Sunday, September 30, 2018

Amazon Alexa in Malaysia - does it work well? A review...


Feels like Christmas in September. Thanks to Doktor Cinta, my friend who live in Australia.
Back in July, Amazon Australia had a Prime Day. I joined the trial using my usual Amazon account and ordered an Echo Dot, Echo Plus (the taller one with a built-in hub) and a Kindle Paperwhite, shipping them to a dear friend in Australia.

My friend visited Malaysia and brought the Echos with him two weeks ago. You can imagine my thrill to get my hands on Alexa and start using it... in Malaysia.

As a side story, sometimes, you can't believe how events are aligned properly to prepare my place to be a connected home - I bought a superb new mesh network router, eero (by the way, I'd say it's one of my best electronic purchases after an iPhone! It is that good), which acts as a strong WiFi backbone as it blanket my double storey house with a reliable and fast WiFi. Then, maxis launched Fibernation program which let me to upgrade my internet from 6 Mbps (pathetic) to 100 Mbps with just an additional RM10/month! Now, my super reliable router is connected to fast, fast internet! And now I have Echo devices and additional Blink camera systems connected (and this is where the eero excels - with so many devices connected, you need a damn good router), my house is full of automation and modern gadgets. I am just waiting for a price drop on Philips Hue lights and I will have some smart lighting.

Not only that, I ditched Apple Music 3 months ago and subscribed to Spotify. If I had Apple Music, the Echos will be close to useless as it cannot connect to Apple Music.

My network setup: eero base station next to the fiber modem and also the maxis TP link, which act as a PPPoE bridge.

Anyway, I digress.  So, I set up Echos - the only hiccup I faced was to download the Amazon Alexa app. I needed a US iTunes account to download it and once that is done, setting up the Echos are done in the mobile app. Once set up, I can start asking Alexa to do things. What surprised all of us in the household is how accurate Alexa is in picking up our accent. I mean, we have two adults and two young kids and she understood everyone of us, even the kids. We have tried talking to Siri before and it's almost "sky and earth" differences. Siri is dumb, in comparison.

We can ask Alexa to play any songs in Spotify. We can ask Alexa to set timers, reminders and to-dos (and with IFTTT integration, the to-dos created by Alexa is automatically updated in the Culture Code's Things 3 app in my iPhone). We asked Alexa about the weather (not that it matters in Malaysia). I am also trying to set up Alexa to arm or disarm my Blink cameras but unfortunately, that is US only - somehow, Blink automation can only work in the US region, which sucks.

You can also talk to Alexa on the iPhone app, which acts as another device.
We can also ask Alexa to tell us the traffic from home to work - and it works - I suspect it looks up Google Maps, which supports Malaysia, so that is not too bad.

So far, asking Alexa for telephone number of restaurants or places is not so good here. I tried asking for TGV, McDonald's and Dominos and none of these are returned. Alexa said that she is working to put more local references into her database - so, does that mean Amazon is keeping a directory in itself and is not looking up to Google? That's weird because if this is the case, it also means Amazon will be limited in terms of knowledge vs what you can get from Google Home, with Google search backing it up.

Alexa can also make phone calls but unfortunately, that's US again. I believe when Skype is available for Alexa, we can then use Alexa to connect to Skype to make phone calls. Here's hoping that will work.

Basically, I think our country is not yet ready for Alexa. I am not sure how good Google Home fares here. Just that day, I saw Google Home being sold in Gamers Hideout in One Utama. Does that mean Google Home is officially supported in Malaysia or is Gamers Hideout just imported those device from overseas?

But, for hands free setting timers, reminders, playing music, setting to-dos, update Google calendar to set appointments, Alexa is pretty good.

Echo Plus besides Blink sync modules. The speaker sounds great. Very deep bass and strong treble.
Most importantly, for me, Echo Plus is a great wireless speakers. I have always wanted a "Bluetooth" JBL boombox speaker but they are usually very expensive. Echo Plus filled that gap. For that price, I have a great speaker and yet an intelligent AI. I think that itself is a great bargain. Will Alexa be the future item in this household or will Google Home takes over, we will see what the Malaysian market demands. I have a feeling Google will be more popular, since this is an "Android" country.

I am sad for Siri and Apple, though. Siri is so far behind ...

Echo Dot is just the right device for the bedroom. Small enough and sound okay for a smaller room.




iPhone 5S is still awesome after iOS 12

I am using 2 phones now. My 4 year old iPhone 6 Plus is my main phone and a 6 (or maybe 7) year old iPhone 5S. I recently installed iOS 12 and did a clean reset of the iPhone 5S. I can't believe Apple still updates the iPhone 5S with iOS 12. And boy, what a surprise update this is.

The iPhone 5S has only a few apps running. I purposely kept it lean. It has the default Mail and Calendar, which I configured to only retrieve Push email from my company server. I put in the latest Waze which worked with CarPlay, Castro podcast app and Spotify. That's it. I deleted the rest of the stock app.

The reason I am using this phone is because I want it to have a permanent place inside the car, as a dedicated device for Waze, podcast and music player. Since Apple CarPlay required a wired connection, I don't care if it bad for the old battery.

Waze in CarPlay is just so, so nice!
What I find amazing is that the speed of which this 5S launched Waze and play Spotify is at least TWICE as fast as my 6Plus. It made using Waze and CarPlay a really nice and pleasant experience. I have tried using 6Plus in CarPlay and everytime I launch Spotify or Waze, there is at least a 5-8 second delay before I can interact with them. This is not the case in the 5S.

I am not sure why though. Is it because there are less apps for the phone to manage? Is it because of the small screen size, thus needing less memory?

But what amazes me is that new technology such as iOS 12 and the latest Waze which JUST supported CarPlay a week ago is still able to run on a 7 year old phone!!

Apple truly gives you value for money, if you take care of the product.

iPhone XS Max Pre Order - NOW!

It's available now... and surprise, surprise... it's kinda reasonable as well ... this is the iPhone XS Max 256GB Plan It's...