It’s easy to forget how far technology has come in just a few years. We went from praying that our CD players wouldn’t skip to streaming music wirelessly to wearing AirPods in our ears. But even some recent devices have made the jump from high-end items for tech enthusiasts to must-haves for many homes. Here are a few of them.
The assistant we didn’t ask for, but can’t live without
“Weird.” “Curious.” “Baffling.” “Quite Stupid.” These words all once described Alexa, the voice-activated digital assistant on Amazon’s Echo device. But Amazon says the Echo Dot, a smaller, less expensive version of the Echo, was its “top-selling device” during the holiday season.
In 2014, it was odd to even consider owning an Echo — and impossible to buy without an invitation from Amazon. Today, you can pick from five Echo models. Or, you can try Google’s version: the Google Home, Google Home Mini or Google Home Max. Apple has also released a digital assistant device, the HomePod, which is fully capable with Siri. You can have your pick of digital assistants — each with varying capabilities of improving your life.
Alexa now has more than 15,000 skills, meaning any Echo device can go beyond describing the weather or playing music. The Google Assistant, first released in 2016, is catching up.
So why buy one now? First, they’re relatively inexpensive and far easier to use and understand than they were when first released. Think back to MP3 players or early smartphones: People learned a lot about using the products and became so adjusted to them that they didn’t know how to go back. Second, the future is paved with smart home devices, and voice-activated assistants to control them are becoming ubiquitous. The Echo and Google Home are no longer “test products” — the companies behind them want them to last.
The skeleton key to streaming music, movies and TV shows
Prepare to feel either really old or really young: Roku players have existed for 10 years. The first Roku player streamed Netflix (and only Netflix) to your TV. Now, you have your pick of streaming devices, from Chromecast to Apple TV to a variety of Roku players. If you don’t have one, it’s about time you invested in one. Several devices are budget-friendly and portable. I f you’re all about video quality and immersive audio, there are options that deliver.
When many of these devices were first introduced, they could stream only certain services. When Google first offered the Chromecast in 2013, it could support only Netflix and YouTube. Now, it works with Hulu, HBO Go, the CW, Sling, VUDU and hundreds more.