Google vs Alexa

One of the factors in getting the speaker was to help my wife, saving her from getting up and down to turn on and off lights, the radio, etc.

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Warning:
This post contains Canadian content, and may not be suitable for non-Canadians!

 

I have been wondering about getting one of these smart speakers, Google Home Mini or Amazon Echo Dot (Alexa), for a while.  I just didn’t know if they would be worth the investment.  However, Boxing Day (It’s like a Canadian Black Friday, but it is the day after Christmas) came and at 50% off, I figured it was time to try.

I couldn’t decide on which smart speaker to get, so I got both and compared them.  They arrived on the same day.

The Speaker:
On opening the boxes, the first thing I noticed was that the Amazon unit was a little heavier than the Google.  Once I started playing music, I noticed that the sound quality of Alexa was much more natural than the Google unit, so I am guessing the extra weight is a bigger and much better speaker.  Both of these units allow you connect to external speakers, but if you have Alexa you don’t need to.  The clear winner on sound quality is Alexa!

Voice Recognition in noisy environments:
One of my biggest concerns with getting one of these devices is that we have a very noisy household.  No, we don’t have kids, but we do have 2 hepa air filters in both rooms that contain the units and usually the TV or radio is on.  Our phone’s voice assistant rarely works with this background noise, so I was hesitant to invest money into something new.  However, both units seem to recognize our voices, with very few exceptions, even with the TV or radio in the background.  One reason for this is that they have multiple microphones so they can cancel out the background noise, but our cellphones don’t.

Initial Setup:
I found that the Google interface was much easier to follow, and setting up two voices was easy and straight forward.  Simply tell it the second person’s Google account (gmail address), it sends an invitation, and they accept it.  To set up a second person on the Alexa, I had to read up on how to do it.  I initially set up my wife first, and when I tried downloading the Alexa app on my phone, and creating a new account, it asked for a phone number and said my phone number was already registered to an account, so I had to call customer service?!?!?  I disconnected her account from Alexa, created my own, and then added her account with no problem.  Frustrating, but it worked.  So, for ease of initial setup Google wins this round.

Radio and Music:
We have heard several times on our favorite radio station that you can say “Alexa, install Praise radio” and then “Alexa, play Praise radio”, and it does work!  So far, I have not been able to get ANY radio station to play on the Google mini.  It may be that the Canadian version does not support third party Actions (Alexa calls them skills) at this time, but for whatever reason the instructions I see on the internet don’t work on my app or device.  However, Google does allow you to upload your own music to https://play.google.com/music/ and then play them on your Mini, where Alexa does not seem to natively support playing your own music.  Both devices want you to subscribe to their own music service (Google Play Music, or Amazon Music Unlimited) for about $10 per month.  So, the winner depends on what you want.  If you want to play your own music, you want the Google Mini, and if you have a subscription with one of the other two music services, you want that service.  But in either case, remember that Alexa has the better sounding speaker.  😉

Smart Home:
Both speakers support smart homes devices, so you can tell it to turn on the lights, TV, etc.  But of course, you need to purchase and install smart switches and/or bulbs for the lights, and the Logitech Home Hub for the TV.

Lights:
You have a variety of options for controlling the lights.  You can of course replace the light switch in your wall (if you know how, or get a certified electrician to do it), or simply buy one of two options.  A Smart WiFi Plug, goes between your wall socket or power bar and a lamp.  It is great for turning that light fixture on or off.  But a sometimes better option is to get a Smart LED WiFi bulb.  Simply unscrew one bulb, screw in the next, run the app to connect it to the WiFi, and that’s it.  You can tell either speaker to “turn the bulb gold”, to get a nice classic lighting effect when white is just too bright.  You can also set it to 10%, 20%, 50%, 100% or any brightness, or tell it to turn green, blue, or even red to set the mood.
Oh… I forgot to mention that if you ask them to turn off the lights, Alexa will ask which lights to turn off, while Google will turn off the lights in the current room.  So Google wins this round.

