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June 15, 2017

You can now shout Alexa commands at Amazon’s upgraded Dash Wand

by John_A

Why it matters to you

If you’re searching for an easier way to reorder paper towels from Amazon, look no further than the new Dash Wand.

Amazon’s Dash Wand is sort of like a television remote that queues up deliveries instead of channels. At least, that was the intention — when the Dash Wand launched in early 2014, the bar code-scanning, voice-recognizing dongle was criticized for its many limitations. Starting Thursday, though, Amazon’s releasing a new model that supports Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant.

To the untrained eye, the new Alexa Dash Wand doesn’t look all that different from the previous generation of Dash Wand. It sports a large, circular keychain loop, a strong magnet (meant for affixing the thing to metallic refrigerators), and a circular button that illuminates blue when pushed. But unlike the outgoing Amazon Dash, which only let you add items to a shopping card via limited voice controls, the new model supports Alexa natively. You can buy items directly instead of having to check out manually, like you can with Amazon’s pricier Echo speakers.

That’s not the only thing the new Dash Wand can do. Amazon says the remote-shaped dongle can find recipes, convert cups to ounces, reorder past items, find nearby restaurants, show movie showtimes, save reminders, set timers, and more. And it supports the full range of the more than 12,000 third-party apps — or “skills” — in Alexa’s library, including ride-sharing apps like Lyft and Uber, food-ordering apps like Dominos and Grubhub, and smart home appliance apps like Hue and SmartThings.

One feature it won’t support is Alexa Calling, Amazon’s new messaging platform — the upcoming Echo Show and existing devices can make and receive calls and dictate messages, which the companion Alexa app saves for posterity. And it won’t support Prime Music, Amazon’s internet music service. But given the Dash Wand’s diminutive size, it’s hard to call either omission a dealbreaker.

The new Dash Wand starts at $20, but Amazon’s gifting Prime subscribers who pick one up to $20, making the Dash Wand essentially a free purchase. Customers can sign up for a 90-day trial of Amazon’s AmazonFresh home grocery service.

Amazon’s Alexa-equipped Dash Wand is only the newest frontier for its voice assistant. Last month, the company unveiled the Echo Show, a touchscreen- and camera-equipped Echo that boasts video chat, Amazon’s Prime Music service, visual weather forecasts, and video content from CNN and YouTube. And earlier this year, it launched the first smart TV-equipped with Alexa, Element’s Amazon Fire TV Edition.

That rapid expansion might be seen as an effort to combat evolving voice platforms like Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in June, the company announced the HomePod, an AI-powered smart speaker that works with home appliances and boasts many of the same features as Amazon’s Echo speakers, including reminders and alarms. And in May, Google announced forthcoming features for its Google Home speaker, including proactive notifications, free calling to phones in the United States and Canada, calendar management, new music streaming services, and Chromecast integration.

Amazon, it’s safe to say, has its work cut out for it.

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