I’ve been consistently impressed by Amazon’s customer service over the years – one of the reasons I buy so often from Amazon is how easy it is to return things, and how great their agents are when I’ve had a more complicated issue. Today though, they reached an all new high.
I’d purchased an Echo Dot in May, and right from the start we noticed the microphone array was inferior to the full-sized Echo we used to have in the same spot. It’s not uncommon for me to hear my wife or kids yelling at the Echo Dot because it doesn’t respond the first time. It’s especially bad at recognizing commands if there’s any other noise in the room. So it was always in the back of my head that the Dot wasn’t quite as great as the original Echo. I didn’t come to this realization within the first 30 days though, or else I’d have returned it.
Imagine my surprise then when Amazon announced a second-generation Echo Dot only four months after I bought mine, and at almost half the price to boot. The big feature was an improved microphone array. Tech marches ever onward, and I’m not normally one to complain about obsolescence, but four months is completely crazy! It made me think they knew they released a flawed first-gen product and they were rushing to get the new one out. You can’t even post a review of the first-gen Echo Dot now.
Today I called Amazon and basically said I was disappointed in the performance of my first-gen Echo Dot and upset at how quickly Amazon made it obsolete. Most companies would simply feed me a line about how they were serving their customers better by quickly improving their products, blah blah. I didn’t ask for anything specific, I just laid out why I was unhappy.
Instead of feeding me a generic response, the Amazon rep talked to his manager and came back with an offer of letting me return the Echo Dot – five months after I bought it – for an 80% refund in the form of an Amazon gift card. How amazing is that? So I can order the new Dot if I want, and have money left over for something else.
Can’t beat that! Amazon continues to earn my repeat business…which is one reason we’ve ordered from them 236 times so far this year. 😉
“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
― C.S. Lewis
My Wife: “Alexa, play Two Steps From Hell“.
Alexa: “I can’t find the song Two Steps From Hell in your library or Amazon music.”
Me: “That’s weird. Maybe Alexa didn’t hear you. Alexa, play Two Steps From Hell”.
Alexa: “I can’t find the song Two Steps From Hell in your library or Amazon music.”
Me: “What? I’ve been listening to Two Steps From Hell forever! That’s impossible – we own several of their albums.”
My Wife: “Maybe it’s not in Amazon Music?”
Me: “Hmm. I was sure I uploaded those albums to Amazon music. Apparently, we don’t own any music by Two Steps From Hell? We’ve been listening to it on Google Music for two years.”
My Wife: “Oh.”
Two weeks later, as I’m writing this blog post, I still have this nagging feeling that I own this music…someplace. So I check my music collection on my NAS and five several albums by Two Steps From Hell. I walk over to my Amazon Echo Dot.
Me: “Alexa, play albums by Two Steps From Hell”.
Alexa: “Playing your albums by Two Steps From Hell.”
<music starts playing>
Me: “I’m really glad I ordered a Google Home today”.
Alexa: “Go to hell.”
OK, so Alexa didn’t actually say that last part, but I’m sure she was thinking it. I started off as a huge, unabashed fanboy of Amazon’s Echo, but the lustre has worn off. My first Echo had a mysterious audio failure one month after the warranty expired; Alexa couldn’t verbalize any responses. I’d see the ring light up indicating she was responding, but no sound came out. A reboot would fix it for a while, but randomly she’d lose her voice again. Sounds like a firmware issue, right? Amazon tech support said no and that my Echo was faulty. They very graciously sent me a replacement – even though I was on month 13 of a 12 month warranty – and I sent the defective one back for a post-mortem.
I started off as a huge, unabashed fanboy of Amazon’s Echo, but the lustre has worn off. My first Echo had a mysterious audio failure one month after the warranty expired; Alexa couldn’t verbalize any responses. I’d see the ring light up indicating she was responding, but no sound came out. A reboot would fix it for a while, but randomly she’d lose her voice again. Sounds like a firmware issue, right? Amazon tech support said no and that my Echo was faulty. They very graciously sent me a replacement – even though I was on month 13 of a 12-month warranty – and I sent the defective one back for a post-mortem.
My Echo Dot was ordered March 17th, delivered May 20th, and made obsolete September 14th. That’s 182 day (6 months). Coming from the tech world, I know that technology marches ever onward. Products are always going to become obsolete. But six months between product releases? That’s slightly outrageous by any measure and as a customer, I feel burned by that.
The Echo Dot has a vastly inferior microphone system from my experience – since we moved the Echo upstairs and the Echo Dot became our kitchen-area voice assistant, and it’s not uncommon to hear my wife and son yelling at it. If there’s any ambient noise at all, the Echo Dot simply doesn’t respond. The full-sized Echo was amazing at hearing us no matter what was going on, but the Dot is quite terrible at it. I don’t think I have a defective product, as I had a few people on Twitter reporting the same problem.
Amazon’s Echo is generally great at what it does (music, shopping, home automation), but the deep learning and insanely huge data set that Google can draw upon gives them a tremendous advantage over what Amazon can offer. I’m keen to see if the Google Home I ordered is really as good as they made it seem in the keynote. We’ll see…
Credit cards. We’re awash in them as a society, and our exposure to them often starts in college (if not sooner). The day you get your first credit card, you join a system of credit and debt that can financially eat you alive if you’re not careful. I have nothing against the idea of credit cards – I use one constantly myself, paying it off every payday. And recently we used our card points to book a trip (more on that later). What I object to though is how credit card companies market their products: they send out those “you’re approved” letters, tempting people with credit problems.