TV:
We got the “Logitech Harmony Companion Remote Control” (Hub and Remote) and it works great on the TV and other entertainment devices.  The companion remote is great when you don’t always want to tell Alexa to turn up or down the volume.  The one minor disappointment is that the remote has buttons to control some smart home devices, just not the ones we purchased.  No problem, both speakers have routines, so we can have it turn the TV on and the lights down low, in one simple voice command.

Routines:
Routines are sequences you can have either speaker do when something happens.  It can be a voice command, scheduled event, or even a reaction to a sensor like a motion detector.  The most common is when you say “Good Morning” it can read you the news, tell you about your commute to work, and turn on the lights.  Both are easy to setup and do, but Google allows you to type a phrase in when setting up a routine, and Alexa doesn’t.  So, you can tell Google to do something that is not on the list (like do another routine), but Alexa doesn’t.  However, Alexa does have more smart home features, like it’s menu system allows you to pick a smart bulb colour, where you have to type that command into Google.  So, Google does win this round for being able to do things not on the menu, where Alexa might win for having a more complete menu….

Calling & Texting:
Neither device is currently texting.  The Alexa device recently added this feature in the US, but it doesn’t work in Canada yet.  Also, there are third party Skills or Actions (in the US) that you can install to send SMS texts.  However, both devices will do a voice call to a cell or land line.  I don’t get this, because it is simpler for a computer to relay a message thru your cell phone, but these speakers are relaying the call through a server?  The call display from the Google Mini comes up as a private number, but the Alexa shows up as if it came from my cell phone.
Oh, I forgot to mention that you need to set the Language from English Canadian to English US, so that Alexa can read your contacts to find the phone numbers.  Why this matters, I don’t know….

For Disabled People:
One of the factors in getting the speaker was to help my wife, saving her from getting up and down to turn on and off lights, the radio, etc.  Both speakers with the smart home features help in this manner.  And the ability to make a phone call also helps, but you can’t call emergency services with them.  Once we can do SMS texting, I hope we can setup an SOS routine, where we can send a text message to multiple people.  Until then, at least she can call me or a neighbor.

Other things:
The Google seems to disconnect every morning and I have to go into its app on my phone and add the device again.  Very frustrating.  I think that this is because we have our WiFi shut down for security and to cool down each night. But in any case, every other device reconnects each morning, I don’t know why this one doesn’t.

In summary:
I am a big Google fan, and am always using  their Gmail, Calendar, etc.  I was pleased with the simplicity of their app, but was disappointed with the sound quality, the lack of Actions (Alexa calls them skills), and I am really annoyed with having to reconnect the WiFi every morning.  This may improve when Google gets around to giving us the same features as the US has, but for now I can NOT recommend the Google Home Mini.

For now, the clear winner is the Amazon Echo Dot (Alexa)!  It has better sound and the Skills work in Canada!

Addiction Part 2 #addiction #Impulse #Debt #BuyItNow

How do you handle people telling you what to do? Do you cave into peer pressure? Me… I don’t take people telling me what to do very well, I usually tell them where to go – politely. 😉

When it comes to peer pressure, I don’t usually listen, except to the commercials on tv, radio and that voice in my head. But that is the problem. Why do I listen to that voice in my head, when I would tell another person to get lost? Is it because I am talking to myself? Or am I?

I have never been big on talking about the devil, demons or spiritual attacks, but when it comes to addiction, I find it very helpful to externalize that voice inside. Pretend that the voice is not in your head, but a person who is talking to you. Why if that voice wasn’t in my head I would…

There it goes again, it is telling me that I need a new smartwatch. Do I hear half of you laughing at me, and the other half asking what a smartwatch is?

A smartwatch is a watch that connects to your phone, and relays notifications to you. You may be laughing and not see this as a need, but once you have one, you have a hard time living without. And I don’t just need any smartwatch, I already have an Android Wear that just does the basics, but it turns itself off after a few hours. No, I need the latest Samsung Gear S3 (I haven’t been an Apple fan since they ditched the Apple IIe for the Mac and didn’t have any way to convert).

