Amazon Dash Wand Review — What Alexa can and can’t do

When Amazon added Alexa capabilities to the Dash Wand, they instantly made a mostly forgotten device interesting again. At just $20, the Dash Wand is now the least expensive Alexa-enabled device Amazon makes, and it’s even more affordable for Prime members since they get a $20 credit when activating the device, making it essentially free. Since it wasn’t originally designed to be an Alexa device, there are limitations to its voice capabilities, compared to something like the Echo Dot. Here’s an overview of the Dash Wand, as well as a detailed look into what Alexa on it can and can’t do.

This Amazon Dash Wand with Alexa is the second generation of the Dash Wand. This device was quietly released last October without Alexa and essentially the same capabilities as the first Dash Wand. It has a magnetic back, so it can be attached to refrigerators, and a barcode scanner on the front, which is used to add items to your Amazon shopping cart by scanning their barcodes. Since the device has a microphone, speaker, and an internet connection, Amazon added Alexa capabilities this month through a software update and, in the process, greatly increased its functionality.

Not being an Alexa-enabled device from the beginning, the Dash Wand does have a few quirks and limitations. For example, if you ask it “what can you do,” which is a standard command Amazon encourages new Alexa device owners to try, Alexa will list things it can do that are not actually available through the Dash Wand. Another quirk is Alexa tells you the device does not have a battery when you ask for the battery level, even though the device is powered by a pair of AAA batteries.

The first semi-limitation of the Dash Wand, which you’ll probably expect, is that it does not have hands-free capabilities, so you’ll have to press the physical button on the device before talking to Alexa. Since it’s powered by off-the-shelf non-rechargeable batteries, which come included, Amazon probably won’t add hands-free Alexa capabilities through a software update, like they did with the Amazon Tap portable speaker. Unlike the Tap, you have to keep holding the Dash Wand’s button the entire time you’re speaking a command. You can’t just tap and release the button, like you can with the aptly named Amazon Tap.

Streaming audio of any sort is not available through the Dash Wand. That includes all music playback, regardless of which service it’s coming from, be it Amazon, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or TuneIn. In addition to music, you also can’t listen to flash briefings, podcasts, or books, both Audible audio books and Kindle books, through the Dash Wand.

Alexa on the Dash Wand seems to not be able to do anything unless you start the interaction by pressing its singular button. This means that things like Alarms, Timers, and Reminders do not work on the Dash Wand, since it would need to be proactive and wake up on its own for those. This limitation is likely also why Alexa’s new calling and messaging features do not work with the Dash Wand.

While the Dash Wand does have a Bluetooth radio, which it uses for its initial setup, you cannot stream audio to or from it over Bluetooth, like you can with other Alexa devices. You also cannot adjust the Dash Wand’s volume level, connect an Alexa Voice Remote to it, or change its language setting.

The last limitation of Alexa on the Dash Wand is a bit of an odd one. You cannot use it to ask for local movie showtimes. You might think this is due to the Dash Wand’s inability to know where it is, but that’s not the case, since you can set an address for the device in the Alexa app, like you can for other Alexa devices, and it’s more than happy to respond with local business and restaurant information when asked.

Moving on to other things Alexa on the Dash Wand can do, you can of course order items on Amazon through it, since that’s its original intended purpose. Like all other Alexa devices, you can order items directly from Alexa on the Dash Wand and ask to hear the day’s deals. If you point the device at a barcode and press the button, that item will be added to your Amazon shopping cart, if it’s available on Amazon, but will not be automatically ordered. If Amazon can’t find the exact item, you’ll be shown similar items to select one, the next time you view your Amazon cart.

There is no way to add items to your shopping list using the barcode scanner. The only way to add items to your shopping list using the Dash Wand is to ask Alexa to add something. It can also be used to add items to your to-do list and will read off items from both lists as well.

Apart from shopping, the killer use for the Dash Wand is as a handy home automation remote, since all of Alexa’s smart home capabilities work through the Dash Wand. You can use it to adjust lights, change your thermostat settings, interact with hubs like the Harmony hub, and control everything else devices like the Echo and Echo Dot can control. The Dash Wand can also trigger IFTTT recipes just fine.

Alexa Skills, for the most part, work with the Dash Wand. While you can access all of the skills you’ve enabled on your account, some of them might not work correctly. I’ve found the ones that don’t work right are the ones that use some of the newer, more advanced, features available to Alexa skill developers, like sound effects and audio clips within skills. For example, if you launch the Jeopardy! skill, it starts but is unusable because you can’t hear any of the audio prompts or questions. This might be a bug that gets corrected in the future. In general, skills where it’s just you issuing a command, and getting a basic response from Alexa, should work.

General knowledge questions work just fine through Alexa on the Dash Wand, including asking for the weather or the time. You can also ask how traffic is on your commute, ask for local business info, and access all the quirky sides of Alexa, including jokes and easter eggs. Lastly, Alexa on the Dash Wand can access your calendar, which has been gaining new support for all the popular services recently. You can hear what’s on your calendar and ask for items to be added.

