The news Friday morning that e-commerce giant Amazon is buying grocery chain Whole Foods puts the company’s latest gadget in a whole new light.
Amazon released the Amazon Dash Wand with Alexa, a kitchen-focused smart gadget, a little more than 24 hours before news of the acquisition hit. The Wand is now available for $20 for any Amazon Prime member.
Like the earlier incarnation of the Dash Wand, this one can scan bar codes and automatically order grocery items. But this new version adds a new twist, as the smallest device yet to incorporate Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant.
We got our hands on one of the new Dash Wands to test it out, and we found it pretty impressive in some respects but rather lacking in others. Check out our live review video below and the podcast featuring our take on the wand above, and keep reading for the full rundown.
Let’s start with the successes: The wand was incredibly simple to set up and start using. GeekWire editor Todd Bishop said it was probably the easiest setup he had seen in any of the Alexa-powered devices to date. The setup works via the Amazon app on iOS or Android, connecting to WiFi seamlessly in our experience.
And once set up, it seemed to work incredibly smoothly. We used the Wand’s Alexa voice capabilities to find out what the weather was like and how many ounces are in a pound, and even placed an order for granola bars through AmazonFresh.
We also had fun with the Wand’s stand-out feature: barcode scanning. We were able to scan several items from around our office into the Amazon cart of GeekWire Editor Todd Bishop, including popcorn and Clorox wipes.
In fact, that feature was so seamless that Todd initially didn’t think it was even working. He ended up with dozens of Kind bars in his cart — but because the barcode scanner can’t place an order, it was easy for him to clear things up.
One important caveat here: Voice orders using Alexa on this device go straight through, in our testing, without being saved in the cart for you to review first. When we ordered a package of Kind bars, it ate up a good portion of our $20 credit (see below).
The Wand integrates with most Alexa smart home skills, although its small size means it can’t play music like other Alexa devices.
Its price is also a plus. At just $20, it’s Amazon’s most inexpensive gadget by far. To entice people even more, members get a $20 Amazon grocery credit when they buy one, meaning the Wand is “essentially free,” in Amazon’s words.
But as a supposed kitchen assistant, it’s not perfect.
The biggest issue is that it isn’t hands-free. Unlike the Echo devices, you need to push a button on the Wand to activate Alexa, making it inconvenient for a baker with hands full of dough, or someone making dinner with messy hands.
The Wand also doesn’t have integration with some basic functions that would make it a useful kitchen aid, namely a timer. That upgrade could be on its way, but it seems like a no-brainer to include it in a device used in the kitchen, and we were disappointed to find it wasn’t.
We were also surprised when we asked Alexa to find us a recipe for Eggs Benedict. At first, things seemed to be going smoothly: Alexa asked us if we’d like to enable the Allrecipes skill and once we agreed she found us the highest-rated Eggs Benedict recipe.
But after giving us the overview of the recipe, things went off the rails. The Wand asked if we would like to hear more details and when we said “yes,” she gave us the same spiel she had just finished, trapping us in an infinite breakfast loop. It was hard to tell if the bug was in the Allrecipes skill or in the Wand itself, but it left much to be desired from the kitchen aid.
Update: The bug was in fact in the Allrecipes skill, and Amazon contacted us a few days after publishing to say it had been fixed. When we tried the skill again, Alexa gave us a verbal rundown of the recipe including an on-demand ingredients list.
Another odd bug: if you ask the Dash Wand what it can do, the first thing Alexa says is, “I can play music,” when in fact that’s not the case. Unlike other Alexa devices, the Dash Wand with Alexa doesn’t play music.
All in all, the Wand is a good deal and has some interesting, fun features. It’ll likely be a hit for Prime members that already do a lot of their shopping with Amazon, specifically those who use the Amazon Fresh grocery service. But will it convince non-Prime members to join up? Our bet is probably not.