Blind Low Vision NZ Alexa FAQ
What is Alexa?
Alexa is a voice assistant technology developed by Amazon, first used in the Amazon Echo smart speaker. Your Alexa is managed with an Amazon account, and the Alexa app or website, but once installed on your home Wi-Fi, it can be controlled entirely by voice commands.
You can use Alexa across devices for playing music and audiobooks, making to-do and shopping lists, setting alarms, and providing weather, news, and other real-time information, such as traffic and transport updates. Many of these services are created by other companies, so there are localised skills and radio stations for Australia and New Zealand. Alexa can also control compatible smart devices, such as lighting, thermostats, and smart plugs, as a home automation system.
What is a voice assistant?
Voice assistants are artificial intelligence interfaces, that interpret spoken commands and respond in synthetic speech. They provide an accessible and convenient way to interact with mobile devices, as well as personal computers, and other Internet connected devices. Popular voice assistants include Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, and Alexa.
What is a “smart speaker”?
A smart speaker is a loudspeaker that connects wirelessly to the Internet, capable of streaming music or other audio, and responds to voice commands with an inbuilt microphone. It can also be used as a ‘dumb’ speaker with other wireless devices (e.g. to stream from a phone or tablet).
What is an Alexa skill?
Skills are voice-driven programs that you use to do things with your Amazon device. You can select them in the Amazon store, just like choosing apps for mobile devices. For more detailed information, please visit Amazon Feature Help on their website.
How do I access the Blind Low Vision skill?
To use the skill, you will first need to be a Blind Low Vision NZ Library member, or have a print disability. Registered Blind Low Vision NZ clients and New Zealand citizens/residents with a print disability are eligible to join. For more information, visit ‘Accessing our Library’ or call us on 0800 24 33 33.
- If you do not have an Amazon account, you will need to register your e-mail address with Amazon to create your new account. Within New Zealand, it’s preferable to create your Amazon account on www.amazon.com.au.
- The next step is to register your Amazon account name with Blind & Low Vision NZ, to authorise your access to the Blind Low Vision skill. Please call us on 0800 24 33 33 to confirm your Amazon account with the Library team.
- Once your account is confirmed, you will be able to access the Blind Low Vision skill in your Alexa. Open the Alexa app, either on a mobile device (smart phone or tablet), or online at https://alexa.amazon.com.au/.
- Search for “Blind Low Vision” in the Alexa app, and select it from the search results. Then select “Enable Skill”, check the settings to share your e-mail, and you will be able to use it with your Alexa device.
Can Amazon access my e-mail account? Why do they need it?
Amazon will need to send e-mails occasionally to your account in order to confirm your identity. This is first to validate your new account, and then to provide security checks for later changes, such as resetting a password, or logging into a new device.
You shouldn’t get contacted by Amazon otherwise, and can unsubscribe from any unwanted e-mails. You don’t have to provide Amazon with other contact details such as your mobile phone number unless you choose to.
Where can I get an Alexa device?
Blind Low Vision NZ has a stock of Amazon Echo Dots (third generation model) available for long term loan to our clients, one per registered member. If you have Wi-Fi at home, and would like to try Alexa for yourself, please get in touch on 0800 24 33 33 to find out whether Alexa will be suitable for you. We will ship an Echo Dot direct to you, and can provide installation support and training as needed.
Alexa devices can also be purchased from local electronic retailers throughout New Zealand. There are different models with different capabilities and price ranges; the Dot is the cheapest, while the Echo has better sound quality. Newer models have been released since 2020, which remain compatible with our skill and others.
Is Alexa recording all the time?
No. Alexa stays in sleep mode until you wake her up by saying the command word, “Alexa”. After you wake her up, your command is recorded in order to process your request, and recording stops again while the system works to come back to you with a reply.
The Echo device also has a mute function, controlled by a button on the top. This lets you turn off the microphone temporarily so it won’t pick up any commands. We also recommend turning the device off at the wall when not in use. Your Echo will automatically reconnect to the Internet when you turn it back on.
Does listening to audiobooks with Alexa use Internet data?
Yes. Alexa uses data on your wireless Internet connection, but because you are reading through the book in real time, it will use less data than downloading a whole book at once. We estimate reading books and magazines on Alexa will use between 50-60 megabytes per hour, so do check how much data you have available on your monthly Internet plan. This is usually measured in gigabytes (thousands of megabytes).
Can I unplug Alexa and move it to another room? Will I lose my settings?
Yes, you can move Alexa around the house. No, you will not lose your settings, and the device should reconnect to your network when you plug it back in and power on. If your Internet signal is not strong in all the rooms in your house, you may find it works better in some rooms than others.
Can I change the volume without pressing buttons?
Yes, you can change the volume while you are reading a book or magazine. Say “Alexa, volume up”, or “Alexa, volume down”. There are 10 volume levels, where 1 is the quietest, and 10 the loudest. You can also set it to a specific volume level, for example, by saying “Alexa, volume 5”.
What magazines are available?
You can read all of the current magazine issues produced by Blind Low Vision NZ studios. For a list of all available magazines, say “What magazines do you have?” while in the main menu of the skill.
Can I read books and magazines offline?
No. Alexa does not keep copies of the books and magazines you are reading, so you need to stay connected to the Internet in order to keep reading.
Can I save my place in the book I’m reading?
Yes. Alexa will remember where you left off when you stop reading a book, and will return you to that point when you ask for the book again. When you start the skill, Alexa will first ask whether you want to continue with the title you were last reading.
Can I change the speed of audio books and magazines?
No. At present, Alexa is only able to play back the audio as it was recorded, so you will only be able to read books and magazines at their original speed.