've got to hook Vobot into your Wi-Fi, and connect it to your Amazon account. Those are the sorts of things that often go off the rails when it comes to inexpensive products. But the Vobot folks nailed it. You hit up myvobot.com, connect whatever device you're on to the Votbot itself, feed it your local Wifi info, connect it to Amazon, and you're done. That took me about 45 seconds.
So the bottom line here is you've got a fun little Alexa-enabled alarm clock for about $50. Having to hit a button to activate Alexa is a bit of a bummer. But if my 7-year-old can pick it up without any issue, chances are you can, too.
Does Amazon prevent other manufacturers from having Alexa always listen? I recall reading that for a few other devices, and I can't see why Vobot and others would do this unless it's required. At the very least, they'd enable you to toggle between modes.
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