Antique phones given new life as retro-cool Alexa interfaces
From Amazon's own gear to all manner of third party hardware, Alexa is pretty much everywhere these days. If you're looking for a way to interface with the popular digital assistant that's a little different, and using something that adds a touch of retro style to your living room or office, then the Alexaphones from Grain Design could well fit the bill.
Los Angeles-based Grain Design has so far revived and sold three models – the Regent, the Avignon and the Metropolis. Each Alexaphone is sourced from the internet, antique stores, estate sales and collectors and, when looking for Alexaphone fodder, non-functional phones are preferred. Once selected, the novel works of functional art are restored and updated by hand.
The Regent has already been sold for US$1,500. It was born in the 1950s and is of Belgian descent. This Alexaphone has a zinc plated with copper main body that's been left pretty much as found rather than polished to within an inch of its life. Grain's custom fabric wire connects the refinished Bakelite handset to the copper body.
It sports the original dial, with black numbering painted on porcelain underneath, and the unit's setup button has been wired to an original button to the front.
A curvy Art Deco telephone with a solid brass body and cast zinc cradle provided the template for the Avignon model, which also sold for $1,500. And the candlestick Metropolis model originated in the 1920s (sold for, you guessed it, $1,500). The mouthpiece sits to the top of the chrome body, which is also home to the rotary dial, and the earpiece hangs from a side arm until needed.
Once up and running, each Alexaphone will operate in a similar fashion to an Amazon Echo, with Alexa used as a kind of switchboard operator, connecting you with friends, controlling smart home devices or tapping into the internet's knowledge base.
"There are heavily modified Echo Dots inside the current models, though we have a plan to move away from that in future models if there's a lot of demand," Grain's Richard Whitney revealed to us. "Each telephone is a separate creative and engineering project, so it's fairly easy to change hardware and features."
The rotary dial on these antique phones doesn't actually do anything useful, other than giving the user a tactile play thing while talking to Alexa through the handset.
Each model is USB-powered, and is set up using the Alexa app running on a Bluetooth-paired smartphone. In some examples, the original electronics in the earpiece have been preserved or rebuilt to offer "the original voice of the phone."
Those worried about security and privacy are assured that the microphone in the retro phones will auto disconnect when the user hangs up, so that Alexa can't snoop on private conversations. There are LED status lights installed in a way that doesn't spoil the aesthetic too much, but still allows users to get a visual feel for what's going on with the Alexaphone. And each device is fitted with a 3.5 mm aux output to allow for connection to powered speakers when playing music through the device.
All of the current conversions have been snapped up, but Grain is inviting folks to reserve their own Alexaphone for a $200 deposit. Build time could take up to four weeks.
Source: Grain Design