HTC U11, the latest Android smartphone from the Taiwanese device maker, is considered to be the best phone the company has launched in years. It is also the first HTC smartphone to give users access to Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa.
Amazon wants its Alexa voice assistant to be integrated with everything, from its Echo speakers to third-party appliances to in-car infotainment systems.
The Huawei Mate 9 was integrated with the assistant earlier this year, but with manual access – the user has to open an app to access Alexa. The voice assistant Alexa allows the user to access it by just saying its name, similar to the Echo device.
Alexa does exist in other phones and apps on-the-go with manual access, but the user has to open an app and push the button before issuing the voice command.
Alexa is attempting to increase its dominion over the voice assistant frontier. This is important, as Google Assistant, Apple Siri, and even Samsung’s Bixby Voice are slowly making their way into this market.
All US variants of the HTC U11 have access to the “HTC Alexa” app starting Monday. The UK and Germany will get access in July and August, respectively.
A quick run-down on what the app can do, and other considerations:
The HTC U11 and its microphones are not as good as the Echo device, obviously. It becomes a challenge to use the app in public where the user has to call out the name aloud a few times to get Alexa to act. It might be alright at home; calling aloud in public will be a little uncomfortable for most people.
Another major challenge is that you have to be glued to Alexa when in use, just looking at a microphone icon until Alexa is done. This means that the user cannot multitask – browsing, chatting and everything else is out while an Alexa task is in progress.
Alexa wakes up when the user says “Alexa” and will be ready to assist, but for further processing the request, the user has to login in – or unlock the device if it is locked. But Google Assistant “OK Google” or iPhone’s “Hey Siri” does not require manual unlocking; the app is designed to authenticate the voice to perform action – that means there is no requirement for the user to touch the phone, it is a completely hands-free experience.
Furthermore, Alexa is more of an in-home assistant and not ready for on-the-go tasks like assisting with navigation, sending text messages or placing a phone call, and it can’t open apps, either.
The Alexa assistant on the HTC U11 can provide weather information, check traffic and access sports scores. It supports adding events to the calendar and answers a host of questions. It can play music from Amazon but cannot play from other services like Spotify and TuneIn, which are supported on the Echo. Also, it cannot call another device or set alarms and reminders.
To be a real asset on a smartphone, Alexa has to roll up its sleeves; its rivals are already up there, and it’s time for Alexa to follow suit this time instead of being the leader.