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.