I need one, I will feel better when I have one… Wait… what? That is one of my catchphrases from my last post. Hey voice… How am I going to feel better when I have one? <silence> That $400 is reserved for emergencies, is this an emergency? <silence> What if I spend it, and then an emergency comes up (and you know it will) and now I have to go into debt, am I going to feel better then? <silence> Do you remember how stressed I was the last time I was in debt? <silence> I had to sell my house to get out of debt! Hey voice, where are you now?!?!?!

Hmmm…. Wouldn’t you know it… The need to buy that smartwatch just disappeared… I guess that voice doesn’t like it when I stand up to it, or ask it questions. 😉

How to get out of debt: Part 4

The bipolar budget:

I am calling this the bipolar budget, because my wife is bipolar, and she blames her lack of financial control on her bipolar. Whether it is the reason or not, it makes a good title. But the truth is this system will work for anyone.

If you are a person who just can’t have money without spending it, then the thing that you need to do is to hide it, or make it inaccessible to yourself.  I found the best way to do this with internet banking.

Internet banking typically has no fees, so you can transfer money between accounts as often as you like. The Dutch ING bank made this popular in North America with the commercials with the “guy with the accent” telling you to “Save your money”, and you know what, he was right!   🙂

The Canadian branch was then bought out by Scotiabank in 2012 and was rebranded Tangerine in 2014, while the US branch by Capital One who rebranded it Capital One 360.  So, why the history lesson? Because I found that the system I setup with them works. There may be other internet banks out there with similar services, and if you know of one, please let everyone know in the comments below, but I will describe why I use Tangerine, and how.

ING had the highest interest rate that I found at the time, and it had no fees, so I did save money, and it grew.  But that is not all. I used its automatic transfer to pay my bills before I have the chance to spend it.  I do have a normal bank as well, but I try to do as little with it as possible to avoid the fees.

So, I set up the following bank accounts:

  1. My internet banking chequing account. It is called a chequing account, but I don’t write cheques on it, I use Interact / Debit, so I will call it a Debit account instead. My paycheque goes in here every second week, and it has automatic transfers to take the money out before I can spend it.
  2. My wife’s internet banking debit account. It is actually our joint chequing account, but that is only so I can transfer money into it, she does all her shopping with it.
  3. My wife’s joint internet banking savings account. I transfer money into it, and it transfers out to her personal, pet and other accounts.   She can’t spend money from here, she has to transfer it to her debit account when she needs it.
  4. My wife’s pet account.   Obviously for pet food, etc.   Again she needs to transfer money out to spend it.
  5. We both have personal internet banking accounts, but currently we don’t put much if anything in them. I have some birthday money in mine, but I have no monthly personal budget.  Whatever is left after my paycheque is divided up I can use for personal, but I try to put into savings.
  6. My internet banking savings grocery account, is used to transfer money to my wife on a weekly & daily basis, so she can’t overspend.  Weekly she gets about $150, and daily about $7 for the little things that come up, like running out of milk.
  7. We also have one old fashioned joint chequing account. My wife’s disability pension goes in here at the end of the month, and I pay the monthly expenses from it.

The down side of the separate accounts is that you need to estimate how much you need before you go to the store, vet, etc. so you can transfer the money.  We do use internet banking on our smartphones, but it takes time to transfer, and the people behind you in line are not always impressed.  But if you only transfer the money before you go to the store, you know that you can’t overspend, and you have to put a few things back if you don’t have enough.

How to get out of debt: Part 3

Who are you making this budget for?

Who are you making this budget for? 

Again, a budget is not going to work as long as you are impulse buying, so if you haven’t already, please read Part 1: Stop Impulse Buying.

Now, is this budget for you, or you and your spouse?  Are you in this together, or separately?  If it is just you, then great!  If it is you and someone else, you need to decide if you are putting all of your money together or are dividing up the expenses.  We first decided that we were going to divide up our expenses, but we soon decided that we would pool all our resources and then divide up the tasks.

