Time’s up, Alexa: After one lukewarm leftover too many, we pulled the plug on Amazon’s microwave

The AmazonBasics Microwave. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Instead of using our fingers to push the buttons on a microwave keypad over the past couple months, we here at GeekWire have relied on a voice-enabled unit featuring Amazon’s Alexa to take our commands and heat our leftovers.

I don’t have any trouble putting my finger on a reason for why we’re unplugging the thing and getting a new unit: because our food is barely hot to the touch.

The tech giant first introduced its $60 AmazonBasics Microwave in September, and GeekWire staffers started using one in the office kitchen at the end of November.

Some of us were skeptical before we even asked Alexa to get cooking. Was this even necessary? Who is too busy to enter the time on a microwave? Over the weeks that followed, as holiday leftovers and regular old lunches made their way into the office, the microwave seemed to fail to meet expectations on a few different levels:

  • People didn’t know what to say to it to activate the nearby Echo speaker it was hooked to. This created a lot of unnecessary chatter in our small newsroom. “Alexa heat up my burrito. Why the hell won’t this work?” … “You have to say, ‘Alexa, microwave!”
  • The 700 MW appliance wasn’t getting food hot enough quick enough. People complained about eating not-so-hot leftovers or having to stand in front of the machine for repeat heatings.
  • Heating your leftovers and eating in front of co-workers is kind of a weird thing to begin with. Speaking out loud about it to the microwave and drawing even more attention to your stinky food unnerved some people.

Yes, the voice commands are optional; you can use the microwave by simply pressing buttons, but when the lone selling point is actually a drawback, it’s a sure bet the device in question isn’t going to be around very long.

Here are more reactions from those of us who eat at GeekWire:

Taylor Soper, reporter: “I never used the Alexa microwave and I didn’t plan to. Pushing a button takes one second. Speaking a command and waiting for Alexa to respond takes longer. We don’t need the Alexa microwave.”

Monica Nickelsburg, civic innovation editor: “In my view, a microwave has one job. That job isn’t to talk to me. It isn’t to predict my desires or feelings. It isn’t to be my friend. It is to heat my food. In this, the Alexa microwave has failed over and over again.”

Frank Catalano, contributing writer: “It was just too distracting. Every time someone used it, they spoke to it, sometimes a little too loudly, as though Alexa was an elderly grandparent. There’s enough noise in a kitchen area without adding shouting at a small appliance.”

Daniel Rossi, chief business officer: “It’s fine. It makes my cold food hot. Not as fast as the larger and more powerful microwave we replaced it with, but my oatmeal is eventually warm. I don’t need to ask Alexa to turn it on. My fingers still work. But I can spend the extra minute I’m forced to wait to ask the nearby Alexa to tell me a joke.”

Cara Kuhlman, marketing, operations and events coordinator: “For better or worse, I catch a lot of the galley (sailor for ‘kitchen’) chatter, and this microwave’s lackluster performance was a talking point. While it may have fueled water-cooler conversation, our team has a lot of other things we enjoy chatting about like hot, tasty lunches. I don’t own an Alexa-enabled device, so for the uninitiated, figuring out the correct phrase to use required too much effort right before lunch, so I quickly gave up.”

Adam Rubens, senior account director: “I was basically ambivalent about the Alexa Microwave. I wanted to love it. I wanted to be like ‘this is so cool, I don’t have to use my hands, I can just tell it what I want and BAM, hot oatmeal.’ In the end, I realized that using my fingers is actually not that big of a deal. Most of the time, I might have saved mere milliseconds if I got the statement correct: ‘Alexa, microwave for 2 and 1/2 minutes.’ About half of the time I would garble my statement, or miss a word and have to start over — which killed all of that convenient millisecond saving. I feel like if I was doing a more complex task like ‘Alexa, thaw 20-pound turkey,’ that might have been a big plus, but for an office microwave, used primarily for warming disappointing leftovers, it was, well, disappointing.”

Todd Bishop, editor: “I’ve suffered through the experience of using cheap, underpowered Amazon devices in the past, such as the original Fire TV Stick and a budget Fire tablet bought off the Treasure Truck. A few extra seconds waiting for a show to load is one thing. But food is a different matter, and when your frozen lunch is still frozen after three minutes on high, it’s time to move on. (I actually believe that the performance of the microwave deteriorated in the month or so that we owned it, because it did heat up my burrito thoroughly when I first tried it.)”

James Thorne, contributing writer: “The Alexa microwave failed the most basic test of any new technology. It wasn’t easier than the old way of doing things — in this case, pressing a single button to reheat yesterday’s pasta.”

So there you have it. Kind of a lukewarm group. Like our food.

The use of the machine definitely illustrated that people can be annoyed by tech “disruption” when it shows up in unexpected places and gets in the way of what already seemed like a convenient enough device or activity. I mean, it’s not like the AmazonBasics Microwave showed up at our office and replaced a campfire. We were pretty content with our previous “dumb” microwave. Some things just aren’t begging to be “smart.”

There are plenty of ways in which artificial intelligence, machine learning, smart speakers and voice have and will continue to wow us here at GeekWire. Just so long as all of that doesn’t interfere with our lunch, apparently.

Good luck at Goodwill, Alexa.

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