Amazon's newest gadget is a battery-powered, voice-enabled grocery scanner called the Dash Wand. Point it at a barcode and press the button to add that item to your Amazon shopping cart when you're running low, or press and hold to ask Alexa to add it. She'll even talk back to you through the scanner's tiny speaker.
The Amazon Dash Wand arrives just as the megaretailer is completing its $13.7 billion-dollar acquisition of Whole Foods, so it's clear that Amazon sees huge potential in disrupting people's grocery habits and making it as easy as possible to buy everything online.
To that end, the Dash Wand is a success -- it's easy to use, it works reliably, and it only costs $20. Add in the fact that Amazon throws in a $20 shopping credit and three months of free AmazonFresh Pickup (normally $15 per month), and the Dash Wand can pay for itself and then some. Seems fair for a gadget that's designed to get you to buy things.
And I mentioned, Alexa, right? The Dash Wand can't do everything -- no music, no reminders and, perhaps most disappointing, no kitchen timers -- but it still packs an awful lot of Alexa convenience into a device that ostensibly costs nothing. You can ask for weather forecasts and corny jokes, you can ask how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon, and you can even control your smart home gadgets or try out any of the thousands of third-party Alexa skills. That alone might be enough to get a lot of people to try this thing out.
Getting started with the Dash Wand was pretty simple -- just insert the two included AAA batteries and hold the button down until it enters pairing mode. From there, you'll go to a link on your mobile device that'll sync the Dash Wand up with your Amazon account and your home's Wi-Fi network.
As for storage, you can hang the Dash Wand from an included stick-up hook, or just stick it to the fridge thanks to a built-in magnet.
We spent a couple of days playing with the Dash Wand at the CNET Smart Home, and it performed pretty well. The scanner never failed to read a barcode, and if I'd ever scan something a couple of times in quick succession (say, if I wasn't certain it had worked), it'd still only add one unit to my cart. Alexa voice ordering worked well too, though you'll need to specify what brand you want in the Amazon app if you ask for something generic, like "toilet paper."
I had less luck when I tried asking Alexa to add multiple things to our cart. Amazon's listing for the Dash Wand claims you should be able to do this, giving the example command, "Strawberries. Bananas," but that didn't work when I tried it out.
Instead, the Wand added a single item to my shopping list that asked me to specify which kind of "strawberries bananas" I wanted. Here's hoping Amazon tweaks that in the near future, as ideally, you should be able to read off your whole shopping list to Alexa if you so choose.
I'd also like to see Amazon let you pair this thing with another Alexa product, like the Echo or Echo Dot smart speakers. That could be a potential workaround for the fact that the Dash Wand can't stream music or set kitchen timers on its own.
One last note: with its simple design and ease of use, the Amazon Dash Wand is definitely kid-friendly -- but perhaps too much so. I can just imagine my Star Wars-obsessed nephews using it as a makeshift lightsaber or laser blaster (and perhaps scanning every barcode in my brother's place in the process).
Alexa is a powerful, popular voice assistant, and it's hard to fault a device that'll get her into your kitchen as cheaply as the Dash Wand will. Easier online grocery orders aren't enough of a selling point on their own to make it a must-have, but Amazon is clearly working hard at changing that. Extending its AmazonFresh Pickup service to Whole Foods locations across the US would obviously be a good step in that direction.
Still, if the Dash Wand is trying to get us hooked on online grocery shopping, then Alexa's the bait. Even if you couldn't care less about Amazon's grocery games, the $20 Dash Wand still makes sense as an extra Alexa access point, or perhaps as a cheap way for newbies to take her for a test drive. If that gets more people on board with Amazon's grocery strategy, the Dash Wand will be seen as a success.