As a kitchen helper to make reordering everyday items easier, now that it has Alexa capabilities, the Dash Wand performs better than ever. However, how I think it excels and will be used most is as a cheap on-demand interface for Alexa. There are places within reach of where you sit, like a desk or coffee table, where it’s just as convenient to push a button for Alexa, as it is to shout out a command to an always-listening device. Even at just $50 a piece, putting an Echo Dot in every room can get expensive. But at less than half that cost, a few Dash Wands for $20 each placed strategically around your house can inexpensively fill in the gaps where you currently don’t have access to Alexa.

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19 comments
  1. Ray says:

    Thanks for the review, Elias. My Wand is due for delivery on Wednesday, and I’m looking forward to checking it out.

    So let me get this straight… when the Wand scans a barcode, it adds the scanned item to your Amazon.com cart, but it is not capable of adding the item to your shopping list? That’s a disappointing limitation. :/

    • AFTVnews says:

      That’s correct. If the exact item is available on Amazon, it will be added to your cart. If the exact item is not available, but Amazon recognizes the barcode, the item will appear in a separate “not ready” section of your cart. You can then click and bring up an Amazon search using the item’s name. There is no option to change this behavior and use the Alexa shopping list instead of the Amazon cart.

  2. Matt says:

    I was hoping to use it to trigger timers but I assumed that might not work since it would need to be “awake” in some form for the duration of the timer. It was free though, so I can’t complain. Although I haven’t gotten any notification about my $20 credit and I have tried adding eligible items to my cart without seeing $20 taken off the price as the promo claims…

    • Andy says:

      Same situation as Matt. How do you “get” the $20 credit?

    • AFTVnews says:

      Probably best to contact customer support. I received mine on Friday but did not register it until today (Monday) and I am seeing the $20 credit show up in my cart as: “Dash Wand Promotion: -$20.00”

  3. Rob says:

    I assume this is a one time deal. I’m not getting a $20 credit for each wand I order, right?

  4. Shawn Roth says:

    Even though it was basically free..i’m strongly considering returning mine. The Wifi connection stinks..and half the time I go to use it..it says it can’t understand me right now….yet…my Echo Dot is working just fine. I found the multitude of limitations to just be to much. This is a failed experiment.

    • AFTVnews says:

      There’s a chance it’s due to an influx of new owners. All Alexa devices do not share the same servers, so since the Dash Wand has sold out, the servers are likely getting slammed this week. I’d give it a week for things to calm down and see if the issues persist.

  5. grdoid666 says:

    funny that jeopardy does not work before it had no sound clips then they added a sound clip intro with Alen Trbeck but the questions are still read aloud in alexas voice they are not clips

  6. Laurie says:

    I love this little Dash Wand! I’ve been using it for about six months now and was surprised the other day when I picked it up and it told me it now had Alexa. I have a Dot that lives in the living room too, but the Dash is great for kitchen duty. I have my groceries delivered via Amazon Fresh (great service!) and the convenience of the Dash Wand in the kitchen is awesome. If I’m running low on something, then I simply scan the barcode and it’s added to my Fresh cart. No barcode, no problem. I just pick it up and say “bananas” and a bunch of organic bananas are added to my my cart because it knows I prefer organic. Another example is “pizza”. It will add the frozen pizza brand and variety I usually order to my cart. No more scribbled and lost grocery lists, or even trips to the store! I schedule my groceries to arrive before 7am, and when I wake up, there they are on the porch waiting for me. If a barcode I scan isn’t available via Fresh, it will add the product to my regular Amazon cart. It’s also handy in the kitchen because you can ask things like “how long do I steam broccoli?” Neat toy. I’m a little obsessed with it.

  7. Kevy Kev says:

    Awesome review. Wouldn’t even have known about it if not for you.!

  8. CompuXpert says:

    When I went into order mine it was back ordered, so who knows when I’ll get it and I’m hoping I do get the $20 promo added to my account.

    I was thinking of using it outside the house, specially when going shopping to other stores and just scanning the barcode and see how they compare to Amazon pricing, I know you can do this with the phone but , just want to try.

    If anything I’ll be using it as an alexa remote that my son can use to turn lights on/off :)

  9. JoeB says:

    Don’t order groceries online so just wanted to see what else it’s capable of, which doesn’t seem like too much…yet.

  10. Andy says:

    As it’s backordered I am concerned about ever getting the $20 credit, as it’s not shown on the order

  11. Eric Lawton says:

    I have had this wand since Oct and I got an email that it was going to update to Alexa but asked support and they said it isn’t going to update. So confusing. Been several days now and no Alexa on it. It’s not the 1st gen.. don’t know whats up.

  12. Alex B says:

    Great for amz fresh, really lacking for most other things. Definitely not a replacement for my rusty Harry Potter wand, but the fact that it was technically free is its only saving grace so far.

    Thank you for the review, Elias.

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