Credit cards are a tool in your financial toolbox, but they’re a little like juggling a chainsaw. One or two are manageable, but if you try more than that, odds are you’re going to lose a hand (financially speaking).
Credit card companies are data-driven. They know that for every 1000 applications they send out, they’ll get a certain percentage of completions. Of the ones that get approved, most of them will turn into incredible profit generators for the company; most people don’t pay them off every cycle, and only accumulate more debt over time. But what if it became significantly more expensive for credit card companies to gain new customers this way?
My solution is simple and shown in the image above: rip up the credit card application and send it back to them. They have to pay for postage, so this costs you nothing.
Credit cards are financial tools that should be available for financially mature adults who can use them responsibly. They should not be dangled in front of every like debt-candy.
If we all make it more expensive for credit cards companies to run unsolicited marketing campaigns like this, they might do it less often. Yes, I know it would take huge numbers of these going back to them to change their behaviour, but you have to start someplace. 🙂
In 2014, I had some funds in Canada that I wanted to invest – the CAD to USD exchange rate was too awful back then I didn’t want to convert it. However, as a non-resident of Canada, I was highly limited in what I’m able to invest in. I thought I’d take advantage of a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) until I found something better to do with the money. A TFSA is similar to the ROTH IRA in that it allows for tax-free growth. So I figured I’d give it a try…that was a mistake.
It turns out that non-residents of Canada cannot make deposits into a TFSA. When you do, a surprisingly high tax kicks into place: 1% per month on the total invested. If you leave funds in a TFSA all year, you’re paying 12% tax on it. And that’s not on the interest, it’s on the principal. Ouch! Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this – and there was no warning to me before making the investment. Luckily I invested late in the year, so the fees I had to pay were a little more than one month. No one likes receiving a surprise tax bill in the mail though!
Bottom line: unless you live in Canada, don’t put money into a TFSA.
The journey continues! By month four, I was starting to really get the hang of OS X, and most of my questions were more about “Why did they do that?” versus “How do I do that?”. I’m still no power user, but slowly the mysteries of OS X are unveiling themselves to me…
- I am puzzled by what OS X does with videos and resolution. It looks like, in the case of video (because nobody like tiny videos), Apple will automatically double the playback size of a video; normal is a 2x zoom. This can cause some confusion if you’re working with videos – I’m not entirely convinced this was the right decision for Apple to make, but you can certainly play video at 2x size and have it look fairly good so there’s not a bit quality loss here visually.
Above: the default size of a 1920 x 1080 JPEG as viewed with Lily View.
Above: the default size of the QuickTime player for a 1080p video.
Above: the QuickTime video reduced in twice by two steps – close to proper size.
I’ve slowed down taking notes on my “learning OS X” project – largely because I seem to have gotten over most of the rough edges – but I still have many notes to share from the intense first few months. Here’s what I was experiencing in month three.
- I’m not clear why/how, but the Microsoft Office updates for OS X are really terrible. The download takes forever – I’m on a 40mbps connection, but because there’s no speed indicator I’m not clear if the updates are gigantic or the update server just dishes up the bits slowly (hello Xbox Live!). The install progress also takes a while. The number of updates is fairly frequent (feels like almost weekly), and it’s a process that’s simply far too slow. Microsoft really needs to do better here. It would be great if updates for Office came through the App Store, but I imagine Microsoft has reasons for not using that delivery mechanism…
A friend of mine started working for LeEco a few months ago, so I’ve been introduced to this curiously-named, but wildly ambitious Chinese company who is entering the US market in various categories (mainly audio and TVs for now – Android bikes and electronic cars may come later). Oh, they also make smartphones. LeEco sells their products via LeMall, a site where their already-affordable products often go on “Flash Sale” for 50% off, meaning these Leme Bluetooth Headphones that are already cheap at $39.99 go for a simply-crazy $14.99 (which is what I paid for them). So how do they stack up? Here’s a quick review.
Last year, after what felt like an eternity of waiting, Roku released an updated streaming media player: the Roku 4. I’d become a huge fan of Roku players, having owned three of them over the years. It was a big product for them – and for the consumer – look at the sheers size of it above compared to the Roku 3! The flagship feature it brought to the table was 4K playback, which made it one of the few mainstream streaming media boxes to offer it at the time.
What I wasn’t prepared for though was the sheer size, the fact that it had a fan (a mostly quiet one, thankfully), and the heat output. What’s surprising: I never used it to play any 4K content, yet it still seemed like the Roku 4 was being pushed hard. You’d think that the chips capable of playing 4K wouldn’t bat an eye at playing 1080p, right? The Roku 4, despite it’s amped-up hardware for 4K playback, didn’t have a much faster overall UI or channel launching speed. To be fair, I pre-ordered it and I’m sure Roku has optimized it with further updates.
I ended up returning the Roku 4, and until I get a 4K TV I’ll stick with my current combination of three Roku 3s, Fire TV, and an Apple TV. There’s no such thing as too many streaming devices, right? 😉