We bought an Alexa-enabled microwave. Here’s what happened | ZDNet
A few weeks ago, our old $99 Panasonic microwave we purchased as a Costco special decided to give up the ghost. It had served us well, but there was something not quite right with it from the beginning.
Nothing ever cooked according to the package instructions on any given type of food. You know how microwaves have intensity settings, from 1-10? On the normal 100% setting, ours would create objects so molten we expected them to burn through the Earth’s crust. We could only use the 10% setting, and that was before it died.
My wife loves the Sharp Carousel brand of microwave. She was disappointed when we settled for the Panasonic from Costco last time. As far as she’s concerned, Sharp is the only brand of microwave we should ever buy. We’ve gone quite awhile without a Sharp Carousel, so when it was time to buy a new nuker, she insisted on her beloved brand. I’m not entirely sure what makes it special, but she says that it has some kind of inner magic that just makes the food come out more moist and better tasting. That’s brand loyalty!
In any case, as you might imagine, a Sharp Carousel was in our immediate future.
But here’s where it got interesting. The Sharp ZSMC1449FS is $179 and comes with Alexa integration. The Sharp ZSMC1442CS (the eighth character has a 2 instead of a 9) is $139 and does not integrate with Alexa and talk back to you. Naturally, we chose the Alexa model, because of course we did. We have Alexas in most rooms, so why not get an Alexa-powered microwave?
I’ll be honest with you. I felt silly. I am perfectly comfortable telling Alexa to turn on and off my lights and change my thermostat, because the idea of getting up to touch a light switch or thermostat wheel seems far too caveman for modern society. But you have to manually open the microwave door to zap things, so why not punch the buttons right next to the door?
Apparently, I have a previously untapped capacity for laziness. Since the Sharp Carousel has entered our kitchen, I have not once — not once! — touched any of the buttons on the front of Miss A’s Nuclear Roaster.
But things were still not completely right in Nuka-World (where Nuka-World is our kitchen).
We had an Echo Show 8, which lived on top of the previous microwave. We liked the ability to set and see a timer, and add things to our grocery list. The little pictures of news summaries are nice — although mouth-watering pictures of recipes for baking cookies can be demoralizing for someone on a low-carb diet. The problem is that the Echo Show 8 doesn’t hear commands all that well in a noisy kitchen. Usually it’s fine, but if both the air fryer is frying and the vent fan is spinning, the Echo Show 8 sometimes misses an instruction.
My wife wanted to know if we could improve the situation. So I reached out to Amazon and in the interest of making sure we were able to be heard in our efforts to reheat leftovers and zap popcorn, I recruited Amazon’s outside PR firm, their internal PR team, and at least one internal product expert. Which Echo hears best, I asked? Because why not distract an entire team of super busy people from highly productive work to answer a question that will help me avoid pushing a button?
Have I mentioned I love my job?
In any case, due to some purchases and many previous reviews, my wife and I have all the Echo Show versions, and first, second, and third-generation Echos in the house. But we didn’t have a fourth-generation Echo (the device that’s the size and shape of a large grapefruit). The consensus of the Amazon brain trust I tapped was that the fourth generation grapefruit-sized Alexa would have the best microphones.
We bought the microwave, but Amazon’s team (possibly just to get me to go away) was kind enough to send a fourth-generation Echo for us to test against the Echo Show 8.
As it turns out, the fourth generation grapefruit-sized Echo does listen better than the Echo Show, but not by that much. We still have to turn our heads slightly towards the Echo and enunciate carefully, but I’d say it answers us four out of five instead of three out of five times. If you want optimal voice reception, use Alexa as the wake word (rather than Echo, which doesn’t seem to be quite as crisp), and speak clearly, separating the wake word by a beat before issuing the command.
As for commands, Alexa knows “microwave,” “reheat,” and “cook,” but does not know “zap.” So, “Alexa, microwave for 90 seconds” works fine. “Alexa, reheat for 45 seconds” also works. It understands “Alexa, soften ice cream.” To be fair, I never thought of microwaving ice cream, but it does make scooping it out of the container much easier. And, for the record, “Alexa, bring me ice cream” works no better than, “Pixel, bring me ice cream.” Neither Alexa nor my small dog has opposable thumbs.
It even knows some specific foods. You can have it microwave broccoli, cook beans, and soften butter and cheese. I have never, ever cooked a potato and did a backflip (in my mind) when “Alexa, cook potato” resulted in a cooked potato. It was like living in the future. If you want a list of all the commands, here’s a quick guide.
Apparently, Alexa knows how to cook tuna. You can issue the command “Alexa, cook tuna.” I just haven’t been brave enough to dump a can in a microwave-safe dish and try it.
Okay, silliness aside, what’s the verdict? As a microwave, it’s very nice. My wife was right. The food does seem to come out more tasty and moist with this microwave. Packaged foods finally cook according to the instructions on the box!
The Alexa feature initially seemed ludicrous, but it’s really quite nice. Even though I mocked it at first, I found myself intuitively falling into the habit of instructing Alexa to do microwave magic pretty much within minutes of installing the thing.
Being able to start the microwave while doing something else is pretty helpful. For example, you can place your micro-steamer full of veggies in the microwave ahead of time, and call out to Alexa to start nuking them at the perfect moment while your hands are busy stirring stuff in a pan on the stove. It’s especially great when your hands are dirty or wet. There are far fewer fingerprints to clean off the front of the microwave these days.
Oh, and installation was a breeze. It immediately connected to our network (a little scary, that) and was talking to our kitchen Alexa just as soon as it was out of the box and plugged in. Oh, and the microwave clock automatically updated due to the Daylight Savings Time changes this weekend. That was helpful.
What do you think? Would you find it useful to be able to call out instructions to your microwave? Let us know in the comments below.
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