Very Magical Wand
The "Amazon Dash Wand
With Alexa" - to use its full official name - is a small
black and white pendant type device.
It will respond to
some voice commands, and can be used to simplify
ordering goods through Amazon.
In its ongoing attempt to make
it seductively simple for you to order anything and everything
from themselves, Amazon have released a small device that you
can use to scan bar codes and voice order goods. The real
motivator is that its cost is essentially free - you get the $20
purchase price refunded to you as a credit on your account.
The wand uses the same Alexa
voice recognition technology as in its Echo units, and offers some
of the same general functionality, but unfortunately has been
somewhat crippled, preventing it from being as fully useful as it
could and should be.
What You Get
Wand comes in a small cardboard carton, inside of which is the
unit itself, a pair of AAA batteries, and a hook with adhesive
There is also a tiny Quick
Start Guide and another tiny piece of card listing 'Things to
The unit measures slightly
over 5.8" x 1.2", and is just under 0.8" thick.
It weighs a trifling 2.4 ounces.
It is easy to put the
batteries in the unit, although the labeling to show which way the
batteries should be placed was almost impossible to decipher.
Even my daughter's keen 13-year-old eyesight failed to glean the
almost invisible legend about how to place the batteries.
The mounting hook is a nice
touch, but I found it hard to peel off the clear protective film
that was over the sticky spot on it until I realized that the
protective film was the blue circle itself, not a hidden film
Although there was a pull tab
to make it easier to remove the protective film from the scanning
window at the bottom of the wand, there was no such tab on the
It is disappointing that a
device which has surely seen millions of dollars going into its
product design has some remaining very simple product flaws.
How it Works and What it Does
It is necessary to connect
the unit to your Amazon account and your home network.
This is done via a smartphone or tablet app - you can't do it on
your computer - a pinprick of annoyance, but there are possibly
some valid reasons for that.
After having connected it to
your account, the
unit is very easy to use. Unlike an Echo device, it doesn't
have a 'wake word' - instead you press a button to activate it,
then speak your command. (Because the device uses batteries,
not having it always listening gives much greater battery life.)
So instead of saying, for example,
'Alexa, weather' to an Echo unit, you simply press the button and
while holding it, say 'weather'.
The wand has two somewhat
different functions - there's the function that directly makes
money for Amazon, and the function that indirectly brings you
closer into the Amazon eco-system.
Function 1 - Ordering Amazon Products
The function that directly
makes Amazon money is the ability to either scan product bar codes
or to speak to the unit to order products. In theory, with
the wand in the kitchen with you, if you discover you're almost
out of sugar or flour or anything else, you can order the items on
the spot with almost no interruption to your cooking process.
This is quite useful - if
you're at all like me, you often note that you're running low on
something, but because you're in the middle of cooking a meal, you
do nothing, then forget to buy more next time you're at the
If you want to use the device
to order something - it seems just about anything that Amazon
sells and which has a bar-code identifier, you press the button
and then scan the bar-code with the red light beam that shines out
of the bottom of the unit.
You can log in to your Amazon
account online to see the growing list of items scanned, adjust
quantities, and confirm orders. In some cases, you also need
to choose the package size/type - for example, when scanning a
single can of soup, I had to choose from ordering one or three or
There is no way to edit or
adjust your orders, directly using the wand itself.
The device and Amazon between
them will also recognize products which it can't sell. I was
able to scan and have products identified that were exclusive
Trader Joe's products, for example. But I couldn't then
Function 2 - An 'Echo Lite' Unit
The other use for the wand is
as another voice activated/voice responding unit like
Amazon's Echo series of units
and also like the Alexa app they offer to be installed on your
You can ask it questions and
give it commands, in a manner similar to Echo units (several
pages of review, starting perhaps from here). Amazon
specifically mentions some uses in the kitchen - converting
measurements, asking for recipes, etc (although the recipe feature
really demands the ability to then print out a recipe or at least
to transfer it to a screen).
But for inexplicable reasons
(well, perhaps for obvious reasons - to justify the added cost of
Echo units) Amazon limits the range of functions the wand will
support. It won't allow you to set timers or alarms, for
example - a ridiculous omission, particularly for a device that is
designed to be used in the kitchen.
Another inexplicable omission
is you can't adjust the volume level of its voice. You also
can't use Echo's messaging function, nor can you play music
through the unit.
None of these seem to be
hardware limitations, but rather are software/marketing
On a more positive note, there
are things you can do. You can ask about the weather (but
not about news headlines). You can check the status of your
Amazon orders. And - the big one for me - you can use it to
control other home automation devices.
Maybe Amazon will, over time,
allow other functions to be extended to its Wand device, too.
But noting its cost, even if it does very little at present, it
still makes sense to buy one.
Which brings us to that point.
The wand sells for $20.
But, you'll get a $20 credit added to your Amazon account as
soon as you activate your unit, making the net cost potentially
zero (maybe you remain out of pocket for sales tax).
The unit is for sale to Prime
members only. Happily, if you're not already a Prime member,
Amazon offer a free 30 day trial on the Wand's order page, so that
sort of solves that problem.
Other Dash Products
The wand's full glorious
official name - Amazon Dash Wand with Alexa - hints not just at
its voice operated/Alexa assistant features, but also its
membership in the Dash family of Amazon devices.
The other Dash products,
currently, are an extensive range
of Dash buttons - little devices that do one thing only.
They have a button on them and a product logo. You press the
button, and the associated product is automatically ordered from
They cost $5 each, and you get
the $5 back when you first use each one to order its associated
This does require a shift in
paradigm - to order the most basic groceries and other household
items via Amazon rather than by going to the local store or
perhaps to the local superstore (Walmart or Costco) and I'm not
quite at that point, just yet. But the pricing differential
is narrowing all the time, while the convenience is growing.
If you order items on Amazon,
you'll typically get them the same day, the next day, or the day
after. And while, in theory, you could make a special trip
to a store every time you need something, in reality, it is rare
we need something urgently, and I'm increasingly noticing that if
I'd ordered something from Amazon, I'd get it sooner than if I put
it on a shopping list and traveled to a store, a day or two or
The Amazon Wand is a
slightly clunky and crippled device that should be able to do
more than it can.
But if you are starting to
move towards their growing echo system of Echo/Alexa voice
controlled units, and/or if you're a Prime customer and find
yourself increasingly ordering even the most ordinary of items
from Amazon, then this is a great unit to have.
But - why even bother with the
justification. It is free
- the purchase cost is returned to you as an account credit.
So, why spend any more time considering the matter at all - get
one, whether you need it or not. Worst case scenario, give
it to someone as a birthday or Christmas gift!
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8 Sept 2017, last update
10 Sep 2017
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