It took a few years for my wife and I to trust each other enough to have joint bank accounts.  Initially she had her expenses, I had mine, and then she gave me half of the shared expenses.  While this may work, this is not a model I would recommend, as someone always feels like they are paying too much and not getting enough of something.  Also, it doesn’t build trust, and a marriage needs trust.  Consider this one of those “you fall backwards and I will catch you” kind of trust building exercises.  You need to work together to build a budget.  That being said, I collected all the bills, debit slips, bank statements, and I added everything up and figured out how much we were spending on what, and made a preliminary budget to show my wife.

My wife was of course upset that she wasn’t part of the process, but I said that she could look over my shoulder while I was doing it, or she could look at this draft and give me feedback and I will go work on it again (she could look over my shoulder again if she wants 😉 ), that’s just the way I work.  So, she did ask questions, I answered, she gave me feedback, and I went back and reworked the budget a bit, and this happened several times.

I say all of this because I want you to realize that making a budget when you are used to spending freely, is a hard thing particularly when you are doing it for more than one person.  At least we don’t have kids to budget for, but we do have pets….  And you have to keep in mind that each person has different priorities, and you have to take that into account.

I made sure that my wife had a clothing budget.  It wasn’t much, I think it was $10 per month so she could save up to buy a seasonal outfit, but it was much bigger than my $1 per month.

Stop laughing!!!  We were very broke, and were overspending about $500 a month.  We had to cut back somewhere!!!  As it turned out, my wife made the decision on her own to put her clothing money into what became the general household / grocery account.  While I did break my budget down into every conceivable expense, what we ended up doing was consolidating a lot of them into the basic categories.

My Income
+ My Wife’s Income
= Total Income

Less Expenses:

Housing 10%
Car payments & insurance 8%
Electricity, Cable TV, Telephone, & Internet 14%
Auto Fuel 5%
Pets 10%
My wife’s budget for food, personal care, gifts, etc. 24%

That totals 71%.  So where does the other 29% go?  To paying off debt.  That’s right, we have almost (not quite 1/3) of our net income just paying the minimums on our credit cards, etc.  My budget is nonexistent.  Basically anything on my paycheque above what is automatically withdrawn from my account on payday, is mine.  It’s not much, and I try not to spend it.  The day before my next payday I put what is left into paying off bills.

So you might notice that I didn’t follow a lot of my recommendations in Part 2, but that is because everyone is different and every situation is different.  With 1/3 of our income going to debt, that throws out almost any chance of what most people would call a normal living.

How to get out of debt: Part 2

Setting priorities for a Budget!

Setting priorities for a Budget!

A budget is not going to work as long as you are impulse buying, so if you haven’t already, please read Part 1: Stop Impulse Buying.

As I was learning when I was making up my budget, everyone is different.  If you are really far in debt as we were, your budget will probably not work right away, and will need to be refined.  When I did our first budget, I found that we were overspending big time, and couldn’t find anywhere to cut back.  Several things that I thought were a need, were actually wants, and it took us a lot of time to figure out what was a need and what was a want.

To make up the budget, you have to seriously think, “What is the one thing that I can’t live without?”  Could you live without a home?  It is hard to picture yourself there, but yes, there are lot of homeless people out there.  So, what do you need more than anything else?  Food!

Food is your #1 priority!  If you are not eating properly, you can’t work, earn money, and be able to pay for everything.  You may end up homeless if you don’t eat properly, and fast food is not the answer.  I used to love my fast food, but the chemicals, GMO, and processing gave me more food intolerances than you would believe.  Basically I am now allergic to almost anything that comes from a factory.  You need to eat healthy home cooked meals to get out of debt.  So you need to budget not more than 1/3 your net income for it!

Actually, you will probably find that home cooked meals cost less than what you are spending on junk food now.  If you need to, get a cook book on quick and easy meals.  Cooking is much easier than you think.  For example, put some meat in a hot frying pan for 3 minutes, flip it over for another 3, and then put it on a cookie sheet in the toaster oven for 10 minutes.  Most toaster ovens have a timer, this way I don’t burn things.  If you poke the meat and it bleeds, put it on another 10 or so minutes depending on the size.  Put some rice in a rice maker with some water, cut up some lettuce, tomatoes & cucumbers, and add salad dressing.  Dinner is done and wasn’t that easy?

