Alexa is the "wake word" (and imaginary female computer voice) featured on the amazing Amazon ECHO, a voice-activated personal assistant.

Amazon ECHO

amazon.com
$180

Alexa is the "wake word" (and imaginary female computer voice) featured on the amazing Amazon ECHO, a voice-activated personal assistant. Once this gadget is plugged into a wall outlet and connected to your home Wi-Fi, it's always on. With seven embedded microphones, it seems to hear you from anywhere. Its speaker system completely fills a room.

As with a friend, spouse or pet, you talk to the gadget, ask it questions or give it commands. Unlike a friend or spouse, you'll get a non-judgmental accurate answer. Unlike a pet, the Amazon ECHO actually does what you ask it to do on the first try.

The list of things ECHO can do seems to grow constantly. It can function as an alarm clock. Be a timer. Help you deal with the metric system and other hard-to-remember weights and measures. Get a local traffic report. Play a flash news briefing from NPR Radio. You can listen to music (sources include Amazon Prime, Pandora, iHeartRadio and most any music streamed via Bluetooth from your tablet or phone). Ask it to tell a joke. Use it as a dictionary. Listen to audiobooks. Get current sports scores. Listen to sporting events or other shows on TuneIn online stations. Add items to a running shopping list or add tasks to a to-do list. Control your WEMO or Phillips Hue smart home devices.

The future of this cylindrical speaker is limitless. As Amazon connects it to its shopping/delivery network, this gadget has the potential to be the next big thing. For elderly family members or shut-ins, Amazon ECHO can be a valuable, informative and constant companion.

Logitech's Ultimate Ears

ultimateears.com
$100-$300

If you'd rather have a go-anywhere speaker and don't care about the Amazon ECHO connectivity, Logitech's Ultimate Ears might be your ticket. This speaker line connects to streaming audio from any Bluetooth device. These lightweight gadgets have 360-degree stereo sound. All models are built to take the bump-and-grind of an outdoor lifestyle. They're dustproof and waterproof; the Roll model even floats.

Active Voice app

iTunes App Store
$9.99

Tensift is an app development company located in Casablanca, Morocco. Though not very well known in the US, it has produced the Active Voice app, which should be a must-have on any iPad or iPhone. The app records your voice and outputs it as text on the screen. From there you can send your words to anyone in an e-mail, text message or post them via Twitter or Facebook. If the world you communicate with speaks a foreign language, your words can be translated from English to any of 32 supported languages (and even more accents) that include Welsh, Urdu, Spanish, Tamil, Norwegian, French, Latin, Lithuanian, Korean, Japanese, Italian, Chinese and Afrikaans.

Phil Pikelny is chief marketing officer of The Dispatch Printing Company.