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These three virtual assistants point the way to the future

Mike Elgan | June 9, 2016
Siri, Google Now, Cortana, Alexa -- yawn! We look at three new virtual assistants that raise the bar for usefulness, interactivity and personalization.

These three virtual assistants already suggest just how helpful and, well, human our technology will become.

Alexa without Echo

Amazon's Echo, Echo Dot and Amazon Tap hardware appliances serve as the voice and ears of Amazon's cloud-based virtual assistant, Alexa. With Alexa, you can get information, order a pizza, turn on the lights, find out how much gas is in your car, call an Uber and do thousands of other things.

Alexa has also started appearing in hardware not made by Amazon, thanks to the Alexa Voice Service API and Amazon's Alexa Fund, which sprinkled $100 million around to incentivize third-party hardware makers. Here are three non-Amazon products that feature Alexa.

Triby: This rectangular gadget, which starts at $169 (Amazon price - What's this?), runs on rechargeable batteries and sticks magnetically to a refrigerator door. On its front are two phone speed-dial buttons, two radio station pre-set buttons (for actual radio stations or Spotify playlists), and an e-ink screen that can display electronic sticky notes hand-drawn in the Triby smartphone app. The Triby has sensors that the Echo products do not, including temperature and humidity sensors, but reviewers point out that the Triby's microphones, speakers and performance are generally inferior to the Amazon Echo's.

CoWatch: An Indiegogo campaign by startup iMCO raised nearly three times its goal to develop a wristwatch that lets you talk to Alexa. It's called the CoWatch. The $279 device has similar specs to many Android Wear watches but runs on an operating system called the Cronologics OS. That platform looks great, but there aren't any apps for it yet. That said, iMCO says it will perform all standard smartwatch functions, such as displaying notifications, when it ships in July.

Roger: Want to use Alexa without spending a dime? A free Android and iOS app called Roger lets you talk to Alexa. You can do via Roger most things you can do with Alexa on an Echo. Third-party "skills" work, as do integrations with home automation appliances. You cannot, however, listen to Amazon Music content or shows from TuneIn, as you can with the Echo, and performance isn't nearly as good. But Roger is the easiest, and certainly the cheapest, way to get Alexa on the go.


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