So, what is the next thing you need?  You guessed it before – a home.  You need a home to get ready for work to earn money to pay for everything, but you need to make sure that it is within your budget.  Again, you should not be spending more than 1/3 of your net income on your home.  That 1/3 of your income includes your mortgage payment, strata fees or rent; plus electricity, telephones, cable, and other utilities.  If you are spending more than 1/3, then you really need to look at where you can cut down on this.  You really need to ask yourself, do I need cable TV?  Do I need all these options on my telephone line?  Do I need high speed internet?

What’s the next thing that you need?  Transportation to work, stores, etc.  You probably want to limit your transportation costs to less than 10% of your net income.  That 10% should cover your bus fare, or car payments, auto insurance, maintenance and fuel.

Oh, and you obviously need clothing…  However, you can usually find free stores, thrift stores, etc. so I didn’t list this as a priority, you can probably find something cheap to wear if you need.  I think social assistance will even fund some clothing to go to an interview to get a job.  Remember, they want you to get a job and get off assistance, so they will do what they can to help you.

One more thing….  You do need some form of recreation & entertainment, but you can usually find a lot of this free or cheap at a community center as well.  For my wife and myself, walking the dog, and a TV with basic cable, and Netflix satisfies most of our recreation & entertainment needs.

Almost everything else that you might think is a need is probably not a need but a want, and you can probably do without.  Think about it, and I will be back with some more tips next time.

Next:  Who are you making this budget for?

How to get out of debt: Part 1

Stop Impulse Buying….

Stop Impulse Buying….

Easier said than done, eh?  Actually, it is not as hard as it sounds.  I read a book on money management, and 90% of the way through the book, I was still asking the question “Okay, how?”  I won’t do that to you, here are some quick tips to get you on the road to recovery right now.  “Just the facts mam, just the facts!”  😉

A friend is in A.A. and while I don’t know much about the program, I found a few of his tips helpful.

  1. Not Today! My wife and I started using this one way back when.  It is very easy to use, especially when we are together.  I was finding that when we were together it was easier to say, “Sure, why not” when she asked me should we buy this.  As soon as I learned about “Not Today” those joint shopping trips cost a lot less.  It works when you are on your own too, whether you say it out loud or not.  😉  Take each day one at a time, if you don’t need to buy it today, then don’t.
  2. A higher power!
    1. God! Many Christians have heard the concept of treating your money not as your own, but as God’s money.  We are all stewards of his money, therefore we have to think “Would God want me to buy this or not?”  If you believe in God, or another higher power this might work for you, but if not what then?
    2. Your Partner! Another Higher power is your spouse, you pretend that the money is theirs, and they pretend that the money is yours, therefore you still have to ask “Would they want me to buy this or not?”
    3. Your creditors! Who do you owe the money too?  The bank?  Friends?  Family?  If all else fails, every time your reach for that candy bar at the grocery store counter, or want to go out for fast food, picture the person you owe money to standing there asking how you have money to waste on junk food, when you owe them money.  Of course the double edge sword here is that if you suffer from depression already that this depresses you more, and drives you to want more junk food.
  3. Smarter Buys! Try replacing those impulse buys with smarter buys that cost less and last longer.  For example buying healthy food and cooking meals, rather than going out to eat.  Buy carrots and celery sticks instead of candy bars.  Scale back slowly if you have to.  Instead of going and spending $50 to go see a movie with popcorn, buy the movie for $20 on DVD and watch it at home.  Then instead of buying the movie, rent it on Pay per View for $4.  And finally, instead of renting it, wait for it to come out on Netflix or another streaming service with unlimited movies for $8 per month.  That may be twice the price of one Pay per View, but if you watch one per weekend, that’s $16, so Netflix is half the price!  You could then make your own popcorn a nice meal for a stay-in Date Night, and you would still be saving money in the long run!

 

Next:  Part 2:  Priorities